I had a long conversation over the weekend with someone who is unfamiliar with church life. A good, moral, decent family, they nonetheless rejected any organized religion. It was fascinating to see what sort of restrictions this put on my attempt to explain (in response to their direct questions) not only the specifics about Christian faith, but also why such a huge gap existed between the teaching and modeling found in the life of Jesus and their perception of Christianity in the United States of America, 2020. My common vernacular includes a lot of churchy words, things that are somewhat foreign to someone who hasn’t been in a Protestant church tribe for most of their life, like me.
That space – for open questions, honest feedback, and a willingness to dialogue – has prompted a good deal of reflection for me. As someone who has always been connected with a church with elevated values for evangelism (per Jesus’ statement that we should “go and make disciples of all the world”), the landscape of misrepresentation in American religious culture is littered with all sorts of landmines, and things with powerful emotional attachments.
So – what you’re telling me about Jesus, and what he said and what he did, is appealing. He sounds amazing. But what I’m seeing around me is that most of what Christians do and say doesn’t look anything like some of these things he said in the Bible? Why is that?
That statement (paraphrased) struck me. My own path of deconstruction and reconstruction of faith over the past several years led to a dramatic shift in my spiritual life; but it’s likely only obvious to those who know me well. In practice, I still attend – and work for – the same large, non-denominational, evangelically-grounded church. I’m guilty by association, I guess – if one perceives that American Christianity doesn’t look much like Jesus.
I suppose I could get rather jacked up about that; I could join in the chorus of deconstruction lamentation and bash my (and every other) church. There’s a huge tribe to be found, on social media specifically, of folks who are rejecting the hypocrisy of the church and finding solace in the leaving. Many folks have been hurt by church people, and that’s a real – and difficult – thing.
But I’m staying.
In Honest Advent, Erickson writes:
I just know that the Divine is really really really really really really really detailed in Its working with us – and anytime I’m awakened to this intentionality, I’m filled with wonder.SCOTT ERICKSON, ‘HONEST ADVENT’
And that’s why.
Once I quit looking to the church (and, for me, my workplace and my social lifeblood) to fulfill every spiritual need, I discovered something powerful and true, and completely transformative: Jesus is more than enough.
Becoming a disciple of Jesus – a follower, a “little Christ” – is so much more than an invitation to attend the right church, sing the cool songs, post the cool memes, vote the right way, and eternally mark off the check list of Things A Good Christian Should Do. Churches, music, and behaviors do matter – they have great influence and are formative, so those choices are important. But that sort of choosing can preoccupy the person who is seeking solace and answers for the deeper questions that plague the human heart, and bury the less complicated answer underneath it all.
My deconstruction led me to take a step back, to approach Christianity as if Jesus’ life – not just the doctrine that was formed out of his death – could transform my life. And there were the same words of the Gospels, the same stories, the same verbal sparring and dialogue with the religious people. Read from a fresh perspective, the Gospel really does change everything.
The Divine presence that we call “God” – whatever supernatural, amazing, huge, unbelievable, all-powerful force of creation that caused this all to exist – becomes incredibly real to me, through the life of Jesus. That’s why I’m a Christian – Jesus.
And I stay at my church, and sing the cool songs, and strive to be part of a healthy community, because there is refining power in us, together. People learning to work together and forgive one another and be present and suffer together and offer comfort and meet the needs of those who are without, and celebrate and rejoice and grieve and – in short – do all the human stuff.
That’s why we have church; for community. For connection.
And that’s why I’m still here. Whatever current reality any of us are in, we can experience this gift:
May you find the Almighty waiting in the conversation you can have only by being in your current situation.Scott Erickson, ‘Honest Advent’