I challenge a lot of religious ideas.
I am passionate in my disagreement with some of the "common" beliefs I once held to, but I try to remain civil and collected. Even against the abuse and misleading of people by those they see as authorities... I never want to just rant. I try to write constructive articles rather than mere knee-jerk-reaction blogs. I want to forge content that will last longer than the sensationalized debates of the moment. And if you've ever spoken to me in person, you know I'm pretty gentle when saying all the same sorts of things I write.
But some still think this form of criticism is a bad idea, even in its attempt to be honest. I encounter people who think we should all stop "complaining" and just leave things as they are. Some find articles like mine to be uncalled for. I've noticed that there are people in some environments where they don't mind being literally yelled at from the pulpit each week... And yet, they can turn around and find the kinds of things I write to be somehow out of line. It's amazing how we can compartmentalize what we consider to be "harsh," isn't it?
I've heard some say that they won't tolerate criticism of "the bride," or that people are too critical of "the church." ...I dunno, maybe that's true of some voices out there - I'm sure there are people who really do just want to take cheap shots from a distance - but it's not true of what is happening in our time in general. We have the opportunity to benefit from an entire generation of Evangelicals telling us what their experience has produced in them. What the beliefs and attitudes of this pocket of culture (which they have known so intimately) yield in the modern world. And when you plug your ears and shut that discussion down, it's no way to honestly approach the great potential of our time.
If you can't allow for critique and difficult discussion in confronting your own beliefs and ideas, you can't allow for change.
And frankly, most of the New Testament becomes contrary to what you will permit anyway, because much of what you are dismissing is the very Voice which Jesus himself operated in. And not only him, but John the Baptist, Paul, Peter, John, Mary, etc. The only reason we have their story is because they voiced and lived something different. As Dylan Thomas said so famously, they "raged against the dying of the light." They embodied a word we're all familiar with and yet seldom use correctly in our Christian institutions: They were prophetic. They presented a contrast to what was by pointing to what should be.
As for being critical of "church..." Personally, I draw a distinction between what is genuinely church of the kind Jesus spoke of so positively (and which belongs to no religion), and what is merely Christianity or religiosity of the unhealthy kind... And it's the latter which I am familiar enough with to examine and discuss from the inside - from a place of ownership and understanding. Of course, it's not only bad ideas I talk about. Not at all. Ultimately, I also point to some other ideas. In shaking the assumed "foundations," I often find that which remains to be much more solid and trustworthy. I consider alternatives, and I suggest the kind of beauty which might replace the things which have been so marred by ugliness... But all of that often happens while I challenge a lot of the ideas I once took for granted.
It's not because I think I now have perfect ideas.
In fact, most of what I write tackles the false certainties surrounding that very mindset. I don't know everything. I know enough to know that a lot of what I was told was a solid and unshakeable foundation turned out to be anything but. I know enough to draw me toward humility, and to clinging less tightly to dogma as a replacement for genuine faith. In seeing the smallness of Evangelical culture, Jesus becomes much bigger and grander and more fascinating. He becomes the kind of Lord and Teacher I would want to follow, rather than a mere box I checked to "get the answer right" on a religious test.
So I challenge dogma. I scrutinize cliché. I question everything. And as I do that within myself, much of what I once considered to be essential dissipates... But I find that what remains is all the more precious and luminous.
I know it's tough for some people.
When people challenge our deepest beliefs and convictions, it feels like they're challenging us at the deepest level, because we identify with those things. We live within our perceptions and constructs. They form a lens through which we perceive everything else. Our ideas have consequences in forming our sense of who we are. And to call them to question or account for themselves? ...It can be very painful.
But it needs to be done. It's not just judgment or negativity. In fact, it's often the path to freedom to remove the burden of those very things. In judging judgment or in casting negativity in its own light, we see them for what they are. We allow them to dismantle themselves as we see the truth of them... And hopefully, we let go. As we are led from the illusion to the substance, and from the unreal to the real, and from the shadow to the light... we let go.
In the realm of faith and religion, there's a difference between being real and having the courage to remain inside, and being hopeless, negative and bitter - throwing stones from a distance. Christianity has plenty of people willing to throw stones from the outside, and plenty of people who refuse to deal honestly with problems from the inside. There are plenty of people so alienated they leave entirely, and plenty of people who stick around but are in denial. What Christianity lacks is people who have the courage and hope to remain in the middle.
And to remain at what Richard Rohr calls "the edge of the inside," without plugging your ears, or shutting your eyes, or denying and dismissing what should be confronted? That's not easy.
Being real does require an honest look at things. And that costs you something, because a lot of the things you see, or question, or examine will come up short. They'll come up false. They'll turn out to be deadly poisonous. A lot of the same things you have believed or clinged to. Maybe for your whole life.
And then you're faced with a decision.
I have found that it's kind of impossible to deeply and genuinely comfort the afflicted without (at least somewhat) afflicting many of the comforted. The reality of things is that many of us have been comforted falsely. Many have taken comfort and refuge in things which prove to be ugly and abusive. To share in the Light, then, means exposing the Darkness which has masqueraded or postured itself as light. You can't turn a light on without seeing things you couldn't see before, and the same sun that melts wax can harden clay. The response depends on the material.
So it becomes fairly impossible to share true beauty, or to authentically nurture without rattling the cages of those who claim to be free.
Sure, maybe you can share things that are so generalized that everyone feels a superficial sense of "encouragement" or warmth, but the thing about superficiality is that it tends to be pretty shallow... And the thing about the human heart is that it is deep.
We are told to comfort the fainthearted.
But true comfort is like the heart receiving it and the pain necessitating it, because true comfort cuts deep. It has to. True comfort does not come superficially. And for those who are fainthearted because of us - including many of us - to truly care for them by default requires taking ownership of what we have become.
To truly comfort those who mourn in the shadow of a broken System requires telling the truth to that System.
You cannot be an advocate for those who've been victimized without indicting whatever (or whoever) did the victimizing. So we take ownership. Graciously and unflinchingly, if at all possible. It's the only way to assess where we go from here - the only way to get a sense of what comes next. The path ahead is not just sharing things we all agree with. The way forward includes reckoning with the constructs and ideas which have produced so much faintheartedness. It includes dealing with whatever sicknesses that have lead to these symptoms of injury, pain, and disillusionment.
And why? So that we can heal. So that we can receive something better, and be something more. Because many of us need to hear some "good news" that has real depth to it.
To share what is truly "good news" to those who've been hurt, neglected, marginalized or otherwise negatively impacted by the System... Well, that's often going to sound like bad news to those who've placed their lives into the hands of that same System.
But it's a necessary process.
For Jesus, comfort and discomfort sat alongside each other.
This is what he meant when he recognized that his arrival would mean some degree of division. The religious establishment wouldn't have it any other way. Jesus couldn't just do the new thing without the old thing calling it to question. In "bringing the sword," Jesus poetically described what he was illuminating in the midst of humanity. As such:
- He received outcasts while rebuking the religious.
- He healed the sick while challenging the perception of sickness that was so dominant in the ideas and interpretations of the well.
- He championed the beauty of faith he saw beyond of his own tribe while indicting the ugliness of religious abuse within.
- He recognized truth and righteousness outside the known parameters while being honest about error and neglect of justice inside.
- He removed burdens from the average people while challenging the very system which called for them and crafted them.
- He elevated purpose wherever he saw it while diminishing the importance placed on privilege.
So one of the things Jesus shows us so consistently is this: