Christian Enough

IMG_2012“I don’t feel Christian enough.”
When I heard this, my stomach turned and my heart leapt when I heard it. I’ve been turning the words over in my head ever since.
Someone says this to me, and I hear a special type of lonely and out of place, one that goes beyond mere discomfort to assault the very quality of one’s character and worth.
Stomach turned for sadness and indignation on behalf of the person feeling out of place and less-than. Heart leapt because of the opportunities in the conversation for me to join with the person in their experience and relate how I’ve had a similar experience.
Not Christian enough.
This feeling comes from beliefs and perspectives that are difficult to undo.
“Everyone else is more spiritual than I.”
“Everyone else has their life more together than I.”
“No one else asks the questions I do.”
“No one else has the doubts I do.”
“Life is just easier for the other Christians.”
“The other Christians all like each other but forget about me.”
“I’m failing.”
“Something is wrong with me.”
“I don’t belong here.”
“My questions and doubts don’t belong here.”
Honestly, some of the sadness in talking about this feeling was remembering my own experience. For years growing up and for years as an adult, the feeling of “belonging” was elusive, fleeting, and perpetually unattainable, no matter how hard I tried.CIMG3564
What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I get people to like me? To remember me? To include me? Value me?
Deeper still, what if it wasn’t just the people? What if God Himself had cursed me in some way?
Was it because I was gay? Because I listened to secular music? Because I questioned the inerrancy of Scripture? Because I couldn’t keep all the promises I made?
Not Christian enough.
What does “being Christian” even mean? My first time through the Gospel of Matthew in many many months, I see that the people of Jesus are a diverse bunch, coming to Him in a variety of ways. Sometimes they pursue Him, sometimes He calls them. Sometimes they have resources, sometimes they are in desperate need. He calls to follow Him some, like Peter, James and John who had presumably grown up “in church,” or well, in synagogue. He calls others, like Matthew the tax collector, who were betrayers of every religious cultural value. He makes generous space for sinners, prostitutes, lepers and Gentiles, while those of the established mainstream religious system are perpetually at odds with him.
He himself is out of place, and attracts to Him those who are also out of place.
Not Christian enough?
The first followers of Christ were those who were not religious enough for the religion of their day. Everybody who wanted to be with Him had a place with Him. Over time they would grow and change and become more like Him, but initially, the only people He turned away were people who loved something else more than Him.
So what happened? How did we get to where we are today?
The Jesus people have become the mainstream Protestant Church. Baptist, Evangelical, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Orthodox…We have our big buildings, tax exemptions, programs, literature, websites, radio stations. We have an unshakeable place in society.
And people struggle with belonging. With feeling worthy to be a part of this “Great movement.”
I know because I’ve met them.
I know because I am one.
I don’t feel Christian enough.
In part, I blame this on the individual, and I can blame myself. Feelings are internal experiences and highly subjective. They can be in response to external or internal reality, and are highly susceptible to irrational perspectives and outright lies. If I believe in Christ, His work on the cross, am seeking to follow Him more closely…and still feel out of place, then I have given authority to the lies that say I needed to earn God’s favor by being just such and such a way.
In other part, I blame this awful experience of un-belonging and inferiority on culture! I hold the unmindful church culture partly responsible. We, the mainstream Christians, have grown soft in our comfort and privilege. We are able to pick and choose just what brand of theology we like and what demographic of people we want to like it with, and even what styles of clothing, hair and music will make us feel right at home in our pews(or folding chairs).
Along with the comfort though, come some rules. Be happy. Be put together. Don’t sin. Don’t bring your issues out in the open. Don’t disrupt the ethereal and carefully choreographed spiritual practices of all of us who successfully maintain the image of one with no problems.
Most of all, don’t doubt. Don’t question. And if you decide to believe something different than us(because of course people change their theology on a whim and that means they’re of poor character) then we will viciously confront you, or graciously show you the door.
lilies    I don’t feel Christian enough.
We, the mainstream church, need to remember and relearn to do what Jesus did. Make space for people’s brokenness. Actually be comfortable being in close inconvenient proximity to broken people. We need to recognize that our theology is nuanced and based on hard truths; questioning these beliefs before whole heartedly embracing them is not only natural, but in fact necessary! We need to be okay with questions, doubts, fears and problems.
More than that, we need to be vulnerable and authentic. These are great sounding buzzwords, but I don’t think we actually practice them. Being vulnerable and authentic means that when someone asks you, “How are you?” you actually tell them.
“I’m tired.”
“I’m having a shitty day.”
“I’m angry at God.”
“I don’t understand this or that nuance of theology.”
“I’m being tempted by so and so or such and such.”
“My life is a wreck and I’m having a hard time believing God loves me.”
Only if we are willing to be truly vulnerable, can we ever experience healing. Only if we are willing to be truly open with each other can we every truly know each other. Only if we share the broken parts of ourselves can we truly create belonging and value for those around us.

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