I am a reluctant Christian.
I’ve gone back to church kicking and screaming - and thinking. This is my journey back to church, or my process as I tried to decide if I could handle going back to church - and if i even wanted to. You will not end up with a definitive answer here because the jury is still out, but my lessons so far are about being fully present in the process itself. They are valuable and life changing lessons for me. I hope they will touch you too.
If you think this book will teach you about being a good Christian, you’re not even close. That said, life is filled with the unexpected, particularly in the form of unintended consequences. I hope, however, you receive something that speaks to your heart about your own personal journey, wherever it leads.
This is mostly a book about going back to church. Not because I had a sudden conversion, wanted to meet new people, was depressed and lost, or even because it seemed the proper thing to do for a good Lutheran girl. But being a good Lutheran girl at heart…
I married a pastor.
I am the deChurched. The Spiritual Seeker. I am the one churches want in the pew. At least they think they do. My unsolicited advice is that they should think twice. We’re not a pushover, nor are we a desperate bunch.
We’re products of the human consciousness movement. We’re educated. If we didn’t graduate from college, we’ve taken more classes and read more scholarly articles than any Ph.D. candidate. We’re addicted to TED Talks and the Atlantic Monthly. We are hungry to learn, starved for discovery, and tireless in our endless pursuit for enlightenment and personal/spiritual growth.
That said, many of us are weary. Some of us are empty in spite of our ongoing search, or we have resigned ourselves to the idea that this is life. Which is accurate, of course. We have come to the conclusion that the joy, laughter, despair, love, fear, and hopelessness are all part of the path.
We cherish freedom and acceptance. We fight for injustice. We live in a deep desire to make a difference and exemplify goodness - while being authentic and congruent in who we are.
And yes, we are still weary.
The problem is we are too cool to be Christians. At least we think we are. We shudder at the idea of being a Christian, even if some aspects of the path speak to us. Mainly Jesus and Pope Francis. They give it a good name and take the idea of it up a few notches on our perception meter.
The recent Pope has regenerated hope everywhere. When this icon of the Catholic church can convey a seemingly sincere sense of compassion and kindness for humanity is an overwhelming relief. Oddly, the public’s response to Pope Francis conjures up an image of the followers of Christ when he was on earth. The culture had become deeply entrenched in honoring religious law, power, prestige, and probably, possessions over compassion, kindness, and love. It’s easy to imagine the people of Jesus’ day who noticed his approach having a similar reaction to the breath of fresh air he brought to their existing culture and everyday lives. He said they no longer had to frame God as something to fear. They were enlightened that God was like him - and in some ways, like them. God was love and spirit itself. Christ embodied compassion, healing, love, and connection. This is what people longed for - what all people, throughout time, have always longed for. Jesus told everyone that in spite of our weaknesses, faults, mistakes, and poor intentions - people were loved anyway. They were accepted anyway. They were seen and received.
The world’s religious and non-religious alike sit stunned as they watch Pope Francis mimic this spirit to the watchful eyes of a global community.
Suddenly, we wonder, what they’ve done with the punishing, angry, hypocritical God who said one thing and did another. The one that told governments claiming Christianity to love your neighbor and then killed them all. The God who affirmed that we be sexually proper while priests molested young innocent boys. The list goes on of course. Now this God, who some feared and others hated, is reflecting back to us the goodness we were once told was God through the Pope. Revelatory.
It’s about time. We feel a whole lot better.
But not for the reasons you think.
It’s not because we can go back to church. Or because we believe in God again. It’s because…
We need to forgive them.
We know how incredibly hard it is to forgive someone that’s still acting out. It’s virtually impossible. And probably inappropriate. When that acting out is coupled with arrogance, self-righteousness, condescension, disrespect, greed, and injustice - it’s a long road back to center. We all want to get back to center.
Here’s the irony.
All those spiritual, but not religious people out there probably already know God. They may not study the Bible the way you do, or even claim Jesus as Lord, but many of them have an intimate and personal relationship with God. Even those who don’t call God by that name.
They’ve known all along that God is love. They’ve known all along that the true God is here with us all, loving us and wanting what’s best for us. They might not belong to your tribe and belief system. Nor are they fluent in speaking your language. But they can converse. Can you say the same about them?
Have you marked them as the “unsaved?” Those who don’t choose to please God as you do? How do you judge those who don’t publicly claim Christianity as their path? Or who do and exhibit behaviors that you label as sin?
Just asking. I’m not saying reading this will be easy. But it will be honest.
Sunday School Jesus
The notification shot across my laptop screen right before I was heading out to feed the horses one evening. He’d been a childhood friend, one I had wonderful memories of. Not one of those lechy guys who pop on Facebook as a blast from the past with hopes of some serious online flirting to live out a past fantasy. No, he was one of my best buddies. Someone I always cared about and had often wished we’d remained friends over the years.
There he was. Gary Kaiser.
We messaged back and forth about the old days, both wondering what we each remembered about the other. He was the “other Norwegian” in elementary and junior high school and we went to the same church. Most of the class was Catholic. We were toe heads in a sea of Italian and Irish kids. I recalled his wonderful, loyal friendship. He remembered that he’d been in love with me and never had the courage to ask me out. What?
We apparently looked at each other across the table from one another in Sunday School class, and he even remembered playing footsies. Shocking.
I had no idea he felt that way. No memory of footsies either. I was almost disappointed because he was one of the good guys - with a great wife. Great reasons to be friends now, by the way.
I played footsies in God’s house. When I was 9.
Was that a sin?
I don’t honestly know.
(I’m certain the SS teacher would say yes, but considering the innocence and desires of youth, it seems a natural outcome of a good friendship at that age. One that reflected fairly predictable behavior.
I don’t want to be a Christian. I don’t relate to the culture of Christianity as I know it. It may look very different in other places, but where I live it’s either conservative, religious people who appear to have it all sewn up, or the older generation who still attends their denominational church and protests change of most kinds. One of my biggest lessons learned is this is not necessarily a bad thing. As a matter of fact, it is sometimes a very good thing.
This, among many other dramatic and not so earth shattering lessons have surfaced making a lot of pieces of the puzzle come together in a life that was filled with questions. I did not say answers - only pieces. They’re different.
It is so easy to get caught up in why someone else is wrong. It’s the easiest thing in the world to do when I feel slighted. Especially if they are holier than thou, and clearly think they are better or smarter or more right than me.
I’ve been a rebel when it came to church ever since the days of the Jesus Revolution. I don’t really know why. It’s not my nature in other areas of my life. Although I’ve always been honest and direct. I am from Brooklyn, after all. A Brooklyn girl raised during the rise of the feminist movement, protesting the Viet Nam war and by the mid 70’s, living for Jesus. At least for a time. I wasn’t one of those converts who became a lifelong, church going Christian however. I waffled between Jesus and TKE. That’s a fraternity. I was their 1975 Sweetheart. After having the very same boyfriend throughout high school, it was a great surprise that guys thought I was hot - and fun. I ate it up and still behaved for the most part. The Jesus thing was so intense and unexpected, I had no choice but to follow where it led, but it didn’t mean I gave up the attention I craved either. I’ve always lived between two worlds. Since birth. This was the most natural thing in the world to me.
In this case, however, it didn’t work very well.
My heart loved Sunday School. It also loved the spirit of the Jesus movement. There was something so fortuitous about it - the way it showed up right on the heels of the anti-war, free love movement. In some ways it seemed to balance the scales somehow. It was perfectly placed in a time that was seeing itself upside down.
The Jesus movement was a relief for many reasons, but one reason stands out at the moment - probably the most trivial one of all. The free love thing was really challenging for a young virgin - who took pride in her virginity because it had been such a highly prized value growing up, yet I didn’t want to be seen as a nerd. I had no clue how to handle this.
People everywhere talked about simply having sex for the fun of it. They were doing it on a first date, or with a guy they’d meet at a party. It horrified me. Not because I was self-righteous or judging them, but because I had totally bought the idea of saving myself for the man I would marry someday. I may have been the last one who did.
Losing my virginity was a big deal. I’m not sure how I’d become so invested in this as an idea, other than I do like to hop on trains that sound the most romantic or idealistic.The Jesus Revolution was a perfect place to bide some time until the Free Love movement waned.
As a result, of course, I didn’t do either very well. I was a nerdy free lover and a bad Jesus follower. I split my time between the Jesus freaks and the fraternity drinkers. When I was tired from a week long spring break party in Florida, I’d go to prayer meetings and bible studies for a few weeks. When that got boring, I’d go to a frat party again. Pretty fickle and stupid.
Possible chapters or topics
Dogma and Doctrine
The Path/The Way
Wisdom Teacher and Spirit Guide
Ecology, The Natural Step - Mimicing Nature/Creation
Observations about church that frustrate.
The church says it wants to grow. From the highest level of any institution to the local administrative board in any local church. It’s unanimous. But it wants to grow on its own terms.
When I, an identified reluctant but sincere Christian, says my experience of God and Christianity is much more powerful when I focus on my relationship and experience of God as a process of discovery first hand, instead of trying to convince myself of certain beliefs or memorizing bible verses. Most of all, I am revolted by the idea of going to those bible studies where I have to fill in the blanks at the end of each chapter - with the answer the leader will check in here handy dandy leader’s guide to confirm I am correct.
This was always the most insulting, condescending aspect of church community for me. These books and discussions were not intellectually stimulating or engaging in conversation. They were lemming training 101. In my desire to go to church, I’d try them every now and then - always with the same frustrating result. Eventually, when one woman neighbor heard me decline her kind and sincere invitation to another study one more time, I felt compassion for her. I was always afraid to tell her the truth. She didn’t look like she could handle my reasons - or perhaps I couldn’t handle the idea of her and the other women in this small town praying for me to become more humble, obedient, and willing to hear the word of God.
This was not it.
But this is what we who wanted to think, discover, and most of all, have a real and meaningful conversation heard or felt. Women tended to run back to their women’s group to pray for me, while the testosterone afflicted used another tactic. They got in my face and informed me I was trying to live God’s will my way. With invisible fingers shaking in my direction, they angrily reminded me I was twisting God’s word and message to fit my worldview and my understanding.
But not exactly in the way they meant.
Of course I was trying to make it fit within a framework or paradigm I could understand. What else could I do if I genuinely wanted to explore the reality of God? My heart always wanted that. But my mind could not find a comfortable chair in the Christian room to relax or rest in. The spirit that I experienced as rightness - politically and attitudinally in a general sense was disconcerting. But not for the reason you’d think.
It wasn’t my political stance that differed. It was my heart and mind. I literally experienced seeing the world with a completely different set of eyes. At least that’s how it felt to me.
Part of my professional work is to resolve severe conflicts in communities of all kinds. It was common for me to describe the conflict to people who were polarized as seeing with different lenses….or seeing another view. But this was different. We had completely different eyes. It wasn’t the tools or outcomes that varied, but the eyes themselves. The one thing that always comforted me in this situation was I knew we had, essentially, the same heart in God no matter how our eyesight, values, and beliefs differed. Even if they didn’t know it. Which they didn’t.
AT OUR CORE
At the core of each of us is a vulnerable and honest heart that connects to God. I use the word heart, while someone else may use another word. It is the place of awareness deep within, the place some of us dare not even go. Others, if they do acknowledge its existence, rarely hang out for long. Some have no idea what to do there, and others only see empty space…not knowing in the empty silence of that space is the door to their connection in God.
It waits to be unlocked. And even then, it is a path’s entry. A journey’s beginnings.
It’s always difficult to describe such things because this entry to the path also thrusts you on it fully. And you have simultaneously been on it all along, even when your conscious mind had no awareness of it. So to enter at the path’s gate only concludes that your conscious awareness is at its start, while God in you and you in God has been happening all along.
The problem with not having an awareness of this journey you’ve been on is that conscious development of your soul has been stagnant. But life in Christ will re-ignite these connections in you to God so they are seen by you and instill the new creation you so long to know and be.
The Voice (VOICE)
15 He is the exact image of the invisible God, the firstborn of creation, the eternal. 16 It was by Him that everything was created: the heavens, the earth, all things within and upon them, all things seen and unseen, thrones and dominions, spiritual powers and authorities. Every detail was crafted through His design, by His own hands, and for His purposes. 17 He has always been! It is His hand that holds everything together. 18 He is the head of this body, the church. He is the beginning, the first of those to be reborn from the dead, so that in every aspect, at every view, in everything—He is first. 19 God was pleased that all His fullness should forever dwell in the Son 20 who, as predetermined by God, bled peace into the world by His death on the cross as God’s means of reconciling to Himself the whole creation—all things in heaven and all things on earth.
New International Version (NIV)
The Supremacy of the Son of God
15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Present Suffering and Future Glory
18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that[c] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[d] have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
More Than Conquerors
31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”[e]
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[f] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
New International Version (NIV)
Imitating Christ’s Humility
2 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Do Everything Without Grumbling
12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”[c] Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.
Timothy and Epaphroditus
19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. 20 I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. 21 For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. 23 I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. 24 And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.
How it is possible that we are sitting on