I spent time this past week reading two memoirs of recovering fundamentalists, Addie Zierman’s When We Were on Fire and Elizabeth Esther’s Girl at the End of the World. I was broken-hearted and nauseated by these books. The way that devotion to God can so easily turn into hate, rejection, pride, and abuse reminded me of lots of things I’ve seen (and participated in) throughout my church experiences.
But I was also inspired that both of these women, despite their experiences of unbalanced and even cult-like faith, did not give up faith in God and in the Bible. They didn’t give up on the Church either, even when they were tempted to. (They did, however, find healthier places of worship.)
Why? Ultimately because they couldn’t let go of Jesus. And He couldn’t let go of them.
But the central truth of the Christian faith is that God the Son, through whom all things were made, not only became flesh and blood, but flesh and blood with a local address.
This is what draws me to the Christian faith. The incarnation. A God who sinks down deep into our earth, so deep that when He walked this earth, you could point to a physical address where He grew up. Jesus cares. He gives a rip about people. He came near to everyday people, willing to be criticized for loving and knowing them. A God whose love was earthy and real and transformed those who were humble enough to admit their need of it.
I am so done with pontificating Christianity, with confusing politics and faith, with making our devotion to God an excuse to push everybody else down. I’m so done with yelling instead of listening. I’m so done with using our religion as a way to get out of serving our neighbor. I’m so done with seeing so many nonbelievers do a better job of serving with humility than I see American Christians doing. I’ve done all these things and I’m so sad about that and so longing to be different.
Yes, I’m longing to be different. I say I’m done with these things, but the truth is that there are many times I fall into old patterns. I’m learning to walk in humble service, but I have a long way to go. I get so prideful sometimes. Perhaps the difference is that my goal is different now. No longer the culture war. No longer being right. Just following, loving, serving, telling my story.
I believe a lot of the same things. I’m still what you could totally classify as a conservative Christian. But the pressure of making others see things the same way is beginning to slip from my shoulders. It’s just not my job. Grace abides. God’s grace is what has drawn me and it is what will draw others. It’s my attitude toward others that is changing. It’s my pride that is beginning to be killed. This truth is steadily beginning to sink in: It’s not about me.
There are many times I get so discouraged with Christians and with the American Church that I long to cut the ties and go be alone with my faith. And then I think of another bewildered seeker who just didn’t have it in him to cut the ties from Jesus. I think of Peter who didn’t understand the ways of God, who couldn’t see how the cross could figure into his vision of a triumphant King. I think of how he said the wisest words, words to which I cling: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” I am held by this Jesus.
For better or for worse, the Church is the local address where Jesus holes up now. And I want to be where Jesus is. I can’t be with Him in the fullest way without being with others members of His Body. I’m held by Jesus here, in this Body. Just like He came into a broken world, into a body that was capable of dying, into relationships that were fraught with human sin (not His, but ours), now He comes through an imperfect, broken Church. Still so very near to us. Longing to kill our sin and pride and make us new in His life. We can be that to each other. Through Him.