Tag Archives: Christian

Why am I still a Christian?

In 2007 David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons came out with a book that I still think is applicable today called Unchristian.

3D_unchristian_cover

Using research from the Barna Group, this book showed the statistics of how people view Christians in America. Here’s a list of the ways many viewed (and I think accurately continue to view) Christians:

Hypocritical

Antihomosexual

Judgmental

To pushy – proselytize in ways that turn people off

Sheltered – I think specifically anti-science and narrow minded would qualify here.

Right wing politics – overly political, tied to partisan politics.

I resonated with this in two ways. First, this was becoming the way I also viewed many Christians. Second, because when I got really honest, I have been all of these things and something was shifting within me.

So, for a while, and from time to time since, I have thought about throwing out the word Christian and calling myself  – a follower of Jesus   – or something else (maybe just spiritual).

But, at the end of the day, I was raised and still very much am a Christian.

I think the struggle is how to be a Christian without the above labels.

While I am certain I am still hypocritical and judgmental at times, I have become open and inclusive of my LGBTQ friends, I am very open to the ways science guides us as we learn how the world came to be,I don’t view the Bible as inerrant, and right wing politics is…well…a little scary at times (this is true of either side to an extent).

In fact my change in these areas has led me to numerous encounters where people think I am falling off the wagon, heading down the road to relativism, forsaking the truth, replacing the authority of the Bible, and worse some suggest I am no longer Christian.

So, my question then is;

What does it mean to be a Christian?

I have done a fair amount of reading church websites online, and often I will find a part titled beliefs. Usually there is a long list of things that people who attend that church believe in which supposedly make them a Christian.

The problem is, what if you cannot check all of those things off?

What if you think some of (or many?) of the places where they believe to be really clear, you see as muddy and unclear? What if you disagree and see things differently? How many points can one disagree with and still be welcome there? And if I am still welcomed there and yet I don’t believe all of the stuff, can I still help serve and lead?

So, back to the question…what does it mean to be a Christian?

Well, in the first century, people who followed the ways and teachings of Jesus were called followers of “the Way”. Eventually they were called “Christians”, which was a derogatory term given by others to suggest these people who were followers of the Way were trying to be little “Christ’s” – imitators of Jesus.

I believe that to be a Christian means to be one who follows the teachings and life of Jesus.

In other words, I try to imitate Jesus.

When the temptation arises to throw out the label of Christian because it means different things to others than it means to me, I am reminded that I am actually trying my best to imitate Jesus – of course I am failing miserably most of the time.

While I am often tempted to distance myself from many of the people who label themselves Christians, when I read the life and teachings of Jesus I am inspired!

Who could be a better role model than him?

What did Jesus teach and do?

Jesus taught his followers to love others, forgive others, to show compassion and mercy when others don’t deserve it, to challenge those in leadership positions who live hypocritical lives and who look out for their own selfish agenda’s. Jesus taught us to trust in God, even when we are not sure how things will pan out. Jesus taught us that sickness is not the way God wants things and evil should be combated. Jesus taught us to welcome the oppressed and marginalized and to speak out on their behalf. Jesus taught us to work for peace in self sacrificial and non violent ways while we subvert the institutions that keep the elite in power and others in poverty.

Who struggled the most with these teachings?

The religious leaders of the time.

Why?

Because he was suggesting a very different way of being and living in the world. A way that serves others, embraces the outsiders, and while it can work within religious institutions, the way of Jesus can just as easily work outside of these institutions. In fact, he even taught that oftentimes these very institutions can work against this (e.g. Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath).

In essence, those who struggled most with Jesus were those who had clear definitions of who was “in” and who was “out”. These leaders were the sole interpreters of truth and the gatekeepers of this truth, and Jesus was breaking down all the walls -suggesting that those who they claimed were “out” were actually “in” and those who claimed were “in” may not actually be. One can quickly see why this would be an affront to some.

The crux of the teachings of Jesus was that you will know his true followers by the fruit that they bear – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self control. You will not know them by what they mentally assent to, or what they confess or say they believe – it’s the outside that matters because one can pretend or hide the inside, but our external actions actually reveal what’s inside…ouch!

Instead of a long list of beliefs one must check off, I think it is more accurate to ask ourselves if others see us as people who are self righteous, bigoted, homophobic, hypocritical, unforgiving, gatekeepers who tell everyone whether they are “in” or “out”,

or

Do people see Jesus in us?

John 13:35

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

 

Inter-religious dialogue

What do you get when a Muslim scholar, a Jewish Rabbi, and a Christian theologian enter a classroom together?

267

I week long of great dialogue, learning, and at some points tension.

I just got back from a week long intensive with more than 50 students from various backgrounds including Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and other. Personally, this was such a great experience and a total privilege to be able to learn from the other students and the professor’s who were all wonderful!

I decided to write a reflection. This is not at all meant to be an exhaustive list of what, why and how to do inter-religious dialogue as there are already so many great resources out there, but is meant to highlight the most important take-a-ways for me personally.

Why

It almost goes without saying, but we must first ask why. Why is inter-religious dialogue important and why are we doing it?

There can be multiple answers to this question, but I realized that the aim of inter-religious dialogue is to better understand others.

There are so many false assumptions (e.g. Muslims are violent, all Buddhist are peaceful) that are torn down and stripped away as one listens to others exactly what and why they hold their beliefs – let’s face it, though we live in a very pluralistic culture most of us are still fairly ignorant of most other beliefs…myself included.

It is my personal conviction that violence would be greatly diminished if we better understood others. The fact that there are people from various religions (Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, other) all working for peace, human flourishing and dignity, and environmental issues has been so encouraging for me!

Not about conversion

Proselytizing has absolutely no place in inter-religious dialogue. If one party is there to try to convert the other, this will make inter-religious dialogue impossible because we will debate instead of dialogue.

  • Debate – where one tries to win an argument or convince the other(s) they are wrong – often emotional and heated.
  • Dialogue – where one tries to better understand the other, their beliefs and why they hold them. They listen and ask questions without the need to say they are wrong.

Be true to who you are

While inter-religious dialogue cannot happen when one is there to “convert” the other, it is also not productive when the goal is consensus. This was one area that I really grew in. The goal is not to unpack all the areas we agree on alone.

If you think about it this makes sense. If you’re comparing two or more books, yet only compare all the areas they are similar, no one will really see how they are different and unique. In order to better understand others, we must be able to see the areas we disagree or where we see things differently – this is essential and we should not shy away from it. We can still get along and learn from others without agreeing on everything as long as their is mutual respect.

 We all have our own lenses

Even when in dialogue, we must realize that we have certain lenses which we see the world through. Some of us have very negative experiences of other religions. Some of us have only positive experiences. Some of us have no experience of other religions or have only read about other religions.

We should be upfront in admitting our own biases and lenses the best we are able (I’m certain we do not see them all) and be open to having those lenses shaped or formed differently.

There is diversity within each religion

The more I have interacted with people of other faiths, the more this has become apparent – it’s true within my religion as well.

Just because one Muslim states their beliefs does not mean that all Muslims think that way. Now, there are some places of crossover, but we must be slow to assume just because we talked to a few Muslims we understand the Islamic tradition in its entirety.

One of my professor’s shared that it’s not enough to know which religions are at the table (i.e. Christians, Jews, Muslims etc), but to know which Christians, which Muslims, and which Jews – there is wide diversity within each…I think this was another major growth for me.

No one person can speak for an entire religion, the best we can do is to speak about our own religious tradition through the lenses we have.

We become better followers of our own religious tradition

As we better understand others, we better understand ourselves. Also, I have often found places of blindness, false assumptions, or areas where a completely different perspective has enhanced my faith journey – if we just talk to those who agree with us we greatly limit ourselves.

Every time we engage in inter-religious dialogue, in formal or informal ways, we gain experience and wisdom. This is both true of dialogue with other religions, but even of those who see differently within one’s own tradition.

Inter-religious dialogue enhances intra-religious dialogue.

By talking with people of other faiths who believe differently than I and who see things from a different perspective, it has helped me talk with people within my own tradition – Christianity.

The majority of my dialogue is within Christianity – I think it’s unfortunate that we polarize so many issues all while trying to kick the other out (I recently had someone tell me I was not a Christian because I did not believe all the things they did in the way they did…they wanted to debate and not dialogue and it also shows how easy it is to become insulated within a small religious sub culture).

I was raised believing a small stream within the Christian river was Christianity – the older I get the more I see that there is vast differences (historical and present) within my own tradition.

These differences include: evolution, whether the Bible is perfect, whether someday God will suck a small select few of people away from the earth, who is saved and what that even means, what heaven and hell actually are, is there truth in other religions and if so to what extent – the list could go on and on.

My interaction with other traditions is still very limited and I am still very ignorant about a great many things, but the more I talk with others, the more open and full of grace I become. It also makes it easier to work with others for what really matters – the healing and peace of the world!

I end with a quote from Richar Rohr,

“The ecumenical character and future of religion is becoming rather obvious. Either religion moves beyond its tribal past or it has no chance of ‘saving the world’!”