When my faith starts to wane, sometimes all it takes to bring a glimmer of it back is a glance at my bookshelves. My library is filled with stories of kindred spirits who have walked similar paths, experienced similar struggles, and even had a similar upbringing. These are the pages I turn to for encouragement when the Bible is just too difficult to read, and I need a reminder about what faith can look like in an ordinary, contemporary life, for all its bumpy inconveniences and less than ideal moments.
I also own books that lit me up with the fire of conviction when I needed it – when I believed I was a brave, moral soldier on a college campus filled with heathens looking to eat me alive – that now terrify the daylights out of me. If you aren’t offended or convicted by the same things I am, they say, you’re not really One of Us.
One of us. Part of the tribe. A movement of like-minded people who collectively engage in a practice that blogger John Pavlovitz calls “faith shaming” whenever a member questions the status quo.
As explained in my previous post, the Christian status quo is hardly static, but certain doctrines were prevalent enough in the churches, bible studies, and small groups I’ve attended over the years that led me to believe they were 99% universal: that Jesus is God, that he came to free us from the bondage of sin, and redeem suffering so we can become like God. That last part is the most critical reason I became a Christian: I was looking for a context for suffering that was a bit more hopeful than the tongue-in-cheek “Shit happens” philosophy of the Judaism I grew up in.
For all my doubts about hell being just, my gay friends’ marriages being sinful, and Jesus being the only way to heaven, it’s the redemption piece that keeps me from running away as fast as my legs can carry me when Christians get scary. And we all know a Scary Christian or two…or fifty. Some churches are filled with them. Politics is crawling with them. And with these Scary Christians comes theology that isn’t just scary, but sometimes downright ugly:
I saw this meme on Facebook the other day and probably stared at it for a good two minutes with my jaw hanging open. I’m sure many Christians and former Christians can attest that this kind of “blessed life” does not, did not, match their version of reality. It sure as hell doesn’t resemble mine. I leaned on Jesus in the aftermath of my rape, of my father’s illness, and in the toxic environment of seminary, but according to this theology, if my faith were “real” then I never would have experienced any of those things in the first place. Those Christians in Syria being killed for their faith must have some unacknowledged sin in their lives or something.
The prosperity gospel is not a fringe sect in the United States (take a look at the uber-bestseller The Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson, or anything ever written or spoken by Joel Osteen). It baffles me that PG adherents can read the same Bible I’m reading and come to the conclusion that Christianity is glorified Candy Land.
There’s no one I want to faith-shame more than prosperity gospel proponents.
In the end, we all have different ways of coping with suffering. If the promise of a great reward keeps some people from all-consuming anxiety, so be it. Christianity can seem homogenous from the outside looking in as everyone raises their hands while praising and condemning the same things, but I can’t give up the fight to create something uniquely my own, just between me and God.
Like marriage, this relationship will not look like anyone else’s, even if it’s good and healthy. What’s normal in one relationship may not be in another, and yet neither is fundamentally “wrong.”
I probably “faith shame” myself more than anyone else, but the only shame-worthy practice I engage in is measuring the legitimacy of my faith by comparing it to everyone else’s. I have to remind myself daily that there is so much going on inside that I can’t see.
Like this post? Check out Confessions of a Jew-ish Skeptic, now available on Amazon.