Monthly Archives: July 2014
I have made a decision. It is one that I should have made a while ago, but didn’t because I kept talking myself out of it, kept listing reasons for why it was a wrong choice and I shouldn’t do it.
But I can’t deny it anymore, and it is a choice I must make.
I’m leaving my church.
I’ve been going there for two years now, but I have reached a point in my spiritual life where I am yearning for more than the same old recycled talk. After the retreat I went to a month ago, I decided I needed a break, and went on a hiatus of sorts from my home church. I attended another local church a few times, and a few other Sundays just sat on my front porch and soaked in scripture and the morning. Mostly I was just really aimless and ambivalent about it all, and I think on a subconscious level I was already letting go of the community I’ve been a part of for the last few years.
But this past Sunday, I went back to my regular church, and as I sat through a discussion on 2 Kings 17, and as we talked about how God is holy and can’t abide sin and therefore must send ferocious lions into the mist of the Israelites and the Assyrians who conquered them in order to teach them a lesson, I realized I didn’t belong there anymore (seriously, look it up: verse 25).
And then we took that same passage, and talked about a modern application of yoga. We talked about how just as when the Israelites so subtly allowed pagan worship into their lives, so we today let the Hindu religion seep into our lives unknowingly when we practice yoga.
And I know my leader was just trying to get us to think. She even said that she and her husband practiced yoga when he had a bad back, and that she wasn’t definitively denouncing it as all evil. She just wondered if we shouldn’t be more careful and thoughtful about practicing it.
But I guess, for me, the straw that broke the camel’s back was that everyone took that passage as an accurate representation of God, and applied that idea of God to our lives today. That passage was violent, and barbaric, and archaic. It reflected an ancient view of the divine that had not yet come to fruition in the person of Jesus Christ.
And I realized I’m tired of trying to work up the courage to say these things in church when we talk about God being so holy he must send lions to attack us when we sin. My mind and my heart have expanded so far beyond this conception of God, and I’ve gotten to the point where walking into Bible study on Sunday mornings feels like re-fastening chains that I have long since shed.
I need an environment where I feel safe to talk about the incredible transformation my faith has gone through over the last year. I need an environment where I can talk about this blog series, which has opened my eyes to this incredible new way of reading scripture.
The church I’ve been attending for the last two years is not that environment.
And right now I’m just trying to come to terms with my decision, because it is so hard to quiet that voice in my head that tells me I’m being selfish, that I’m rejecting my church because I’m too focused on my wants and my desires when I should be focused on the body of Christ around me.
But I just can’t go on anymore. There is something wrong when I feel free and alive and excited to talk about God and Christianity with my friends and even my mom, but I feel stifled and reserved in church, like I must censure my words very carefully for the sake of being respectful of more traditional doctrines and ways of belief in my church.
I crave authentic community. I crave a place where I can lay myself out, with all my demons and all my joys and all my struggles and all my not-so-conservative opinions. And I recognize that this kind of environment is really rare, and that I may spend a long time searching for it. And in some ways, I realize that it is an environment that I must create myself, by being honest about where my spiritual journey has taken me.
I just don’t think I can create it at my current church. And so I am moving on.
Over the last few days, I’ve been mulling further over everything I was taught at the retreat last weekend. One of the recurring themes seemed to be standing up for our beliefs, and being vocal about defending the truth in the Bible. We talked about our roots as a Christian nation, and how much more moral our society was fifty years ago, and how we must hearken back to those days to recapture the values that the Bible champions.
Of course I have my own misgivings about that language, but what I want to write about today is the tendency we as Christians have to take matters into our own hands. We fret and worry about how degenerate our nation has become, and how we must rally to restore values that have changed in our culture. And we guilt-trip each other with the responsibility of witnessing: “What if this person dies in a car crash on their way home from work today, and you missed the only opportunity you’ll ever have to show them Jesus and save them from eternal damnation?”
I’ve been thinking about this tendency, and of all things, relating it to Peter’s actions in the Garden of Gethsemane right before Jesus was arrested. In Matthew 26:51-54, we read:
“And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. Forall who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”
Now, this could quite possibly be an interpretive stretch, but I think you and I have a lot to learn from Peter here (we know this is Peter because of a similar passage in John). I don’t think Jesus is just chastising Peter for resorting to violence when his beloved Messiah is threatened. Jesus is reminding Peter that He is God, that he is capable of constructing events in the garden however he wishes, and that if Jesus is arrested it doesn’t have anything to do with God’s failure to protect him—or Peter’s failure to protect him—and everything to do with a larger plan, a larger story playing out that Peter can’t see in the moment.
I think that when many Christians talk about how we are responsible for telling as many people as we can about Jesus, when we talk about how we are responsible for imposing “biblical” (read: conservative) values on our culture, we are guilty of doing what Peter did in the Garden of Gethsemane. We are relying on our own strength, and our own supposed knowledge of what God’s will is, to bring about change and usher in what we think God desires of our lives and our nation.
But just think about it: Peter thought he was doing what was best. He was defending Jesus. He was standing up boldly and making a statement of devotion by cutting off that soldier’s ear; it was undoubtedly a very brave thing to do.
But that wasn’t the plan God had in store. God had a larger, more beautiful, more liberating plan for Jesus in that moment. He wasn’t supposed to be just another revolutionary, inspiring people to take up arms and fight for his defense. It was never God’s intention to call down angels to the rescue of his Son. Instead Jesus went away calmly with his captors and subjected himself to humiliation and torture and death.
He lived and trusted in God’s plan for his life, instead of walking through life as if everything depended on his own actions and words to usher in the Kingdom. So perhaps we ought to live like Jesus, and a little less like Peter. Perhaps we ought to remember that we are not responsible for how God works in the hearts of people to draw them to himself. That his plan so far beyond our own limited vision, just as it was in that garden.
God’s kingdom will come, and we must have faith in that. God’s plans are so much bigger than inspiring us to cut off the ears of soldiers in our defense of him. Maybe the best way forward is to obey Jesus’ words to Peter, put away our swords, and trust in God’s future as we grow and walk with Him.