Who am I? I mean, I know who I am, but what is my place in this world? Maybe I’ve been listening to “Turn! Turn! Turn!” too much. It’s ironic I’d choose the title for this post when the weather today drizzly and gray outside; dismal and gray inside.
When I ask who am I? I don’t mean my place in society. I mean my place in the Church. Becuase I’m a Christian, folks, believe it or not. The teachings of the Christ are, for me, a true reflection of how a person should live. It makes me a big hairy Christian in the truest sense of the term. The armpit in the Body of Christ.
So, what makes me a Christian? The Evangelicals would say that you must have some sort of salvific event in your life: an encounter with the Almighty. Is it catechism and communion? Is the magic formula just following the teachings of Christ? I don’t know. I’m partial to all three, really, but that’s because I’m a wishy-washy kinda guy. I’ve heard over the years, the things that would get you into a “lesser” part of heaven. Here’s a partial list of some of the more bizarre ones:
- You’re smoking a cigarette when Christ returns
- Reading the word “naked”
- Reading CS Lewis
- Listening to Rock ‘n’ Roll
- Listening to Christian Rock ‘n’ Roll
- The rhythms in Ravel’s Bolero
- Befriending a gay person
- Doubting your Pastor
- Not accepting a prayer enough to be truly healed after an anointing ceremony
- Dating/Marrying a non-Christian
- Not speaking in tongues
… And the list goes on.
I understand orthodox Christian faith. I know the Apostles’ Creed. Every word of it. I even kind of know it in Latin (lot of good that does me). But my question is this. I asked somebody the other day, jokingly, if I would go to Hell if I didn’t believe in Hell. “Yes,” they said. “It’s kind of the requirement.” I don’t know if they were being serious or not.
So this leads me to my other list: What are the things that really DO keep us out of heaven? Ask this of a Christian and they start becoming a bit squeamish if you suggest some of these things could be dropped from the list:
- Not accepting the doctrine of the Trinity
- not believing in Heaven/Hell/Angels/Demons/Devil
- Believing Christ wasn’t resurrected
- Thinking the Soul doesn’t exist
- Not going to Church
- Rejecting the 6-day Creation Story as mythical
- Studying, rather than meditating on, the Bible
- Not accepting the authenticity of certain books of the Bible (1 & 2 Timothy & Titus are always favorites)
- Being gay and attending Church (also a biggie today)
- Being Christian and undergoing an abortion
- Doubting the Second Coming of Christ
- Being a Jehovah’s Witness/Seventh Day Adventist
- Being a Communist
So… I’m not saying I believe/don’t believe all of these things (I admit that I believe some of them). I’ve certainly heard them all. I’m just pointing out that our “must-do” list is always long. The Church’s list is longer. It’s a social phenomenon, in part. We like people around us to be like us. You don’t believe all the things on both lists? you can always go to the Church down the street. You ain’t the armpit in *my* Christbody, buster.
Where’s my place? If I’m Gay, or if I believe Kingdom Now doctrine, or Oneness doctrine, or think angels or demons don’t exist: do I still have a place? Tell me to my face. Don’t invite me in, and reform me. What are the Entrance Requirements? What really really matters, if one is to be a Christian?
[And here’s a question for you: Does God answer Muslim prayers? What about Christian ones? We’ve become so obsessed with God answering us that we’ve lost sight of what prayer is for. Now, I’ll be the first to say that I don’t know what prayer is for, but I sure as hell know it’s not a pipeline to get free stuff from God.]
I ask again: Where do I fit in? Am I on the fringe? Am I a critic of my own Faith? Am I no longer a part of the Faith? I read a fascinating article by Father Richard Rohr, awhile back, spoke of the role of a prophet, as living a “life on the edge.” He speaks to the role of a prophet: She is a gateway, not a fence-sitter, but a person who is never comfortable where she is. A brief quote from that article (its full link is above, if you click on Fr. Rohr’s name):
He or she is always on the edge of the inside. Not an outsider throwing rocks, not a comfortable insider who defends the status quo, but one who lives precariously with two perspectives held tightly together — the faithful insider and the critical outsider at the same time. Not ensconced safely inside, but not so far outside as to lose compassion or understanding. Like a carpenter’s level, the prophet has to balance the small bubble in the glass between here and there, between yes and no, between loyalty and critique. The prophet must hold these perspectives in a loving and necessary creative tension.
This article really punched me in the stomach about a month ago. First, it helped me redefine, for myself, the meaning of the word “Prophet” – I’ve always thought of such a person as the crazy-bearded cricket-eating doomsayer, like in the book of Amos or something, or in the newer sense of the word, a person who sees fit to deliver a “Word from the Lord” during the middle of a Church service, usually out loud, almost always interrupting. But if the prophet is a gatekeeper, the idea of prophet suddenly makes sense. A prophet helps a community navigate itself into, and around, another community.
Am I a prophet, without meaning to be? The word itself almost gives me a stomach ache. However, the role of prophet (in Fr. Rohr’s sense of the world) is precisely what I feel I am occasionally trying to accomplish with this blog: opening a dialog, and seeing things in a new (possibly heretical) light, and hoping people will come away with more substance than mental pillow-fluff.
Or maybe I’m just a grouch. I don’t know. At any rate, I’ve never been more comfortable in my own religious skin right now, despite the fact I’m constantly questioning, examining, worrying, and trying to picture myself in a world where the religion of my upbringing may still fit into society. Maybe it doesn’t actually fit anymore. I still consider myself a Christian, in the basest sense of the word, and I hope my contributions are something meaningful to the dialog within the Church at large. Or maybe my writing will just give the Church (and the Internet) an irritable rash and loose bowels. I guess we’ll see, because I won’t be stopping anytime soon.