I seem to be ranting a lot about the spiritual teachings I experienced throughout my life. Please don’t get the wrong impression. My parents are good and well-meaning people with their own biases and experiences that have shaped their own faith and belief in God. They didn’t abuse me or force me to walk a certain path. My decision to be baptized at the age of twelve, that was all me. In fact, my parents attempted to talk me out of approaching our pastor about being baptized because I was only twelve and did I really understand what I was doing? As it turned out I did.
My parent’s church was made up of people who were trying to live faith as they understood it. They meant well. They were earnest in their belief and I think they truly loved Jesus – as they understood him anyway. I have no idea what they though of the Holy Spirit for he was never really discussed. God, well, it depended on who you talked to, but by and large God was always referred to as Father and we spent a great deal of time worshipping God. The teachings themselves were more about being worthy and the change we need to make, rather than the change God makes within us. I do have some memory of some talk about the power of God. Those pale compared to what we were supposed to learn from characters in the bible, and the morality teachings. Youth group is a blur of mean girls, cliques and “you are set apart so live like you are set apart.”
My experience in church is likely not very different from anyone else who has attended an evangelical church. There are good people within those walls, people who earnestly love God and want to live life according to His precepts. People who truly see God and have a strong and loving relationship with Him. As a whole, it is the broader teaching of churches that is errant. Instead of teaching what Jesus taught, these churches unwittingly (or wittingly depending on the leadership) teach rules and judgments and works based faith. In fact, most of these churches, mainline or evangelical or charismatic, preach religion not faith. I’ve been to many churches in my forty some years, so I know of what I speak. And note, I said most not all. There are some exceptional churches who are grounded as a whole on their identity in Christ. It’s also not all teachings that are shrouded in religion, but enough that it keeps people from really seeing God.
So, while I speak out against the religious teachings, I recognize there are amazing people within those walls who see and hear and live the truth of who God is. These are the people to get to know. There’s something about them that is authentic, peaceful, joyful and filled with grace. These are the people to seek out if you want to learn what Christianity is all about, even if you’ve been attending church since you were a babe in arms. These people will speak a different language – one of grace and reconciliation. They aren’t filled with judgment and they won’t speak of you as if you are a sin filled person in need of redemption. They will love you for who you are and will see you as who you are in Heaven. They will show you what a relationship with God really means.
I’ve had a few of these people in my life along the way. Sometimes I listened to them and attempted to live a different way. Sometimes I ignored them because being around them made me feel like I was less, unworthy. What I didn’t know was that this was the religiosity in my life rebelling against God. I was resisting my identity, the nature God bestowed upon me when I laid my life at the foot of the cross.
There are people in church who can and will make a difference in your life if you let them. There are people who don’t attend a church for various reasons who are in a deep and abiding relationship with God. These are the people I seek out. They are my people, if you will. I want to learn from them. I want to enter the journey with them. I want to have honest discussions about God and religion and life with them. As a prophet, I want to give them the gift of seeing more of who God is for them and a deeper look into their identity.
I would love for everyone one who was a member of a church or had ever been involved in a church, to get to know God the way I am getting to know him. I would love for the well-meaning and earnest believers in my life to let go of rules and works and struggle and religion and find a relationship with God. I am beginning to experience such immense freedom and grace. Imagine what the world would be like if everyone experienced this? If we were able to let go of the religiosity of Christianity and focus on the grace and relationship.
It would be very easy to look back on the teachers and influencers that have been a part of my journey and to see them through the eyes of condemnation. I’ll admit, I’ve been tempted. My self talk can turn to pointing the finger at them and blaming them for the length of time it took me to really enter into to life with God. Just like I’ve been tempted to blame my grandmother for her part in my distorted view of my identity. Or how I want to blame the man who sexually abused me. Or the fiancé who took advantaged of a vulnerable person and emotionally abused and manipulated me. Or the employer at a faith-based non-profit who treated me unfairly. Or the mean girls in youth group and the youth leaders who let them get away with malicious character assassination. Or …
That’s not fair – to them or to me. God has been there all along the way. God has been speaking, guiding, nudging. God will redeem the time. God is accelerating my journey. And He will do that to anyone who comes to Him and asks. So no, I look at the people on my journey and I see where I made choices ,where I adopted mindsets or beliefs, where I was shaped, and where God has been working. I am where I am. And the things He is doing in my life now despite and because of where I’ve been.
So, while I rant against the religion in my life, I choose to love the people. To partake in the process of forgiveness. I choose to enter in to life in Christ fully.