Tonight I shared Shabbos dinner with friends. As is always the case when I spend time with them, conversation makes its way to Christianity and to perceptions of Christianity. Throughout the evening we talked about the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit that is currently in Seattle and Christian misappropriation of the scrolls. The resignation of the Rev. Ted Haggard from his church and from his leadershop role within the National Association of Evangelicals also came up. When things like this happen, I find myself having to explain that Christianity is not a monolithic institution and that the Evangelical Right and progressive Christianity share very little in common except a profession of faith in a God as revealed in and through Jesus of Nazareth. Here is where most of our commonality ends. And it is here that progressive Christians need to learn to proclaim who we are and not only what we we aren't.
Once I heard John Cobb say that he couldn't read the Bible literally because he took it seriously. That statement rung true for me in a profound way. As a progressive Christian, I take the Bible extremely seriously. In it I find stories of discovery, of wounded and searching people, of people trying to make sense of a world out of control, and of people's hopes and dreams. In it I find my ancestors' understanding of God, their world, and their life circumstances. In it I find themes that inform my life and my understanding of how the world ought to be and the realization that we are far from God's dream for us. In it I find the history and foundation of my faith. I don't find historical accuracy, news articles, or perfect people. I don't find a list of how-to's; it's not an instruction book. One of the greatest gifts of the Bible is found in the deeply flawed nature of my ancestors. They were doubters, murderers, adulterers, liars, cheaters, and connivers. They were also survivors, dreamers, builders, and revolutionaries. They were just like you and me and everyone alive today. A mixture of good and evil, greatness and disappointment brewed in them every day.
The Bible has a lot to say about the state of brokenness of the world and it presents a wonderful vision for a "new heaven and a new earth," the place in which God's dream for creation has become manifest among us, within us, and through us. This vision understands the goodness of creation, the importance of the Exodus, the harsh cultural and religious criticisms of the prophets, the Israelites' desperate need for home, the importance of extending radical hospitality to the stranger, the profound need for forgiveness, the power and witness of Jesus, corporate sin, the gift of healing (salvation), and the unfinished business that has been laid at our feet as disciples of Jesus. Such a vision takes the Bible very seriously. And because of this serious reading, I cannot read it literally as though there was ever one Bible, in English nonetheless, and that that Bible was written by God's finger. No. The Bible is the receptacle of many dreams and the preserver of many ills. It is my history; it has been handed down generation after generation and it has finally made it to me. It is my time to hold on to God's vision of a new heaven and a new earth, to believe as Isaiah did that we can be repairers of the breach and restorers of streets to live in (see Isaiah 58:6-12). It's time to end the poverty that breaks God's heart.
Progressive Christianity has a wonderful opportunity to deconstruct the assumptions about Christianity held by many Christians and non-Christians alike. Progressive Christians need to speak up about our serious reading of the Bible and how it determines our ethics, offers us hope, cautions us, and sets before us a vision of justice and compassion for God's good creation. We need to be relentless in educating our friends and communities about our beliefs and our deep and abiding commitment to God revealed in and through Jesus of Nazareth. Our hearts have been deeply affected by Jesus the Christ and we have been profoundly humbled by his example and life such that we dedicate our whole lives to him as our Way in the world. We believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to sustain us and to inspire us each and every day to work for God's peaceable kin-dom. I believe that it is imperative for us to be relentless in our efforts to broaden our communities' perceptions of Christianity. We aren't all hypocritical, fear-based, and anti-intellectual. There are many of us who believe in evolution, the separation of Church and State, the work for a just and poverty-free world, and a nuanced and serious reading of our holy scriptures. We are neither superstitious nor are we atheists; we are serious followers of Jesus, and we believe in the powerful story of life overcoming the powers of death that conspire to rule this world.
I've been thinking about this since dinner. It saddens me when even my closest friends believe that I might want to convert them or condemn them. Christianity is not, in my opinion, the only pathway to the Divine; it is just the only way for me. God is bigger than my constructs, including my religion. I'm not drawn to Christianity because I'm afraid of some place called Hell. I'm a Christian because it is the framework that gives my life meaning and brings me closer to the Divine. I'm a Christian because I have found God most clearly revealed in and though the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. I'm a Christian because the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sustainer lead me through each day of my life. In the myths, fables, legends, and stories of my faith I find a pathway to Heaven - that is for me complete union with the Divine. Hell is the state of not living in union with the Divine. I can experience it right now, and in those moments and times in which I have lived falsely in the world, I have found it. Christianity is not the alternative to something bad; it is the entirety of my being. It's just that Christianity as I understand, experience, and live is a far cry from the Christianity on television, in our government, and in the minds of even my closest friends.
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