Last week, I wrote about some of the reasons why I still think that attending church is an important part of my faith practice, as many struggles as I have finding a church that will be a safe place for me and that I can, in good conscience, support. It sparked some interesting conversations here and on twitter, but I wanted to address Bri’s question in particular:
Personally, I don’t wonder so much why you want to go to church as why you still want to be a Christian. I hear a lot of progressive Christians talking about a struggle they deal with in trying to remain Christian but finding it difficult. I can’t relate to that at all, because for me, I can’t imagine why any part of me would want to still be Christian. What do you get out of it? What about it appeals to you?
This is a question I ask myself somewhat regularly, and there are days when I want to simply say “fuck it” and just be done with all of the questions, when everything about struggling with my faith seems so utterly pointless. Those are my extremely cynical, borderline-nihilistic days, though, and they don’t happen all that often. Most of the time I feel somewhat comfortable still choosing to be a Christian (whatever the hell that really means, anyway), and there’s a few reasons why.
The first being that the existence of a deity makes sense to me– and that I don’t find the arguments against the existence of gods or supernatural beings personally compelling. Over the last few years I’ve come to know and care for many agnostics and atheists, and as I’ve gotten to know them I’ve come to better understand why they don’t believe in the existence of any deity. It’s an interesting place for me to be–to fully inhabit a frame of mind that accepts another person’s conclusions without trying to change their mind, even though I disagree. I do not think they have faulty reasoning, or are drawing conclusions from inaccuracies. However, I also believe that my own reasoning is thorough, and I’m working with the same set of facts they are.
I never would have thought I’d end up in a place that would be happy to accept such a tension, but I am.
I think a big part of it is that for all intents and purposes I’m functionally a Deist. I believe in a deity on a rational level, but in some ways it doesn’t seem to matter a whole lot when it comes down to the brass tacks of me living my life. My ethics are based on consent, not on what a deity tells me is right or wrong, and I believe that empathy and compassion should be the driving force of human action– and I think this is where I have more in common with atheists than I do with most evangelical American Christians.
So why bother with Christianity?
The answer is actually pretty straightforward: I like the theology. I’m still a Christian because I believe that God became Flesh and Dwelt Among Us, and we Beheld his Glory. The doctrine of The Incarnation is one of the most beautiful ideas I’ve ever encountered. My God became a flesh-and-blood person and lived with us, ate with us, drank with us, loved with his, had friends with us, enjoyed sunshine and rain and the sound of wind rushing over grass and trees whispering to each other and water laughing. He smiled when he could smell bread baking. He danced when he heard music playing. He laughed at good jokes and silly antics.
The thought of that … I can’t get over it.
My second favorite part of Christian theology is the Imago Dei. I’ve written some about this idea before, but I love how fully embodied Christianity can and should be. We were all created in the image of God, and that included our physical selves, which are not intended to be cast off like chaff. Christianity teaches that we won’t become disembodied souls– I’m not going to “Ascend” like Daniel in Stargate SG-1, or evolve to the point where I exist as energy on a higher plane of existence. I’m not searching for nirvana, but waiting for a physical eternity.
My body matters. My body is important. It is me, it is mine, and I love every part of it. I love that I have senses and live in a world that is overflowing with beauty and wonder and enjoyment as much as it is filled with destruction and evil. I love that when I look into the eyes of another person I am seeing God.
As I’ve become more progressive or liberal or whatever I am, I’ve started appreciating more and more that the teachings of Jesus aren’t about me sitting by myself at my dining room table every morning with a cup of coffee and my Bible and my prayer journal having my “quiet time.” Christianity is about looking around the physical world, seeing the suffering and oppression, and doing whatever you can to end it. That’s what I believe Jesus was talking about when he talked about bringing the kingdom of God to earth, for God’s will to be done in earth as it is in heaven.
I’m in the middle of reading C.S. Lewis’ Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, and in talking about the Lord’s Prayer he says this:
“Thy will be done.” But a great deal of it is to be done by God’s creatures; including me. The petition, then, is not merely that I may patiently suffer God’s will but also that I may vigorously do it. I must be an agent as well as a patient. I am asking that I may be enabled to do it. In the long run, I am asking to be given “the same mind which was also in Christ.” (25-26)
I hadn’t thought about that particular line that way before, but it works for me. Jesus taught us to love and sacrifice for each other. To look around and make sure that everyone is being taken care of physically, spiritually, emotionally. We are to feed the widow and orphan. We are to liberate the oppressed.
That’s what I feel it means to be a Christian. It is both my obligation and my joy to be a part of anything that is working to make this world a better place. Christianity at its best, I believe, is about making sure no one is ever enslaved or ever goes hungry. Jesus brought healing and comfort with him everywhere he went, and that’s what I feel that Christians should be doing, too.