A Funeral for My Christianity

 

mourninginchurch

“You seem really angry lately.”

Someone said that to me recently—and at first it really pissed me off.

I instantly mounted a spirited, vigorous defense laying out the reasons she had assessed me incorrectly, but soon found myself trailing off and resigning myself to a harsh, unwelcome truth:

She was right—or at least she was in the ballpark.

It’s an easy mistake to make. From the outside grief looks a lot like anger. The external markers tend to be similar; impatience, bitterness, violent outbursts, a loss of optimism (I’ll cop to those), but the difference is that the source, is a profound loss. Something or someone has died, and this is the mourning that has come to take up residence in your chest cavity in its absence. Yes, you’re all negativity and rage outside but it’s because sadness has fully saturated your heart, and carrying around that heaviness takes its toll after a while.

Looking around at my country right now I can’t help but grieve at the passing of the faith I used to know, the one I grew up believing was home for me, the one I once wanted to make my life’s work. I am witnessing the second death of Jesus here in American Christianity and no I’m not dealing with it well. When someone you love dies, the disorientation is profound, but when you lose your religion it’s an existential sh*t storm, so you’re going to have to excuse my unpleasantness while I process it.

Last night I came across a Facebook post from an old friend from a church I served at nearly two decades ago that crystalized it all. She and I have remained in contact all these years, albeit through the artificial closeness social media provides. In truth, we hadn’t had a substantive conversation in well over a decade, but she was one of those people I figured as a Christian, was some kind of sacred extended family and so I should keep the connection.

She was delivering a fiery political manifesto about the President and sharing with great zeal why Jesus wanted her to vote the way she voted. Beneath her heavily coded words I could see it all: a fully ignited fear of terrorists, Muslims, immigrants, gay folks, and people of color, mixed with some impending sky-is-falling spiritual doom that she believed only her candidate could rescue us from. Over the past few years these sentiments have become familiar in the circles I’ve traveled, and I’ve spent a good deal of time rationalizing them away, minimizing them, and looking past them. Today, reading my old friend’s words I realized that whatever this thing is that she and I used to share as a common thread has frayed beyond repair. Her Jesus and mine bear no resemblance to one another. I don’t belong in this tribe anymore. I am the outlier now.

That’s not to say that Jesus matters any less to me or means any less to me, it’s just that in so much American Christianity it feels like all that’s left of him are ghosts and fading memories—and this genuinely grieves me. It feels like a funeral.

I don’t say these things for hyperbolic effect or to curry attention or sympathy. This is just what is. It’s the clearest, most sober revelation I’ve had about the state of my spiritual union; that I feel like something is gone for good. I see what’s become of the Church here in America and it’s like a wake for the religion I once called home.

I’m not sure what all this angry, chest-thumping, bullying, “don’t tread on me” thing that we’ve come to call Christianity is, but here’s what I do know:
It isn’t the Gospel.
It isn’t Good News for the poor and marginalized.
It isn’t the Prince of Peace.
It isn’t the perfect love that casts out fear.
It isn’t Jesus by any measure.
It’s a toxic cocktail of power, control, fear, nationalism, and white privilege—and it looks much more like the bloated opulence of Rome than the early Church that resisted it.

Many times over the past few decades, my faith tradition has been life to me. It’s been the place I’ve found hope and rest. There was something bigger that I knew I was a part of, and in the people of Jesus I felt like I belonged. This faith isn’t giving me life anymore. I am no longer finding hope and rest here. I don’t belong in that gathering like I once did. This is cause for real mourning.

But as with all funerals, they are necessary to mark the loss and to pivot toward life beyond it, as uncertain as that may be.

So yes, it might seem like I’m angry, but you’ll have to take my word for it I’m not. I’m just finally accepting the grief that comes when something you loved is gone and you wish that it wasn’t.

 

 

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154 thoughts on “A Funeral for My Christianity

  1. I am glad I was raised in The Lutheran Church, ELCA , and that my mom taught us Love God, Love others, right off the bat. We were taught no judgement ever. She said to each his own and that God is the only judge. She kept it all simple and walked her faith. Jesus is in our hearts and NO ONE person is better then the next person….black, white, gay , straight, Christian, not christian………there was no fear based religious teachings, ever. Love, Grace, and Mercy were what Jesus showed and taught and offered to ALL. I think a lot of those leaving and questioning, Evangelicals and Southern Baptist and several others are doing what Martin Luther did a long time ago. ? I know many who have left the church and their Southern Baptist church roots for various reasons. many are atheist now. Not too sure Jesus is happy about that? I call all this change is many, A Heart Transplant……:)

  2. Will the REAL JESUS please stand up. Clearly the real Jesus is reflected and enbodied in the Bible– Lo, I come in the volume of the book that is written of me. Maybe God does not want us to “build a tabernacle” to any “old time religion” or other concept of Christianity so-called. The true “escape” is the focus on Jesus and to be diligently and continually watching at the post of His gates and at His doors. God is ever present in all generations however decadent or twisted they may be–from Noah to Lot to now. Yes, the huge distortions of Christianity are ever present: “Spots” in your feasts of Charity; waves foaming out their own shame for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever. None of them should bear or affect our individual path ; since the Lord is MY SHEPHERD and under HIS SHADOW shall I dwell. Let them alone; they be blind leaders of the blind.

  3. Hey John,

    Thank you for continuing to wrestle with your faith on this blog and for consistently reiterating that you haven’t given up on Jesus. There are many (of my friends) who read your blog who need to hear that again and again.

    I want to start by saying that the intertwining of American Christianity and (anti-Gospel) politics is cause for grief. It’s cause for anger and I hate it also.

    There are just a few things in your writing that have grieved me.

    First, while I know that they exist and are probably more widespread than I would like to believe, the church you describe is nothing like many of the churches I know and love. So, I just wish you wouldn’t make such blanket statements. Add in the fact the “Church” includes so much more than the American manifestation we experience, and I’m just sad when you equate these instances with all of Christianity.

    Second, and more importantly, Christ’s Church has been fumbling through imperfections, in-fighting, and downright sinfulness since the very beginning — and that was when it was run by the people who spent 3 years with Jesus-in-the-flesh day in and day out. That doesn’t give us the right to abandon or disparage it. Jesus chose to charry out His mission through the Church, which has always been made up of broken, sinful people. He called the Church His bride for a reason. I don’t actually know if you’re married, but if you are, I can bet that you would be pretty upset if someone you loved was putting down your bride and implying that you should give up on her.

    Jesus and Paul both prayed fervently for unity among God’s people. We have instructions and examples for how to address and reprove brothers and sisters in Christ who are sinning and marring the mission of God. I dare say that writing about them and their sin on a blog is gossip.

    Finally, and most importantly, I’m grieved that you’ve had an identity crisis because of how your view of the Church has changed. Your identity was never meant to be in the Church or God’s people. You said “This faith isn’t giving me life anymore. I am no longer finding hope and rest here.” It was never meant to. Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Your life is in Him. Your hope and rest are in Him. Maybe your view of the church and willingness to wade in to the mess and to call out sin in its midst would have been different if you weren’t trying to be fulfilled by the church?

    I truly, truly don’t wish to add to your grief, but as a sister in Christ, my hope for you is the same as Jesus’ hope for you: that you would find your life in Him and be made into His image for the sake of the world.

    Love what He loves: love the Church. Don’t accept sinfulness, but love how He loves: unconditionally.

  4. “it feels like all that’s left of him are ghosts and fading memories—and this genuinely grieves me. It feels like a funeral.” So true! I feel this grief too, except that I don’t wish it to return because it now feels like it (evangelical christianity) was always an impostor, something I felt well before Trump. The rise of trumpism just confirmed what I felt all along… and it grieves me more than words can say!

    • Yes.
      We mourn the fellowship of what we thought were kindred kind spirits singing about the glory and redemption of God. What we found was altogether different and a betrayal that cuts to the bone of our consciousness.
      Keep walking. Your tribe will find you and I think you’ll find God there, amongst the rumble. I have. May God salve your broken heart and guide you to those also desperately seeking a truer reflection of Him.

  5. The unfortunate truth that formal religion is strictly a Sunday morning/afternoon social ritual that is more exclusionary than inclusionary was revealed to me when I was 14 (in 1969). It saddened me deeply (at the time) that what was preached was not what was practiced. I discovered that the people I looked up to at that point in time were nothing more than instruments of a few “elders” that wanted the congregation steered in specific ways and would not tolerate deviations. I left and never looked back. But I cannot say that this experience has shaped my life in a negative way. I am the same person that I always was. The only difference is that I have since come to find others over the years that share my views and can understand my rejection of “formal religion”. They are much more “Christian” oriented than I ever found within the confines of the church.

  6. John, I appreciate where you’re coming from. I’ve felt this way over the past couple years as well. There’s some solace in Elijah’s story, running for his life into the desert believing he’s the only one left who trusts in God, but God tells him he’s not alone. I think the current political climate has acted as a threshing of some kind, separating and illustrating where our faith really lies. I had the distinct realization this past election that I’m suddenly a minority, that neither candidate or party represents me anymore. I think this realization should drive us who trust in Christ to live our faith out more fully and boldly in our own spheres, rather than hoping someday we’ll be able to legislate our neighbors into the kingdom.

  7. In many human developmental models there is this inevitable and natural transition between stages where you realize the previous level is no longer tenable, no longer satisfying and you hit a kind of psycho-spiritual yet visceral “ceiling” that you absolutely have to break thru and there’s a lot of anger (partly bc of the anticipatory grief of shifting stages, and partly bc anger can be a manifestation of the energy being generated to develop/grow), and it feels like a very real death. And death is scary, and anger is often a 2ndary emotion to fear. So you’re angry too.

    But like a ladder, every rung has its place and eventually you can see that lower rungs of development have a limited view but they also got you to where you are, and the beauty of a ladder is the freedom and power it gives you to move up and down it as needs require.

    We all start on the ground, But initially most of us are afraid of heights and get pretty cozy on the rungs closer to the ground. In a real sense people have a right to “live” on one particular rung indefinitely, but ideally, at our own pace, we grow. Many of us don’t even realize we’re on a ladder (that there is such a thing as spiritual “development” or levels of consciousness). Our early development often involves being on a rung and thinking those above and below us (metaphorically) have got it rung, er, wrong *groan* 😉. (Some people will be angry that I’m suggesting there’s a ladder at all!—although really, this ladder is a metaphor for the God-given capacity in all of us to love in ever widening circles of care and awareness). But if we move along that ladder high enough we break through into an awareness that we are actually on a ladder and every level has its strengths and weaknesses, we realize that we have this capacity to grow spiritually in a way that BOTH transcends and yet includes, what has come before. (Think of how a baby and a toddler and a teen have some self awareness but it’s only as we shift into adulthood that we can look back and more objectively appreciate what those stages are).

    And so what initially feels like a “funeral for my Christianity” (almost an either/or feeling) is really just a funeral for my traditional-conventional-rung/level of Christianity. The problem is really just a matter of confusing one particular rung (the traditional level), with being “Christian” when there are actually expressions of the Christian faith at every step of the ladder.

    To switch metaphors, Eventually, just as the risen Christ was seen to be quite different from the pre-crucifixion Jesus, but not entirely, so we who have experienced this developmental “funeral” value the scars and the experiences from the previous “life” without necessarily wanting to go back and live there.

    I know the ladder metaphor sounds “hierarchical” and elitist but it’s an elitism to which every human being is invited to, so it’s actually incredibly inclusive… and loving.

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