Have you ever felt sick of being a Christian? I guess that I don’t have to limit it to Christianity. There may come a time that what ever religion or set of spiritual beliefs that you subscribe to quit working for you. The question came up in a discussion recently about whether I had ever felt sick of being a Christian. By sick, I don’t mean “I disagreed with this morning’s sermon” or “so and so’s really getting on my nerves” or “I wish they’d do more contemporary/hymns/gospel music as a part of worship time.” I mean “I’m ready to chuck this whole religion because it ain’t living up to its claims” sort of sick. The short answer is twice.
The first time led into me quitting a church and flat out exploring other religions. I was that disgusted with that whole state of affairs. Looking back, that might have been an extreme reaction, but my view of Christianity had essentially been shaped by one congregations interpretation of it. And by interpretation, I don’t mean how they exegeted Scripture, but how they lived it out. They had become “country club Christians”: new converts to the faith had to dress like them, speak like them, and act like them before they let you in. Once you were in, you couldn’t share too much or be too personal. Spirituality was little more than another form of politesse. “How are you doing (spiritually)?” “Fine.” Don’t doubt and don’t question (in the “wrong” ways) because those were the sure routes to apostasy (losing your salvation). They were spiritually proud, because, being fundamentalist, they had a lot of biblical head knowledge, but they were inauthentic. So every Sunday was a new episode of Desperate Christians.
The constraints of their brand of spirituality meant that there was no room for mystery, no room for questioning the idea of faith, or “working out your salvation”. You put the word “work” too close to “salvation” and to (some) Protestants that’s code for going Catholic, another sure path to apostasy. Exhausting, isn’t it? You have this with any faith that you cling to when you explore it. I firmly believe that most people are better served 1) not knowing how sausages are made, 2) not knowing how policing is done, and 3) not knowing how churches are run. Just come and enjoy the end product for what it is. Learning too much how churches are run led to time number two.
A friend of mine was a pastor at a large church. As his friend and part-time aide, I had the opportunity to observe close hand as he had factions line up for and against him, the (often back-stabbing) politicking that passed for church governance, and the gossipy nature of churches. It’s a fragile thing reconciling the fact that the Church is meant to be a blessing to and the fact that it is run by man. Man with his pride, his varying agendas, and his fractious nature. This led to one response:
*sigh* This is what Jesus died for?
Paradigm shifts accompanied each of those spiritual low points. A lot of emotions were in play: new chapters or phases in life are often ushered in by forms of depression and we’re talking about the loss of security in what I believed. My faith, as constructed, wasn’t able to fit in what experience and what the Bible taught me. You see, too often, we construct these theological boxes, easily understood models of interpretation, then force God and the Bible into them. When we run into some new idea or experience or, gasp, question, we have to force it into those boxes. Even if we have to contort some Bible passages into some exercise in extreme yoga to do so. Eventually you run up against the principle of the lemon law: how much time, energy, and resources do you pour into your car before you declare it a lemon and get a new one? So I left my boxes behind. In the final analysis, it wasn’t Jesus or the Bible that had soured me on Christianity, it was the religion as practiced by many Christians.
I’m still working out what exactly I am. I know, I know, not the typical sentiment that people want to hear from their pastor. If nothing else, I’ve lost the arrogance that came with the spiritual pride of “knowing everything.” For all intents and purposes, I’m working through what I believe and people journey with me. It’s more missional and incarnational, an emphasis on living out the truth of loving one another. It’s more ecumenical, in that there is a lot of traditions that we, as Protestants, ditched along the way as “too Catholic” that we want to reclaim. A friend of mine called it post-Protestant. We aren’t “protesting” what the Protestants do, but want to reach back and broaden what we call Christianity. Like I said, I’m still working it through.