“Jesus loves me, I know, for my mom told me so” — Sheryl Crow
My mom is a minister. A non-denominational evangelist. She travels and speaks and I’m proud of her because she’s doing with her life what she was made to do. We butt heads on theology with regularity, but I will always approve of her. She’s my mom, and I love her.
Unfortunately, I don’t enjoy listening to most ministers. Never have.
I’m the kind of person, that doesn’t really gel with religion, non-denominational or otherwise. Intellectually, I understand the history of its development, at least throughout Western Civilization. Philosophically, I can relate what I’ve observed in my quarter century of human experience. But, on the most surface of levels, I dodge it at all costs.
[STRAP ON YOUR NEW GUNS]
Our family “found Jesus” when I was 7. Before that, we were a normal small-town Catholic family. Upon family declaration of our new faith (I guess we didn’t have faith before), my Madonna and Cyndi Lauper albums disappeared. “We Are The World” was removed from the realm of my 12’x12’ pink bedroom the same day that HBO and MTV were gone from our cable package. No longer was I allowed to play my 45’s of “Like a Virgin” and “She-Bop.” Come to think of it, musically, I was probably the better for it. I still could have used more “Fraggle Rock” though.
Initially I was traumatized. But we were saved now, and if my parents were that excited, well, as a 7 year old, so was I. Our new savior, sans his mother Mary, required that we give certain things up for Him, and I was willing to take one for the team.
I rushed back to my elementary school and made a declaration to all of my classmates to plug their ears during Mousercise because listening to devil music would send us all to hell. I would no longer color smiling pumpkins during Halloween, and, excuse me Mrs. Smith, but Mardi Gras is an abomination to God so, I’ll pass on the snack time king cake.
Pretty intense for someone not yet tall enough to drive a go-cart. No
wonder I have issues.
In my early adolescence, I never vocally questioned my sacrifices or the culture I was being brought up in. Everything from the puppet shows to the drama skits made it clearly obvious that we, as Christians, were going to be loners in the outside world. It was okay that our friends would laugh at us and reject us—we were to be unashamed and sold out. No compromises.
But we were also supposed to win souls. Bring more saints into the
Kingdom. Invite our newly alienated friends to church and expect them to fall to their knees in the darkened lighting, surrounded by people speaking in tongues and laying hands on each other.
So, naturally in my over-zealous fashion, I invited away. “Wanna come spend New Year’s Eve praying all night?” “How ‘bout Friday night outreach’ No Vanilla Ice allowed, but we’ll re-enact ‘The Champion.’
It’ll be rad.”
[DIRT DEVIL FAITH]
It wasn’t until I was in high school, commuting every afternoon to a school for the arts, that I was hit in the face with the reality of how my faith would interface in the real world. For the first time, I met real live atheists, teenage lesbians, Muslims and pot-smoking jazz musicians. Yet, they were not the monsters I etched in my head during last week’s object lesson.
Instead, I heard about religion being formed as a means to rid a lawless world of anarchy, of fathers who raped their pre-pubescent daughters, of the sons of the cheated Esau, and the laid-back creativity that came with a good toke.
They were interesting. They were creative. They were real and they welcomed me into their mish mash of culture with open arms. But what struck me more than anything is that they didn’t try to change me. It was okay that I didn’t see things their way, that I openly believed in
Christ, regularly shaved my armpits and didn’t do drugs. They didn’t beat me over the head with whatever it was that differentiated them from me. In their eyes, our differences made the relationships that much richer.
What became not okay was the lack of understanding within my Christian community. When I came home with stories about these new “freaks” of mine, my youth pastors weren’t as much interested in hearing about their lives as they were in hearing about what I was going to do to bring them to church. My reluctance to do so was met with questions about my dedication and concern that I might be influenced by their evil ways.
It dawned on me. I hadn’t the first clue of why life with Jesus was so great, other than if I were to die right now I was sure I was going to heaven. And yes, it bothered me, as much as it could bother a 14-year-old that these new friends of mine might suffer an eternity of damnation, but I had no clue how to present that to them without coming across as shallow.
Other than the crucifixion scenes set to Ray Boltz songs, the rewards of faith being 100 to one on the dollar, and videos depicting demons dragging people to hell, I had no idea what salvation was all about. How in the world did someone who was so saturated in church not know what the hell it was that we were supposed to believe in?
We were absolutely not of the world; we were vacuum-sealed from it. By that logic, someone had to first break our seal to join us. To me, it all seemed a little backwards.
I had absolutely nothing real to offer these poster-child heathens that they weren’t already aware of. Were they just supposed to see the constant dumb smile on my face and bite?
[DUALITY OR ROBOTICS]
Searching for answers, I looked around at my Christian peers and saw one of two things, duality or robotics.
Duality is human, and certainly, I can’t blame these kids. Every year we’d come back on the bus from youth camp with new promises of standing firm, being a light, and agreeing to meet before school around the flagpole for prayer. By week two of the new school year, if not before, we’d gone back to barely acknowledging each other in the halls. It was part of the cycle.
It even became sport to see who could out sin the others under the pastorial radar. We were making out in the bathrooms and copping feels in the pews during the message and returning to the front row to pray with our fallen comrades during altar calls. Honestly, I think that’s just growing up, Christian or not. But still, it offered no answers to my questions.
What scared me more were the robots. I believe in heritage and certainly discipleship. There’s something beautiful about passing something on from generation to generation, especially in a society that is so incredibly temporary. Rather, it bothers me when people are armed with passions and bulk identity without substance and understanding. It creates empty fanaticism. We may not be sending young men and women into malls with C-4 strapped to their bodies, but we are equipping people to be annoying multi-level marketers.
Tormented with my new perspective, I quit playing the piano on our worship team. I realized that I had the power to manipulate the emotions of people toward something I wasn’t sure I understood. Let me clarify that. I didn’t know how to tell my pastors and my parents that
I didn’t agree with our faith, so I moved out of state to another college, swearing to revisit God at some point, but to have nothing to do with church or worship ever again.
[UM, OKAY, ALRIGHT]
Eventually I came back, not to a church, but to Him, and His will for my life. And no, I’m still not comfortable personally leading in worship, but I am in ministry, something much greater than myself.
I’m still partial to the belief that you can’t fully understand redemption unless you consciously go through the steps of needing it. But I realize that’s not necessarily true. When I get to heaven, I’m sure I’ll have long conversations with Thomas about how silly he felt after needing to examine the hands and feet of the risen Christ. I too could have just kept the faith. Mom certainly wanted it that way.
I’m fully willing to concede that my parents and the people in my church were doing the best that they knew to do. If my husband and I ever get around to having a family of our own, we’ll be incredibly lucky if we don’t screw our kids over much worse.
God is still revealing this to me. A couple of years ago, one of my friends was working on tour with that summer’s top grossing rock tour. They swung through Atlanta, and I saw the opportunity to show off by taking my 15-year-old cousin back-stage to hang with these mega-stars in all their rock ‘n’ roll glory. They didn’t fail to deliver. We spent the 40-minute ride back to her house talking about the stupidity of mixing Jack Daniels with cocaine and back-stage prostitutes.
At that point, I would have given anything to take back the VIP badges and our celebrity photo ops leaving my cousin only with visions of the harmless roller-rink video on MTV. If I could have totally sheltered her, I would have.
Suddenly, I was in the shoes of my parents and everyone else trying to shield me from the trappings of not just our postmodern society, but also the post-Eden earth. The guys in those bands certainly weren’t more evil natured than the rest of us, but the choices they were making were less than brilliant. And in my attempts to put that in perspective for my wide-eyed cousin, I undoubtedly sounded like a bumbling idiot.
Then I realized that the people at my church were simply my bumbling idiots. Their methods of shielding us from the evils of the world were far from brilliant, but they were genuinely doing their best.
[THE RELATIONSHIP IS UP TO US]
When I was in Atlanta again, I invited my cousin to attend a worship concert I was working. Now 17, she came out to worship with us, and at one point, I looked over from behind my production perch and saw her lifting her hands. I shed tears. Immediately I questioned my emotion. I still don’t know if I was moved because her response validated my little world, or if I believed that she truly was being touched by God. Whether she knew what was going on, or if she just felt the need to blend in and mimic the expressions of others, I don’t know. I’ll never ask. That’s between her and God.
So it goes for the rest of us.
What I will ask is for God to continue to tenderize my heart, to show me how to love and obey Him without having to isolate myself from the world around me. Even better, I can share His love through my life with a clean conscience. I’m now willing to consider that the beauty of salvation is much more than a deluxe reservation in eternity with the big Guy in the sky, but in the ability to build a relationship with the eternal VIP. Daily I can know the unfailing love of a God who is a father, a friend, the creator of the universe and, yes, my Savior.
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