I’ve always been an organized person. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a place for everything and felt most comfortable when things were in their appointed location. As a kid, I can remember organizing my toys in boxes, with each box representing a different category of toy—baseball cards in one box, toy cars in another, all my GI Joe stuff in a series of boxes marked in big letters “GI Joe Stuff.” Sometimes I didn’t even want to take the toys out of the boxes to play with them because then they wouldn’t be where they were “supposed to be.” I’m pleased to say that I’ve lightened up a lot over the years. But I still prefer structure and order in most aspects of my life. I’m just not good at being a go-with-the-flow kind of guy.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve been examining my faith—what I believe and why I believe it. That process has produced a wide range of emotion and revelation. Having grown up under the tutelage and influence of Americanized, western religious culture, I discovered that much of what I believed fit quite nicely into my preference for order and organization. In fact, what I really discovered in my beliefs about God and how He fit into my life could be packaged quite neatly into parameters and institutional definitions learned within the context of what we call “religion.” I could place it all in a box marked “God Stuff,” and set it on a shelf, right where it belongs next to the rest of my organized life.
Then something remarkable happened. Determined to put aside learned bias, I decided to reexamine the life and person of Jesus Christ by excavating the gospels with a new and fresh perspective. My goal was clear: to discover how Jesus lived his life, what his message really means to His followers and how we are to live in response. Little did I know at the outset that what I was about to discover would radically transform me to the very core of my spiritual DNA.
The more I probed Jesus’ life and how he lived and what and who he cared about, the more I started to recognize inconsistencies between the Jesus of institutional religion and the Jesus of scripture. I began to see that the Jesus who lived amongst us was quite a bit different than the Jesus who lived within the four corners of the box that I had placed Him in. The box that I created contained many assumptions about what being a follower of Christ meant—assumptions that got challenged and eventually crushed.
From years of observing organized, American Christian subculture, I assumed that being a follower of Christ meant participating in religiously charged political battles such as the fight to keep the 10 Commandments in public places and prayer in schools. When I looked at Jesus, He seemed more concerned with feeding the hungry. I assumed that Christianity was about stewardship campaigns to raise huge sums of cash to build large church buildings for people to attend so they can participate in a class that will teach them the five points to living a “better life.” Jesus said sell everything you have and give your money to the poor. I thought church was about making sure the choir sang well, the budget balanced, the sermons challenged but didn’t offend and always making the annual church hog-roast better than last year. I discovered that Jesus was more interested in defending the weak and marginalized. I could go on, because my box was quite full. As I unpacked the box, and stacked its contents up against the Jesus I rediscovered in scripture, I soon realized that God no longer fit in that box. He was so much more than, and nothing like, the religious ideology I had packaged Him with. And I discovered that I have so much more to learn, un-learn and re-learn about my faith.
I am not condemning political pursuits that seek to preserve the Christian history of our nation. Nor am I opposed to building churches and structures where believers gather for worship. And based upon my fondness for organization, I’m certainly in favor of a balanced budget in my church. Yet, as I stripped my faith down to its very core, I discovered significant differences in what was important to me compared to what was important to Jesus. But most disturbingly, I saw a vast difference between how He lived out His message compared to how I was living His message.
So I’m on a quest; a quest to unlearn my misconceptions about what being a follower of Jesus looks like; a quest to relearn everything I can about what and who Jesus cared about; and a quest to learn what was important to Him and what wasn’t. I no longer believe we are called to live a “religious” life. But rather, as followers of Jesus, I believe we are compelled to live a life that reflects the passions that were evident in His life, even if those passions don’t always align with the passions of organized religion. And what I’ve learned so far has convinced me that this journey has and will continue to change the way I think about my faith, and ultimately, how I live in response to the life of Jesus. Although I don’t know how God’s presence in my life will finally look at the end of this journey, I do know one thing: He’s not going to fit in my box anymore.