The obvious answer as to why I am a Christian is that I grew up that way. But less obvious is why I am still a Christian despite experiencing a break from Christianity in my heart and mind in April of last year. Ironically, the break itself is what would ultimately lend so much more meaning for me to the Christian story of transformation, of death and resurrection. In losing my life, I found it, and for a brief period of time, it didn’t include being a Christian. For the first time, I saw choice of religion as optional for salvation, recognizing that religion is not the same thing as God, even if we get most of our ideas about God from religion.
What I learned was that there is More to life than meets the eye, particularly the sick, cynical, depressed eye, the eye that’s in desperate need of healing. I experienced (and still am experiencing and desiring more experiences of) transformation. To me, this is what Christianity is all about: positive change, healing, renewal, restoration, reconciliation. However, it has also been distorted beyond recognition and has been used as an excuse to perpetrate all sorts of atrocities. Many people associate the word “Christianity” with hatred, war, bigotry, and institutional evil. And it’s no wonder that they do.
Yet I still have hope for Christianity, just as I have hope for people in general. When you look at Jesus, the one Christianity is supposed to be all about, you don’t see those things. Instead, you see the things I listed: positive change, healing, renewal, restoration, reconciliation. And you also do see those things in many groups of Jesus-followers today.
For me then, to be a Christian is to affirm that the transformational Spirit of “Christ” (anointing) which rested on Jesus is alive and well today and available for everyone. In fact, it is a principle of reality that death precedes new life, mourning precedes celebration, sickness precedes health. You see evidence of this throughout the world, “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning.” (Isaiah 61:3) This raises an important point: this is not always identified as “Christ,” but whether or not we choose to identify It as such, doesn’t change the fact that It is. Just because I use the name “Christ” to describe this Spirit, doesn’t mean you have to. Christianity does not have a monopoly on transformation. However, I do believe it has a very compelling person and story and set of teachings at its center that are exemplary of, and even instrumental for, transformation: at the personal, familial, societal, and global levels.
I see this Spirit at work both inside the church and outside the church. Sometimes I see it much more clearly at work outside the church, and even more clearly among non-Christians. The only way this has been possible was for me to let go of the blinders that kept me from seeing the image of God in everyone, whether or not they believed in God or saw things the way I did. Jesus’ prayer for us today was “that they may be one.” (John 17:11) We’ll never get there if we keep thinking that you need to join my religion before I will begin to think of you as one of my own. Jesus had no trouble operating within his religion (Judaism) while at the same time transcending it. We can learn to do this too. We bitterly “grieve the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 4:30) as long as we don’t.
Christianity is a rich treasure trove of transformational wisdom. It has captured the imagination of spiritual seekers for thousands of years. It is capturing my imagination today. That is why it makes no sense to me to try and throw out all religion, any more than it makes sense to tout one religion as the best and only one. We’re just falling into the same trap over and over again when we think we have the right course of action for everyone. Yet I do affirm Jesus’ prayer “that they may be one.” What does it mean to be one, to embody unity? Here is where forgiveness (another huge emphasis in Christianity) is essential. We must stop making our diversity a problem. Only then will we have unity.
I envision a “new humanity” where the Spirit of Christ has made “the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14,15) Again, here is that spirit of reconciliation. Religious reconciliation. Racial reconciliation. Individual reconciliation. International reconciliation. This, to me, is what Christianity is all about, at minimum. It’s also so much More…
If you’re a devoted Christian, you might be thinking, “But what about the power and presence of God, the work of the Holy Spirit, and the dynamics of a personal relationship with Jesus?” I’ll get to those things when I write part 2. 🙂