Friday, December 14, 2007

The Christianity I never knew

If someone had raised me in a Christian faith where the goal of life wasn't to keep out of hell but to live in a thoughtful, responsible, peace-loving, "option for the poor" kind of a way and had founded those ideals on the teachings of Christ and had then suggested that this way of life is sourced in God, I might have held onto God more easily.

If I had been told that the Bible is written by people like me attempting within their contexts to identify that thread of spirituality we like to call God through their direct experiences, their imaginations and their cosmologies, I would have held the Bible with a more open hand.

If the church had been peopled and run by a variety of personalities, genders, races and education levels, I might have imagined that Paul's words "There is neither Jew nor Greek... male nor female..." were true and worthy of my own devotion in how I treat others.

If Christians had been on the cutting edge of caring about science, history, and archeology because they knew that their beliefs could be modified or enhanced by further developments, I would have happily stayed on.

Graduate school was the first place I ever encountered this kind of faith. Understandably, I miss it.


Drew said...

I found this after seminary when my wife and I stopped going to church. Each Sunday we would walk the dogs on the beautiful 3 mile hike in the woods outside of Princeton, NJ. The hikes in the snow were my favorite.

We would then come home and have a nice lunch of some kind of comfort food like Greek omlettes. Then we would watch the Steelers on Sunday Ticket, my wife would fall asleep with the dogs and I would watch the game.

That was church for about three years. I spent the time reading theology among others things and truly communing with the world.

And my anthem during this time? A song by King's X called "Run". Here are the lyrics and I am sure you would appreciate...

Yeah she told me, that if I wasn't good
He would get me, make me pay for
everything I did, and she said
that everybody bad would burn in Hell
I did what she told me and I became
someone else.
I had to run
I had to hide
In the world outside
A better chance, out there
If God is everywhere.
I wait for nothing, take my chances let it ride
maybe there's an answer but it's buried by the lies
Somebody told me that it's just a waste of my time.
But I can't get rid of all those bags I left behind
I had to run
I had to hide
In the world outside
A better chance, out there
If God is everywhere.

We have now found a church where we feel at home. A good place for our kids to grow up that will nurture rather than convict them of sin. A place where people matter more than doctrine and that's the key!

julieunplugged said...

Drew, thank you so much for posting this message (and the song too - perfect).

I just signed my son Liam and I up to participate in our local Audubon chapter's Christmas Bird Count to get us outdoors and with people. I had this kind of experience in mind.

What church are you in now (may I ask)?

Also, your comments on the postmodernism post are in my file for response on the blog. I hope to get to them this next week. I really resonate with how you understand postmodernism. Thanks for participating here. It enriches me.

Sandie said...

This is the faith I was raised in. I think that is why I had such a hard time communicating with many other Christians online at first. These were the assumptions I started with and really thought they were the mainstream ideas. Until I started homeschooling, I didn't really know another type of Christianity existed.

I don't know if you remember one of the first TD posts I made that caused a BIG fuss. In it I was frustrated at something someone had said and I responded by saying something like the Bible was written by lots of old men trying to make sense of what they experienced, written through their fears, social norms, and prejudices. I really thought at the time this was 'common' knowledge. It shocked me that not only was it not 'common' knowledge, but that it was considered very dangerous ground, intolerant thought, and Christian bashing...all of these comments were hurled at me in continued posts. I am more than glad I stuck it out and made friends with those women. I have gotten to see so many of them grow in their faith.

The way you have shared your journey has been especially inspiring.

julieunplugged said...

Sandie, I do remember your posts from TD (Trapdoor Society, a women's online bulletin board I used to host). Your ideas were startling to me in a good way back then.

I know that the Episcopal church is a good choice for the kind of theology I've come to accept/admire. I just haven't quite gotten over the liturgy hurdle - the high church forms.

So I keep oozing forward.

brian said...


People like Borg, Spong, Daniel Helminiak and Stephen Mitchell pretty much helped me salvage what I have left of Christianity. It was also really cool to discover that many of the church fathers would be considered "heretics" by the modern church. What we were taught was "always so" wasn't really always so.

I will always be a Christian, of some form. Right now I'm probably about 50/50 Christian and Buddhist and still digging through the Christianity separating the diamonds from the dung, as Thomas Jefferson put it. I've found several people I can share this journey with on-line. The challenge for me is finding people in the 3D world to share it with.


Ampersand said...

I love this post!

I really (really!) wish that underneath all that I have peeled away of my Christianity, I still believed in a personal God, or any God for that matter. I find myself completely agnostic. Sure, I feel things, spiritual inclinations and urges, but I can't convince myself that they reflect any absolute reality, at least not beyond my own inner experience.

If I did, I would go find me some of what Drew, Sandie, Brian, and others of your readers have found -- and some peeps like them to hang out with, in church even.

Chuck said...

Nice, concise post, always.

In my second time around as a Christian, I find all of these bullets have become my default position. Fortunately I found some writers that embraced science and anthropology as core theological concepts. And they were usually able to shed most dogma/doctrine, or at least relegate it to a secondary role.

I especially like and identify with your second bullet - on biblical interpretation.

Drew said...

Thanks Julie!

I go to the Hollidaysburg PCUSA in PA. The pastor and I share a lot in common with our education and our ideas of ministry which I have found to be rare.

Anonymous said...

I've felt very similarly...finding some hope in the emergent church movement, which while still very much a tiny reform movement, seems to my mind to be trying to reach all the goals you mentioned in this post...

Do you have any thoughts on the various efforts of the "emergent christianity" efforts?

Dcn Scott Dodge said...

Please don't take this as ecclesiastical point scoring, but perhaps you should've given your native Catholicism more of a chance, especially the papal magisterium of Papa Montini.

Rev Dr Mom said...

That's the kind of Christianity I believe, that's what fires my ministry, but I admit that it's not the way Christianity often presents itself. I feel little in common with the "Christian right" or with fundamentalists of any sort.

mariam said...

There is still a Christian faith of the type you describe Julie. I've found it in Anglicanism, but it is also there in liberal Lutheran, Methodist and even Catholic churches. It is so great to be in a church where people know what a metaphor is and where the Bible is, you know, a BOOK, albeit a sacred book written by MEN (albeit holy men who thought a lot about God). The liturgy turned me off when I was young and had occasion to attend such churches but now I love it. I love the symbolism. I love the levels of meaning. I love saying those common prayers and affirmations, so beautifully worded; I love the feeling that I am saying words that go back to the very beginning of the church, I love the metaphor of "the saints" being present to witness my affirmations. I love the old hymns, with music by Haydn and Mozart and Vaughn Williams, instead of the insipid "praise music" you can hear on Christian radio stations. I most of all love that quiet solemn climax of the service when we are called forward one by one to share in the remembrance of Christ's last supper.

I've always found it interesting that conservative churches rag on so much about how biblical they are and yet there is so little of the Bible in their services. The Anglican service is largely listening to and speaking words from the Bible - without commentary, which leaves me free to think about and find inspiration in them in my own way.

There are lots of things about the Anglican church that are less than ideal:
- in the liberal churches the average age of parishioners is round about, I don't know, maybe 65 or 70
-we are always on the verge of splitting up
-sometimes people raised in the church know the forms, but don't know the why. It is easy to ignore the quality of your own faith and just concentrate on saying the words - although sometimes in times where your faith fails you that is a really good thing too.
-it's so English, with both the good and not-so-good that that entails.

Elleann said...

You guys are always so inspiring and encouraging!

I'm currently a complete non-churchgoer and this December will probably be the first time ever in my life that I won't be at any Christmas morning service by choice.

I dabbled with atheism for a season, but couldn't stay there. Like Ampersand, I'm probably mostly agnostic these days. I thinkthere is a 'God', but very much doubt if he/she/it is the Judeo-Christian concept I grew up with. And I really, really do not know if this entity is in any way personally interested in what happens or doesn't happen in my life.

There are times when I still find a longing in me for that 'personal relationship' I used to have, but mostly, letting go of all those concepts has been utterly liberating.

Drew said...

I'm with you Mariam. For music to sing in church my wife and I have this rule - if it wasn't written before the 20th century it generally sucks. "Praise music" is as shallow melodically as it is theologically.

Kansas Bob said...

I thought it interesting Julie that your four points deferred to others instead of you.. you came across as one victimized by religion.. I don't think that you meant it to come across that way.. maybe it was just the way that I read it.

For me, I don't think that I could have initially embraced the type of faith you detailed.. unfortunately my faith had a dark arrogant side that had to be confronted.. it fed a part of me that was broken.. I wish I could have got out faster but I am glad that I eventually got out.

Sorry that you trashed all praise music Drew.. not all of it is great.. as all hymns are not.. but there is some really good stuff out there.. in my opinion anyway :)

julieunplugged said...

Bob, I wasn't intending to sound victimized by religion, but rather I was expressing the nearly universal absence of what I've grown to love about faith in the expressions that surrounded me for most of my life. I didn't know to seek something else. I didn't realize that I was being shown one version of faith to the exclusion of others until I had so totally drunk of the "dark arrogant side" (as you call it) that I found this other form to be suspicious and heretical.

I agree with you that part of my psyche was fed by this triumphalistic, self-aggrandizing version of faith. Not doubt about that.

Good comments.

Kansas Bob said...

Not sure about you Julie but I "know" that I was confronted by those four "Ifs" from your post and I regularly dismissed them thinking that they were watered down "liberal" versions of faith. I do think that there is something that is fed in some of us by fundamentalism.. I don't know why it takes so long to "see the light".. maybe change is just harder for some of us.

For me, acknowledging my past willing involvement in fundamentalism frees me a bit.. helps me rehearse where I have come from and helps me to see a bit better where I want to be. Reading your blog is part of that journey Julie.. and I thank you for that!

Blessings, Bob

Emily said...

Hi Julie! I miss Xavier, too. It was the first place where not only was I allowed to think about my faith, I was expected to think about it! My church is trying, in some ways, to practice what is preached, but in other ways (no women in leadership) I don't think we'll ever get there.