Saturday, May 15, 2010

Wondering about Christians

Turns out I wonder much the same about Christianity as I do about Paganism. Basically just, what is it? who "counts" and who doesn't? Is just saying you're one all you need? What if you DON'T say that you're one, but follow many of the tenets or it, even more so than many of its followers?

This came up recently for me because a friend who is a pastor posted some bit of pastorly wisdom to facebook, and I responded that it was useful to me even though I wasn't christian. He wrote me in private to say, "well, why not become one?" To his thinking, as I'm already concerned with social justice and ethical behavior, I'm halfway there!

So, what I wonder about first, with Christians is, again, what is one? Not that I think there's an answer, though unlike Pagans, there are lots of legally incorporated entities with tax-exempt status in the US and lots of rules and creeds and probably bylaws and stuff like that (which all help us to be better, more evolved spiritual beings, right?)

I assume there are bits of that in neopaganism, but I'm not actually sure. Anyway, the fact that christians have it doesn't really help me understand how people frame their own understanding of their own christianity anyway.

I've studied some, but it sort of all boggles my mind. A friend who used to be an evangelical christian pointed me recently towardthis page about all the different ways to interpret the book of revelations and what it says about when Jesus will come back, when the dead will rise, all that. I don't think it includes the "someone was just trippin'" or the "they were just wrong" interpretations of the book - no, this is just a ton of different ways to think the rapture and stuff is for real.

Which I tend to assume MOST christians don't believe, but there are probably polls proving I'm wrong.

The christians who tend to annoy me the most are those who are excited for other people to go to hell, followed by those who thank Jesus every time they find a good parking space (really, that guy needs to get a life, if he's worrying about where you're gonna park), but I don't interact with either of those types, much....

What I'm left confused about is people who aren't too worried about the super literalness of the Bible, and probably don't think I'm doomed to hell for not thinking Jesus was especially the son of God or whatever other magicalism it might be.

But they still think I'm missing something, and I can't for the life of me figure out what. Occasionally, the really convincing ones don't seem to worry about what I'm missing, but live their lives in a way that makes ME wonder if I'm missing something. (not that they're nicer people than I am, though maybe, but they're more at peace, I think, and often nicer, now that I think of it)

A LOT of what I run into, in my own dancing around with this in my head, is a sense that my best sense of Jesus (both what feels truest, for the most part, and what feels more likable) is of a man supremely concerned with justice and love, and enormously pissed off by dogma, religious strictures, etc. As if he was almost always saying, to those concerned more with tradition, "forget all that nonsense and heal the sick, feed the hungry, love each other, enjoy life"

And I guess I find myself wanting to say pretty much the same things to a lot of christians a lot of the time

Which feels a lot like wanting to be outside more than a lot of pagans seem to.

Plus, there's this sense, and I just don't get it, that being concerned with, for example, social justice is a really important first step in some larger process, the end of which would be something like "becoming a christian" (and that's where I'm wondering, what is that? is there a hope I'll believe something different? start praying to Jesus (like, and mean it?), just join a church, exactly as I am?

but most importantly, to me these things seem like ends in themselves - housing the homeless, feeding the hungry, comforting the suffering, preventing war, fighting for justice. And I'm baffled, and somewhat angry, when I run into, over and over again, what seems like the notion that they are somehow accessories to THE POINT, which I still don't even understand - that would be belief in something? It would be _________ - what would it be?

Liz blogged a bit ago about being a faithful servant. I didn't really get it, and it didn't resonate with me (I don't think/care much about being a faithful servant, for after all, who would I serve?) but it DID bring up this issue again. One item she mentions is helping a friend facing homelessness (I'm not sure what that entailed) but I had done something similar this winter (sadly, I think many of us probably had opportunities to do so for the first time) but it was radically different for me, I think, because God never entered my mind, not for a second. It's cold, she's scared, I have space - a number of thoughts/reasons/motivations, but not remotely related to God or religion.

And I *like* it that way. Perhaps only because my view of religion is still so shallow? It made sense to me, after all, when I was a small child with a simple philosophy. It *sounds* like wanting to house the homeless out of a hope for garnering favor with the divine, rather than out of some inborn sense of empathy or compassion. Am I missing something that is better/bigger/more awesome than empathy and compassion as a motivation?

This extends to other areas of spirituality for me as well, religion seems to cheapen it. Trees are AMAZING, the ocean is AMAZING, life is AMAZING - you can just be drop dead (hopefully not literally) blown away by the wonder of it all, and then someone bops up and says something like, "you're missing the really amazing thing, which is that some dude made this" - which leaves me completely nonplussed.

I dunno


Friendly Mama said...

Hey Pam,
Well, I call myself a Christian but I don't pray to Jesus. I don't even think Jesus was any more divine than you or me. I call myself a Christian because Jesus is my teacher and model for how to reflect God. I think we all have that of God in us but most of us only have fleeting glimpses of the awareness of it while I think there have been some people, call them Christ, Bodhisatvas, prophets, whatever, who have a more immediate and complete awareness. My being Christian doesn't have anything to do with salvation and everything to do with living as Jesus instructed us to do as if the kingdom of God is now--which, to me means feeling compassion, embodying love, doing my best to be whatever God calls me to be here and now in order to do God's work of loving and caring for one another.
A whole lot of people would say that I'm not a Christian, including pretty much everybody in my family and church of origin but I don't think God's love has anything to do with being saved and everything to do with being open and faithful to God's will for me. I think you can be faithful and right without having a relationship with what I know as God, as long as you are True to your calling, whatever your understanding.
But, of course, this is only my current understanding. I think, particularly with Quakers, you'll get as many perspectives as you will respondents.
Mary Linda

Micah Bales said...

Dear Pam,

I was really touched by this post. I think that the whole point is not to "call oneself a Christian" - lots of people do that and fail to have a vibrant relationship with Christ. The goal, in my opinion, is to lead a life of love and obedience* to the inward guidance of Christ.

Obedience and relationship with the Inward Teacher leads to inward peace - just as you've described experiencing yourself. It also leads to compassion and love for others - which you have also described experiencing in your life, without any intellectual reference to the Deity.

I hope that you will continue to be deepened in your relationship with Christ. I want to affirm that you do indeed have such a relationship. The Spirit of Christ in thee calls out to the inward Witness in my own heart.



*PS - I know that the word "obedience" is a hard one to hear for those of us who have seen it abused so many times by human authorities. I hope you hear that my intention is not to use the word in an authoritarian way. On the contrary, I believe that obedience to God leads us into greater wholeness, freedom and life.

TheYellowDart said...

It is nice that you make the distinction between the flavors of Christians to set the table for this discussion. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems you are trying to find reasons why to be a Christian and asking what that even means. So I will respond with my own understanding as that is all I can respond with. (BTW, this is an excellent question that I wish Christians would ask each other occasionally. But like you mentioned, there are different understandings, and in some of those understandings questioning is not allowed. How sad!)

You mention this ....

"But they still think I'm missing something, and I can't for the life of me figure out what. Occasionally, the really convincing ones don't seem to worry about what I'm missing, but live their lives in a way that makes ME wonder if I'm missing something."

First let me say I identify with this type of Christian you reference here.

If I wasn't following Christ the thing missing for me would be meaning, purpose, relationship, and a link to the ground of my being. Don't get me wrong; I am not saying you don't have these things because you don't follow Christ. I am just saying this is what I would personally miss if I walked away from following the express example of Christ and believing in the teachings of Christ.

Let me say at this point that I do believe Jesus when he said he was God. I don't know how this works exactly. I just have faith that it is true, and it has been reinforced and strengthened by the experience I have had following Him. So for me what Jesus said and did is what God is like. I don't have a view of God and then understand that Jesus is like God because he is a part of him. I have a view of Jesus and take from that view what God is like. It is a fine point, but important to my understanding. Bottomline: God is Jesus-like rather than Jesus is God-like. Jesus is the ultimate reference point.

So given that understanding, the example of Christ's life and teachings answers for me the meaning question and the purpose question. It would take pages to explain that, but a good start would be to read the gospels (any or all; I personally prefer John) with personal meaning and purpose in mind.

Another important aspect that I would personally miss would be relationship, and this is really the key for me on which hinges everything else. Everything radiates from this point. The ground of my being, the creator of my soul, the genesis of everything cares to know me personally. So as I seek to develop relationship with Christ, I believe this helps in my other relationships as I become familiar with the ground of being of their existence as well. Knowing where people come from matters to your relationship with them. Where you were born and raised and what family you come from is important. And knowing where you ultimately come from is ultimately important.

Diane said...

As I understand it, Jesus of Nazareth lived a fully human life which included his death, resurrection and return to God. He is the demonstration of what life looks like and how it is powered/energized/motivated. In my own experience, peace comes from the latter. When I had only the former I was constantly struggling to accomplish it and more often than not felt less than successful.

When the revelation came to me that Jesus depended solely on God to motivate him in doing the things that make for peace and justice, I found rest.

James Riemermann said...

I hear you, Pam. I would suggest--and I imagine this has crossed your mind and might even be your own unspoken suspicion--that the only reason anyone gives the name Jesus or Christ to this sort of experience, and associates it so strongly with the New Testament figure, is because their religious culture and upbringing has told them that it is supposed to be given that name. If they hadn't been taught that way, they wouldn't name it that way. They might call it Buddha, Brahma, the Tao, etc. Or, like you, they might just take the experience for what it is and stop trying to categorize it.

Joanna Hoyt said...

I am Christian, or at least I strive to be, but I don't tell people from other traditions that they ought to change to mine. I agree with James that my naming of God is influenced by the culture I grew up in. Since our minds are so much smaller than God, it seems understandable that we come up with different ways of putting the infinite truth we have touched into finite language and concepts. Perhaps in times of grace, of direct experience of the Presence, we can leave the names and concepts behind. But in the dry times, in the long intervals of trying to live in faithfulness to a truth i still believe but cannot currently feel, I need the support of a community of faith, and of a concrete set of spiritual practices. For me, both of these are Christian.

Pam, I hear you about wanting to love or to do good for its own sake and not to gain brownie points with Someone Up There. I agree. But when I focus solely on what needs to be done and what I can do to meet it I am sometimes overwhelmed by my impotence, blindness, double-mindedness; and I need to be reminded that my hope for the world is based on God's goodness not my own. That doesn't mean that I can sit back and assume that God will fix everything. It does mean that I can do what is within my power and then stop, knowing that the rest is in God's hands. it also means that I need to slow down and listen for God's guidance about how to act instead of rushing ahead eagerly on the basis of my preconceived notions.

Liz Opp said...

Pam, I'm glad I thought to look at your blog again.

I like this part of what you wrote: "God never entered my mind [when it came to helping someone who might be homeless], not for a second. It's cold, she's scared, I have space - a number of thoughts/reasons/motivations, but not remotely related to God or religion. And I *like* it that way..."

You have always come across to me as someone who lives out her convictions--you have a sense of what is Right and what is Wrong. Acting out of that sense works for you, and frankly, I am not concerned whether or not you "get God."

Sometimes I feel like I'm the one who's missing something--the ability to act because it's the right thing to do.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

earthfreak (Pam) said...

Thanks Liz!

I guess what I am pondering, not that I'll ever find an answer, is if God really helps people figure that stuff out, if it doesn't come that naturally (I am WAAAY too empathetic for my own good, it's a good thing in a way, and debilitating in others - not that I can't be clueless in the moment sometimes, but if I know someone -cat, human, whatever - is faced with something that would scare or upset me, I AM scared and upset. It can be really frustrating)

and how does God get mediated? obviously so many ways in our culture, and those before us. Is it the part of you that says, "yes, let's do the right thing" or the part that says, "yes, let's go kill all the people who disagree with us about God" - it's certainly been both - how much of it is direct (the still, small voice) and how much is theology, writings, culture? how often have we drifted far away from God in our pursuit of him(/??) - how do we begin to pick landmarks to find our way back?

(to this thing I don't believe in :)

James Riemermann said...

God, it just seems so simple to me. Not easy--on the contrary, incredibly difficult--but conceptually simple. Feel and think the situation through, and do what your human heart and mind tells you is most life-giving, what is most likely to increase joy and eases suffering. Not just your own joy and suffering, but from the drop-dead obvious perspective that the joy and suffering of others is just as real and important as your own.

It's not that I have any great certainty about there being no God--it's just a strong hunch I have. But I don't see how the existence, or my discernment of wishes, of the creator of the universe has any bearing on the struggle to be a decent human being. Why complicate it?