Sunday, January 20, 2019

15 Years Later, Still Christian, Highs and Lows


My life everyday.


It occurred to me, while walking home from my usual writing on the weekends at Starbucks, that I have been a Christian for approximately 15 years. I was “saved” (in common evangelical parlance) when I was 16 years old, on September 21st 2005 at Emmanuel Faith Community Church, in Escondido, California. (All these dates are speculative.) I was thinking about the past today, as I find myself in a period of renewal in my life (something that I thought I’d never say again). 
                What Christianity means to me has changed markedly over this period of time, which covered the formative years in my young adult life and my college/post college years. (Somewhere in these later years I became an adult. Not sure when…) When I was younger, Christianity was an almost inexhaustible source of social validation. Before being a Christian I had no peer group, no close friends. I was not technically a “nerd,” or some other social strata of untouchable, but someone with social anxiety acting out because I wanted people to love me unconditionally. It made me unbearable to be around. It made me tease and sometimes sexually harass women that didn’t like me the way I liked them, all while enduring the same treatment and abuse from “alpha” males and burning anger in me like a furnace. The saving grace (no pun intended) of joining a Christian community—much to my future self’s amusement—was that, by being a member of this community, no one could justify turning me away. Of course—much to my, then, present amusement—most of the people that had, over the years, viciously teased me or made fun of me, were members of the High School group. I had essentially found a community that would accept me, more or less, because it was doctrinally mandated.
                Another thing that I didn’t appreciate at the time was the culture that the evangelical community had ingrained into my peers. Nor did I fully understand how pervasively uniform evangelical culture was. Everyone went to the same summer camp. Everyone went to the same church. Everyone watched the same films. Everyone read the same books. The creative and critical freedom of this culture was completely absent. If anyone went to a different church, those members of the community were considered “the other,” as if the “body” (a term that conflates multiple people groups of orthodox communities into one global entity) could be dissected into splinter cells and organizations.
                Much of my difficulty progressing in Christianity at the time was the woefully inadequate preparation I was given, in anticipation of going to college. Once I got to UCSB, I found myself at constant odds with different cultures and groups, only realizing after the fact that the only way to continue was to either forsake God and the church, or adopt a ridged and conservative worldview, one without any room for new ideas, people, or competing worldviews. As I will later illustrate, the church that I had gone to, Emmanuel Faith Community Church, had constructed a worldview that included a false dichotomy where non-established and experimental ideas constituted an attack on biblical principles. (I later discovered this idea was endemic across all of Escondido, that many churches existed in fractured and disparate associations with one another.) I had taken these ideas to college, creating a theologically black and white outlook on the world, causing me interpersonal pain and anxiety.
                The subsequent years was a rollercoaster of different ideas, even including a phase where I subscribed to Reformed Theology, which was becoming popular during the late 2000s. But what really made me want to write this today was after I found myself listing different things I took issue with in the current Church culture that trouble me, and cause me anxiety. I wanted to share this list, and therapeutically refute the points. I do this for myself, but I also encourage any of you to do the same. And if you aren’t necessarily a subscriber to the saving work of Christ’s resurrection, maybe you can appreciate the insanity of our current day along with me…

  • I was taught that the homeless deserve to be homeless. That they did something wrong, or currently do something wrong that causes them to be homeless. But if all have fallen short of the glory of God, why do we separate homeless people into this separate category, as if to say our poor decisions do not equate to those made by the homeless? And why do we have so much confidence in ourselves as to imagine that we are somehow immune to the circumstances that befell them?
  • I was taught that Jesus was/is a conservative, that established ideas are more reasonable because they are accepted by the majority of the dominant culture. But what then do we make of the Great Schism of the Orthodox Church rejecting the Principles of the Roman Catholic Church, considering that, at the time, the Roman Catholic Church was integrating itself with politics and making doctrinal decisions to consolidate personal wealth and status among heads of state? What then do we make of the “liberalizing” of the Roman Catholic church, when Martin Luthor called for a “Reformation” of church practices that harmed believers, encouraged them to be illiterate, and not exegete text for themselves? What then do we make of abolitionists, who fought for the rights of those that were forcibly removed from their homes, to work without pay, to be treated as livestock, when they too were made to bear God’s image and glorify God. What then do we make of the controversial policies made towards immigrants, where we justify the separation of children from their parents, forgetting so conveniently that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were victims of a cruel regime persecuting families for their political and religious affiliations, not unlike Slobodan Milošević’s ethnic cleansing against Serbian Muslims and France’s persecution of Jewish community during the Dreyfuss affair?
  • I was taught that extra effort should be spent towards disenfranchising the LGBTQ community, for their embrace of relationships that are condemned in biblical teachings. But what then do we make of the absence of legislation that prohibits Atheist’s, Hindus, Muslims, Agnostics, and Buddhists from getting married? Why are the LGBTQ community included in social, philosophical, and political policies that inflict harm on their constitutional right to “Life Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” when even the New Testament encourages believers to “Love your Neighbor as yourself,” which in context was a splinter group of Judaism corrupted by indigenous, pagan beliefs that the Jewish community went to great lengths to avoid and disparage?
  • I was taught that belief in Christ inherits a responsibility to politically ally with any candidate that is considered conservative. But what then do we make of Donald Trump, president of the United States and protector of our national secrets, who fails the test of leadership presented in 1 Timothy 3:2, where even the most simple pastor must be “…above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach”?
  •  I was taught that gun ownership is patriotic and the defense of property is categorically “American.” But when, as the bible teaches in Luke 6:29, “To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either,” how can we justify the death of a home invader, the taking of a life, when we believe that God is sovereign over history and time, that all things that come to pass are his will alone and cannot be overridden by our intervention?

I could go on…
                So many of my friends from over 15 years ago have forsaken Christ for some of these ideas, and while my younger self would have zealously blamed them for not being able to see past the faults of people, whose fallibility is a basic tenant of Christianity, I cannot blame them now. While I can accept that doctrinally, it is impossible to lose the favor of God, that we are constantly regenerated and made better by the Holy Spirit, I can also appreciate the absolute slog that affirming belief in Christianity can become, when so many of your peers seem to profess, outwardly and adamantly, ideas that irrefutably oppose the Gospel in theory and practice. Sometimes you feel alone and isolated. Sometimes you think the world has gone mad. But other times it is necessary to remember that humanity was never good in the first place, that there was no “golden age” of Christian orthopraxy, or otherwise. But like death and taxes, I can only conclude, with great certainty, that Christ continues to be king and that our hope in the gospel is sure, and that the actions of a person or nation cannot, will not, compromise the integrity of Christ’s death and resurrection and the implications of the aforementioned.

Here’s to another 15 years.

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