Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
Just a short thought today as we get ready for Christmas. Of course it is still the season of Advent, but no time like Advent to talk about faith, but as I mentioned at the beginning of the month, I plan on sharing some of my faith experience, and this is another one of those posts.
The great author and novelist Anne Rice wrote after leaving the Catholic Church a few years ago, “My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn’t understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become.”
I can understand that feeling, and now over five years after being asked to leave my former church I am in a good place, and for the most part I am over the pain, hurt, and bitterness that I felt in the immediate aftermath of that experience. While I still experience a sense of loss due being rejected by men I thought were friends, I don’t feel the terrible pain that I used to feel, especially this time of year. But that being said what I feel now is much more about other people who may be going through similar experiences in their own churches or faith communities.
The fact is that I do not want others to have to go what I went through. I know that such things happen every day, but I would never wish what I went through on anyone.
Sadly, it will happen. It will happen in churches across the theological and ecclesiolgical spectrum. In one breath church leaders and members will extoll the love of God, and in the next condemn and reject people for a myriad of reasons; and they will use the most hate filled and vile terminology covered with a thin veneer of theological and biblical justification. They will turn their backs on people who simply want to be loved, cared for, accepted, and listened to in their spiritual quest.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said:
“Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening.”
This Advent I am thankful that I have a number of friends, including some Christians from variety of backgrounds, as well as some chaplains who have stood by me even if they disagree with my theology, politics, or my favorite baseball teams. That being said, with the exception of such people who have been with me through thick and thin I am mostly terrified of being around conservative Christians, and most of my closest friends are people who are not welcome in most churches due to their beliefs or lifestyles. But they are genuine and we honestly care for each other.
Most churches are frightening places for me, and the sad fact is that if I were not already a Christian there is little in American Christianity that would ever cause me to be interested in Jesus. I can totally understand why churches are hemorrhaging members, especially young people whose religious preference is “none,” for I too am in some sense an outcast. I guess that is why I can relate to Anne when she wrote, “following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become.”
Have a great day,