I was raised in the Presbyterian Church. In my twenties I converted to the United Methodist Church. I’ve been a youth minister and taught Sunday School. I completed a two-year graduate-level program in lay ministry. I still sing in the church choir. So, why would I be turned-off by something labeled as Christian? I confess my reaction took me by surprise.
My problem isn’t with my Presbyterian upbringing or with the global services of the United Methodist Church. My problem is with how Christianity is portrayed, often justly, by the media. Nowhere in the media portrayal of the modern church do I hear the gospel of loving one another. I don’t hear the media linking Christianity with forgiving and accepting. What I do hear has nothing to do with nurturing spirituality or serving one another. Love seems to be left out of the equation. Forgotten is the notion of undeserved forgiveness, grace.
I recently had a friend who insisted that Christianity is all about saving your sorry ass for eternity by following rules and saying the right things. I recognize where he got that idea, but when you are raised Presbyterian, salvation is not really part of the equation. Presby’s believe that some people are predestined to follow Jesus. Others are not, and there isn’t much we can do about it one way or another. I find that my earliest teachings still hold a strong influence over my relationship to the church and my concepts of faith and spirituality. While I won’t say I firmly believe in predestination, I do accept that not everybody is going to see what I see, but that is okay. So no, not all people in the Christian tradition are concerned with salvation and some of us believe that a focus on salvation is counter-productive to finding transforming love through a connection to our spirituality.
I am not alone in finding the contemporary portrayal of Christianity as offensive. Obviously many non-believers are offended. What isn’t so obvious is that most of us sitting in our pews on Sunday morning are offended by the hatred, greed, bigotry and self-interest passed off as Christianity. I loved one author who described what we see in the media and in too many popular churches as a stylized, bastardized representation of Christianity. Preach it sister!
So, what is this thing that I’ve practiced that is so different from that offensive in-your-face movement that calls itself Christianity? First, faith means recognizing that you do not know everything there is to know about everything and being open to connecting with ancient wisdom while exploring new possibilities. The center of all of this is recognizing the power of love, love for each other, for yourself and for those who are really obnoxious. Okay, loving the obnoxious is really hard, but we try or better yet, ask the Holy Spirit to enter in where we cannot love. A good portion of loving others involves keeping our mouth shut, and offering those we disagree with acceptance and love.
As I understand the teachings of the New Testament, rather than following rules, we are to focus on loving. The power of love will transform us into people who love life, care for others, are filled with compassion, and find joy in the simple pleasures around us. The end of the story is transformation through love everything less is a non-issue.