When I asked for questions for this series, I received such a beautiful array of topics. Because most of my blogs have a spiritual undertone, I fully expected that many of them would center from this space. It was clear as I started curating questions that there were a handful of themes that dominated, but there were two that seemed to need some thoughtful unpacking. Clearly, my sphere of influence had some big questions about the Christian faith the Church. This was no surprise to me, but I was honored that I was trusted with some of these questions. While I am doubtful that I have sufficient answers, I have thoroughly enjoyed the personal exploration that I have been gifted in this process.
Today’s question has so many layers. The only way I know to begin is to start on the outside and work inward. First of all, the wording has implications. “Anymore” implies that there is a basis for understanding the word Christian though the questioner’s life experience. I hear from this word that at some point in the past, the word Christian has been a marker of identity. Assuming this is true, we open up an entirely different level of question. A textbook definition of “Christian” is not applicable to those that have been personally woven into the faith. With the experience of embracing faith comes beliefs, rituals, direction and dogma that is not universal to every experience.
There is not one way to “be” Christian. Even within the faith, some define it as friendship, some a relationship, some a Baptism and others a mystery. At the core of all of these expressions is the rooted belief in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. The way that Christians express, pray, talk (and just about everything else) are as different at the people themselves. This has caused splits and separations in the Church for centuries. The varying insights, truths and experiences are vast. So vast, in fact, that some inside the circle have a steep sense that claiming the name alone is not sufficient. The laundry list of do’s and don’ts is vast. The proving ground to gain entry is ever growing. Ultimately, the meaning of this word is loaded from every angle.
With that as the foundation, I hear this question and I immediately hear wounds. I hear the weapons of exclusion and the judgement of faithfulness. I hear the preconceived ideas that ______ is not enough to be considered in the club. I hear a struggle to reconcile all of this person’s being to the presentation of Christianity that has not fit. I get it. I really do. This is such a deeply personal seeking that I must dig deep for the response. I ask myself this question on the regular. I can do Jesus. I can read and study the Gospel accounts of the life of Christ. I can see the deep well of compassion and grace that embodied his life. I can rally around the Jesus of the broken and poor and women and sick. I can feel acceptance in his welcome. CHRIST is the not the problem with this word. It’s the -anity section that causes me to stumble flat on my face.
I have been out of youth ministry for years. Most of the teenagers that I served are in their 30’s…some at the upper end of that decade. They have lives and families. They have joined churches (or not) for themselves. They have had real pain and struggle and many have lived to tell about it. But some have not. Because life is real and foundation rocking and gut punching. Not long ago, I was at my house when the doorbell rang. One of my former youth was at the door. I had not seen them in years. We talked for quite some time and in the midst of painful truths, they asked, “Lacy, are you a Christian?” The sure-fire Sunday School answer was coming out of my mouth when I stopped. My mouth froze and their eyes met mine. With all of the truth that I could muster in that moment, I said, “I’m not sure that we agree on what that means these days. I can’t answer that question in one word. The automatic response that I have always given doesn’t work for me anymore.”
To say that this only further confused this conversation is an understatement. What they needed in that moment was the assuring, neatly packaged “yes” that I would have gladly passed out with cheer in years past. What they got that day was a historical and practical conversation about love and welcome. They were reminded that a label is not diagnostic. For the first time, to one of the teenagers for whom I had neatly packaged all the things, I had to unpack the ways that I still have faith in the person of Jesus but cannot claim the label of Christian most days. I can tell you all the things that I honor and treasure about so many aspects of faith. What I can’t do is honor and treasure a word and movement that has sought to divide, politicize, weaponize and defend the very things that Jesus stood against. The camp of Christian just feels like a pair of jeans that no longer fits. On some days, this is freeing. On other days, I am heartbroken. Either way, I’m choosing honesty in the process and worrying less about the label that I don’t want to wear, and more about the connection with the Divine that I need to develop. I think Jesus would be just fine with that.