Analysis, CPJ-Saga, Criticism, dreams, People, Reflection

CPJ-3: Don’t Call Me Christian

I want my intended audience to know this with certainty: I’m done with religious life. Spirituality can only ever be something fluid, subjective, and ultimately tertiary to me. I want to love, be loved, and discourse on love and all it contains: peace, justice, affection… hopefully sex. Please, if there’s a god, let there be more (good) sex in my life. Art can be secondary. Maybe it’s primary? Well, tertiary things can still be important— it’s an adjustment of perspective. If it’s too weird, I’ll funnel ‘spirit-stuff’ through my art and keep it away from my relationships (that sounds smart).

Let’s Get this Off my Chest

It’s Time to Eat My Proverbial cake!

The old truism “to have your cake and eat it too” leaves crucial aspects of the problem unaddressed, such as “what does it take to eat a whole cake?” and “what unnatural measures are required to have a cake forever?” The time has come to come-clean, even from the act of coming-clean!

Now that I know my Christian background can spook a woman I’m interested in (even if it’s not the main reason she’s spooked ~ not even close…) the horns of the dilemma are less proverbial, more painful: like sets of locked antlers. My cake is to be a prophet in an established tradition. To eat that cake is to admit that it happened and it’s over: my messages aren’t generally wanted and I too easily conflated my self with messages I brought. I don’t belong inside Western Christianity and I question if I ever truly wanted to belong. I thrived on the idea of being something ‘better’. I relished knocking the dust from my shoes [scripture] but I spent the next eight years leaning on the doorframe watching for falling meteors. Tsk tsk.

I’ll admit: for me the major psychological function of being a(n ex) missionary was to be better than the average Christian. It didn’t take much, truthfully. I showed up where I was needed ten years ago. Some other Christians said things like “I couldn’t do what you’re doing, I’m so thankful that you’re doing it” and I thought ‘you can’t serve tea and edit grant documents, working with the nicest people? …under an apartheid regime? I guess that’s pretty tough… good thing I’m your hero, crackers!’. I was a mess but, hey, I showed-up. It meant something, too. It really did. This is the part where I would normally humble-brag about being a civil rights activist, or something like that, but…

…that was ‘then’, yet there was also ‘later’, and here is ‘now’

Before I digress again, I need to lay this out: I’m putting the need to seem expert behind me. Now that I’m a Spiritual-Not-Religious-Person there can’t be any more desire to prove my ideas. I’ve been scared to step into this space, even though I know this is the ‘real’ universe. There’s a comfort in being a warped version of a tradition rather than forcing myself to freelance. My brain chemistry and my life-history made me feel like I couldn’t make this jump but my art and the HOPE (…a different kind of faith?) of finding more meaningful connection in the darkness and mystery of non-affiliated, doubt-rich spirituality … well, that’s appealing to me! Forget being right! I want to be touched by something new!

Too many times I’ve started writing my anti-apologetics for the damn Dutch therapist I saw outside of Geneva but that’s just more of the same. I’ve hung around on the periphery of Western Christianity wanting to still be significant in that circle but really wanting to belong everywhere, in circles where non-religious people were just as disgusted with the cultural baggage around churches as I was. Of course, I have many beloved friends inside those cultures trying to change them. Sometimes I feel like I’m haunting them, clinging like a ghost to the intersection of our spheres instead of making my exit. I acted as if I was “Mr. 5th Gospel.” In hindsight, this kind of vanity is tragic.

Rather than a transcendent epiphany, I’ve had a stream of grounding moments. I paid for dating site subscriptions but I live in Grand Rapids, MI: a cesspool of churchy women. Before I left for the middle-East, I dated one of the worst… the kind of woman who would start a relationship on the side and then break-up with me a few months later saying she felt Jesus was leading her to it. Granted, I was raised Christian and still identified as such at that point but, reminisce with me, how satisfying it was to e-mail her from the Holy Land as a missionary for her church and say [paraphrasing to make this more entertaining]: “I understand Jesus better than you, now; fuck you, bitch!” —except I was self-righteously polite. The thrust was basically “your faith is just a device of justification for your behavior while mine moved me into growth and SIGNIFICANCE, YOU PETTY BITCH!” Boom! I’m knocking the dust out of my shoes! That was nine years ago?

I struggle to make my dating profiles…

I’m was afraid of being alone: I didn’t want to offend any mid-Western-Christian-identifying-women. Maybe one would spurn the churchiness I find distasteful? As soon as I found a woman who might be spiritual-not-religious in a she’s-from-a-coast way, I was ready to jump ship and disaffiliate. Whenever I see the profile of a woman start with “Jesus is #1 in my life” I click/swipe next saying …”I’m the one who knows who & what Jesus is, get thee behind me unexamined churchiness and cultural baggage”. Good Christian women don’t want me: fine. I’m tired of all the cultural baggage that comes with identifying as Christian.

I found one quasi-spiritual chick. She didn’t have to be ready to love and be loved— I was ready to love her, and feeling that changed my perspective about myself. She really struck a chord with me when she expressed how Christians were insincere to her. I explained my past away, though. As I explained myself I didn’t feel like I was lying to try to reel her into my life. I shared my real feelings, the truths I omitted about what I believe. I resonate with my would-be love; I look past whatever she’s gone through or is going through (all the reasons she had for pushing me away, which I’ll never know) and appreciate the truth in what she said. It’s part of my own truth.

Part of me is itching for a Bible-citation battle, just to feel like Blade slaying vampires, but that’s not helpful…

My basic beliefs haven’t changed since I whipped a passage from Matthew chapter 15 (off my dome!) on that Dutch therapist when she tried to quote John chapter 3 to me. I know in what order those gospel manuscripts were written (Synoptic Gospels first {Matthew, Mark, Luke}, John sometime later for a different audience). I doubt Jesus snuck into Jerusalem by himself to speak to Nicodemus (that’s a long trip from the Galilee— and if it’s a secret trip, how would “John” know decades later but not the other three Gospel authors? He wouldn’t know!). I already didn’t believe in substitutional atonement when I arrived in the Holy Land. I put weight behind Jesus’ words and in so many places he stressed how we treat each other. Notably, in Matthew chapter 25. If you’re still convinced you need John chapter 3, well, I’m going to ask you to consider the entirety of Mark chapter 7 so you can wonder with me “where is this coming from? Could it be your traditions and not the will of a god?”

Launching a complex argument about the nature of atonement with Biblical citations does not make me appear less Christian non-Christians, does it? It might demonstrate that my idea of following Jesus’ teachings has been radically different than the majority of Christians for many years. For a while I flattered myself that I was sent to change them when, really, I was persisting to feel superior to them– or to keep company with left-wing Christians who are gems. They’re my friends and I will always love them and want to support whatever good work they do, even if they do it believing things I don’t. I have a similar feeling for Muslims and Jews I know who love Justice, Peace, and Compassion above all. I felt like we were all on a ‘side’ together when I worked in the middle-East. Holy text disagreements never superseded the comradery of being in The Nonviolent Movement together.

The tattoo over my heart.

I used to say boycott, divest, and sanction was my REAL religion…

…by a certain reckoning, I might still be Christian but I don’t have to identify as such. I don’t think Jesus intended that, no matter what some say about ‘witness’. Do the work of being a good person and some kind of Grace should follow. I don’t reject Grace: I understand Grace as a matter of praxis and heart-intentions, not of doctrine and belief.

I want to address my lingering theism… ishness?…

I don’t want you to feel like I’m hiding my desire to find threads of The Divine in my life. I’m a seeker by nature: I love poetry, narratives, music, and deep conversations. I assert nothing with 100% certainty and I could suggest a range of things. I thought I wanted to ‘know’ and ‘prove’ but over time a hunger to ‘wonder’ and ‘play’ is over-taking my need to feel important and secure. Bluntly, I’m growing to love myself enough that I can accept myself as a garden-variety-spiritual-not-religious-person rather than armoring myself in the shards of my Christian past, hoping against reason that someone would love ME because of THAT. Clearly, the women I would like to meet might struggle to love THAT even if they’re drawn to ME. It’s not worth it. Not at all. Consider how much of my faith-ish-ness is already tied to doing the right thing rather than believing the right way.

Out Here in ‘Hazy Space’

Someone might come out of the woodwork and say “you’re going to throw away {whatever} because you’re afraid women won’t date you! How weak!” Sure: it is. I think it has a root sunk in the beatitudes: the weak inheriting the land. Besides, I’ve only had one vision of God in my life. Visions are different from dreams because they feel as vivid as life. I “dream-visioned” I swam through the rings of Saturn, chasing Somebody. I accidentally slipped into the void of space and felt a chilling despair, but a woman rode a flying-carpet-retro-rocket-bed (it’s a dream, stay with me) out of the starless night with my sister onboard. She cuddled us. I awoke with the sense that the woman was an avatar of GOD. Later that day, our paternal grandmother died. This vision of The Divine (that may have been a creation of my imagination at just the right time? That’s possible… I won’t deny it’s possible), yeah, this vision of The Divine came A) when I needed her B) as a beautiful woman and C) freely giving her affection to us because of our need. The middle-Eastern imagery was bonus corroboration. Freaky. Eerie. Wonderful. Loving. The Mystery of the Universe is not contained to books nor calculations (think about all the dark matter in galaxies! …it could be just exotic matter, though, I won’t deny that’s possible).

So, I fall in that hazy space between agnosticism, universalism, and eastern teachings. I was relieved to find a passage in the Tao Te Ching that mirrors The Beatitudes of Matthew’s Gospel; for me, that corroborated that The Way extended beyond Christian teachings and probably not everything within Christian culture was part of The Way! That’s my humble opinion. Whether you believe it or not matters less than if treat your neighbor with love as you treat yourself with love, in kind. I draw a great deal of comfort from the Tao Te Ching, including this teaching:

“the Tao both ‘is’ and ‘is not’ but it’s less deceptive to say ‘it’s not’”.

…my flawed paraphrase of a quote from a translation of “The Tao Te Ching”

That, right there, is an acknowledgement of the way we distort The Divine to suit ourselves. By believing something too specific with too much conviction, we start to tell untruths about what ‘God’ is. Granted, by denying the possibility of God we probably miss at least half of what is happening in the universe (remember “the Tao both is and is not”) but at least we exclude the distortions.

What about the people I meditate with?

Meanwhile, I’ve kept company with Friends-Quakers. I’ve learned and grown a great deal with Friends. There is no doctrine among them and they should not be confused with other ‘Peace-Churches’ who embrace being socially and technologically …umm… slow? No no: Friends-Quakers seek The Mystery of The Divine. They want to listen. Some of them are tied to Christian roots but many are free to roam as I have roamed. They provided a community where I could discern fully rather than being caught in a viscious cycle of coming and going from a mainline denomination. “Friends differ on this matter…” is the most loving, wise statement I’ve ever seen in a religious organization’s documents. That phrase is ALL OVER the Faith & Practice document. They disagree on matters without rejecting each other; they remain counterparts rather than becoming adversaries. When I needed a support committee, a key member of it was an atheist Friend who was no less a Quaker than the rest of us. We all embraced the practice and the process — and each other.

While I don’t hold a religious conviction that a particular process is “right”, I do acknowledge that the practices I embraced while worshipping with Friends-Quakers were more helpful than harmful. I think those practices are neither at odds with Christianity nor with Eastern Traditions — they are just pretty-darn-good (but-not-perfect-in-every-situation) practices for being a community that discusses living, discerning, and believing. If the word “Quaker” freaked you out, I offer two pieces of comfort: they’re probably not all what you think they are and I don’t have to continue attending meetings if it’s going to screw-up my life.

We had a good run.

Again, I’m free to eat the cake: that happened, there was nourishment, it can be over. I love those people and the memories we made, the lessons we shared, our shared sense of community. I’m grateful.

And if you’re a potential partner who believes something different than I do, you can be assured that I’m not scrutinizing what you believe nearly as closely as how you love, your generosity, and your willingness to hold space for uncertainty with me and dwell in The Mystery of things. Even if you think that cold, empty, dark space is simply cold, dark, and empty, it’s still something un-see-able and I’d be privileged to find a warm cuddle on the edge of that with someone I respect ❤

(sunset on water)
The Sun seemed to sink into Lake Michigan but it was only one turn of the Earth that brought me here.

Maybe I’ve come full-circle to a night staring up at the stars and the void behind them from atop a dune in Oceana County, MI (at age 19). That cold feeling I got from the star-pocked night might have been my first invitation into a New Way of being in the world. I ran back to what was familiar, much of which was good for me. It might seem counter-intuitive but lately I feel more comfortable praying to an unknowable God than to a God I can sequester and preach-at others. Leaving Christianity might lead me back to God. It might be what A Higher Power wants for me– whatever power visited me on that island in the South China sea (another story). Even if there is not Divine Intention… like… y’know… I know there’s nothing more for me in identifying as Christian. I knew that. What I needed to realize is that I don’t have any manna for Christians— I’m not that important and it’s okay.

I Feel Better Now

Ciao. Leave a comment if you want. Peace be upon you all.

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