I have been going to church since I was a small child. Even before my dad was a Christian, my mom took my sister and me to church. After dad began his spiritual journey, he quickly became a pastor and church became the center of our lives. Somehow I grew up with the simplified view that church people, Christians, are the good guys and everyone else are the bad guys. Those people out there are what is called “the world” and those are the people that will try to get you to sin. You should be nice to them, try to love them, mostly try to be a good influence on them, but don’t hang out with them too much or they might be a bad influence on you. (Did I get it wrong, or is this what we were taught?)
I do not regret my upbringing. I was raised with a balance of discipline and love and my parents are very dear to me. We have deep conversations and all of us continue to grow and learn.
I have a Bible degree. I went to a Christian university and got myself a degree, not only in Biblical studies, but also Biblical languages. My husband and I raised our kids in church. I’ve been a pastor’s wife for nearly 33 years and I was a pastor myself for a year and a half. I preached every Sunday, conducted funerals, baptized folks and made countless hospital visits. I loved those people from my very soul, right up until the day the tsunami of depression rolled right over and consumed me.
I was broken for a very long time, lost in the darkness where I couldn’t see, hear, or find God. Anywhere. But finally, gradually, the sun began to shine again and I began to heal. And when, at last, I could lift myself and stand upright I began to feel God’s presence again. I began to hear him speak to me and call my name. It was louder and stronger than ever. I believe in God. I believe in Jesus and I believe in his teachings. I feel so strongly that the world would be a beautiful place if we could just learn to think about others before ourselves. If we could truly take those life-giving words of Jesus and live them like we really believe them. What would it look like if we stopped singing “When We All Get to Heaven” and started loving our neighbor right here on earth?
To be sure there are good, loving Christians today. And I don’t mean any offense. But what seems to be coming from the loud gong of religious leaders in Christianity today does not resemble love. What I fear Christianity in the U.S. is becoming is not kind nor patient. It is envious, boastful, arrogant and rude. It’s selfish and quick tempered. It rejoices in being hurtful and does not look for truth. It doesn’t want to bear any burden, believe anything other than its own narrowness, create hope for anyone and it certainly doesn’t feel the need to endure for any cause outside its own legalistic agenda. (Reference to 1 Corinthians 13, just in case you didn’t notice.)
This is the season of Lent. It’s time to ponder our spiritual lives and take a deep look at how we are living. I ask myself, do I represent Jesus of Nazareth? Can I read the recorded words that are attributed to him and say that I truly follow them? Do I live the beatitudes?
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad,because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Miriam Webster definition of persecute: to harass or punish in a manner designed to injure, grieve, or afflict; specifically : to cause to suffer because of belief.
I’ve heard Christians in the U.S. say that they are persecuted. We’re not. There may be some rare instances, but for the majority, no. Christians are persecuted in some parts of the world, but the U.S. is not one of those places. Our lives and the lives of our families are not in danger in the U.S. when we admit we are Christians. In some instances, however, folks who claim to be Christians are perpetrators of persecution in this country. I have witnessed this and recently I actually physically stood between the persecutor and victim. Jesus did not instruct anyone to insult people, call them names, single them out in a crowd or tell them they are going to hell. (What is hell, anyway? That’s for another day.)
I have always labeled myself a Christian. Up until a few years ago my entire worldview was formed between stained glass windows. But I have experienced more. I have become closely acquainted with people on the outside of those walls. I’ve met people from other religions and people with no religion at all. I have learned something revolutionary. The truth is they are not our enemies at all! They, my friends, are our neighbors. And we can’t say that we love them if we are willing to cause them harm, or let them die, or legislate laws that hurt them. If that is what it means to be a Christian these days, then I’m giving it up for Lent (and forever). Because if we are willing to do those things, I don’t see how we can claim to follow Jesus of Nazareth.