Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Struggling on the Fringes of Christianity

In my last post I confessed I have been wrestling with a serious identity crisis. Should I still call myself a Christian even though I seem to be on the fringes of what is required/accepted by the gatekeepers of mainstream Christendom? Should I follow in Anne Rice’s footsteps when she wrote:

"Today I quit being a Christian. I'm out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being 'Christian' or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to 'belong' to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else."

Or should I cling to my Christian identity but somehow reform it so that I can confidently reclaim it?

My gut has been telling me the latter option will be the most difficult but is ultimately the right answer. The more I’ve pondered what this reformation of my Christian identity would look like, the more overwhelmed I’ve become. I’m not talking about just a few minor adjustments here and there. I’m talking about a major paradigm shift. Something that will seriously rock my world—nearly to the very foundations of my faith—but not quite all the way. And after this seismic demolition, I will have to clear away all the rubble and begin to replace it with something new. Fortunately I’m beginning to realize this something new will be several orders of magnitude more simple than what was present before. But even so, the prospect of this undertaking terrifies me.

I know I’m not the first to embark on this sort of journey and I’m not the only Christian wrestling with my identity. I was, however, taken by surprise by how many hits my original post on this topic received. The number of visitors to that post confirms my suspicion that those of us on the fringes are increasing in number. More disturbing to me were the number of people who responded to me in private with statements to this effect: “I’m so glad you shared this, I thought I was the only one who felt this way, I wish I could say this sort of thing publicly.”

While I don’t claim my post was particularly courageous, I will confess that I wrestled with sharing what I did. My pastor, who has been teaching a series on the subversive parables of Jesus, invited me to read my blog post in front of our congregation (he’s had several congregants share examples of subversive short stories, poems, etc.) I declined. This begs the question: what am I afraid of? The answer to this question is complex and comprises a large part of the problem many of us are having with our Christian identity. The simplest way I can put it is this: I want to be able to follow Jesus and call myself a Christian without starting a fight. I want to be a committed Christian without having to condemn, convince, convert, or perform any other sort of con on others who believe differently than I.

Enter Brian D. McLaren and his wonderful book: Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?  Christian Identity in a Multi-faith World. McLaren, who describes himself as an author, speaker, activist, and public theologian, has done a masterful job describing the problem I have been wrestling with. He even gives it a name: Conflicted Religious Identity Syndrome. But beyond describing the problem of the crisis of Christian identity and its symptoms, he offers a solution. A path towards a new kind of Christian identity—what he describes as a Strong/Benevolent Christian identity. This new identity brings with it major challenges that must be solved. McLaren adroitly identifies these challenges and offers solutions.

So to my fellow Truth seekers struggling on what you think are the fringes of Christianity, I beg you to read this book. And to those of you who are already confident you possess the Truth, those of you resting comfortably in the knowledge that your religion has provided you all the answers, I beg you to read this book.

1 comment:

Mona said...

"I want to be a committed Christian without having to condemn, convince, convert, or perform any other sort of con on others who believe differently than I." Spot-on. I feel like standing up and shouting Amen, brotha, but that's not my tradition. :) The thoughts you've expressed in both blog entries on this subject are similar to those I've been mulling (with a lot less clarity) for years. I've concluded that today's Christian landscape and its attendant mine fields have been shaped in great part by the desire to, for lack of a better term, put God in a box (as C.S. Lewis explored from time to time). And the response I hear in my mind is that which God posed to Job: "Where were you, when I built the foundations of the world?" I will pop Mclaren's book into my Kindle on your recommendation. And in the meantime I hope you know by now that your identity crisis rings familiar to many of us.