I am convinced that Jesus is actually the Son of God and that He came and died so that who ever would believe would not parish but get to know and experience everlasting love and life with the Father. This being my conviction, I also happen to believe that Jesus is the best that that ever happened to me and that the abundant life I have partaken of in the Spirit has radically transformed every part of how I interact with reality. However, I still must resign myself to the fact that after nearly a decade of following Christ I still am far from mastering this whole ‘life in the Spirit’ thing. I guess you could say I still have at least a few (hundred) things I still need to figure out.
You want to know what I did have locked down though?
This funny little world that has dominated Western gospel thought for the last several decades and that is what we would call American Evangelical sub-culture. We have our own books, movies, games (I still NEED to know who was convinced that Christian Guitar Hero was a good idea?) fast food establishments, TV shows that we all collectively watch and feel good about, TV shows that we all collectively watch and feel guilty about, clothes that we will wear, clothes that we would never wear, philosophies on …well every faculty of life, and we also claim a monopoly on both Truth and the proper biblical hermeneutic.
And I knew this world. I understood the structures, I defended the structures, I upheld all of its tenets (well minus the movies because…well I am just never going to be able to like “Facing The Giants”)
Over the years there were a lot of parts about this protective bubble that I was more or less disillusioned with but I could easily overlook these things because A. I felt like I knew the intentions of the people who were pumping out the content and they were ones for good and B. Because I was entirely captivated by Jesus, by the Scriptures, and by the divine romance I had found myself caught in that was both rich and transcendent. I didn’t mind that sometimes the breadth of spirituality found in the Christian tradition and belief was obscured by trite and cheap phrases, a certain winged politics, neat and tidy categories, and this unanimously shared notion that we were never to ‘rock the boat’ amongst ourselves…butttt as soon as one of us does such a thing in the public square at the expense of an already marginalized group then one is applauded for “taking a stand on God’s Truth” and it’s chicken sandwiches for everyone!
I say all of this because throughout all of this time I was generally considered a part of the ‘leadership’ in these conservative faith circles. I somehow found a way to squeeze, bend, and jump through some hoops to the point of being able to fit. I learned to receive rebuke, admonishment, and correction…both the kind which is exercised graciously and the kind where I get told that I have a “resistant personality that could destroy the Kingdom” without any context or clarification as to what I said or had done to merit that description. I learned how to not conform to the patterns of this world but to be clipped and groomed into the image of the other girls within the non-denominational contemporary Christian world. About half-way through my general inability to identify with any of the Francine Rivers books I tried so hard to read I decided it was time to just focus on my prayer life, daily walking with God, and seeking out wise council from a few other Jesus-loving rabble rousers who had been doing the same We-Don’t-Fit dance for much longer than I and somehow I got by with a lot of eye-brow raises but never having to fall victim to exclusion.
The first time I began to recognize the residual effects of this phenomena was last summer as I was thinking about my brother. If you know my brother then I don’t need to explain…but if you don’t we will just say that he is a little rough around the edges. He is completely genuine, too smart for his own good, musically genius, endlessly creative, and so pro-anarchy and anti-establishment that he has more or less been in some kind of trouble since my earliest childhood memories. My brother is also a human. A human who both needs love and is fully capable of giving love. I trust my human brother with my life and despite our different religious identities my atheistic human brother still respects the idea of life having meaning and there being some kind of universal story interconnecting all of our lives. Sometimes we talk about God and especially lately because for whatever reason coming out to my brother made me that much more personally and emotionally accessible to him. You see, in the last several months I have had my eternal destination called into question and condemned more than my brother has his entire life and of course he finds that, given all that I’ve told you above about myself and him respectively, wildly hilarious. He likes to know how I am dealing with many of my friends getting all weird and Truth-speaky. He likes to know what it is like to interact with people regularly who have a planned questions and pre-tense to their conversation. He just likes to know how I am doing. Sometimes I laugh. And sometimes I cry. I cry because I miss the days when the people who God has loved me through and God has used me to do the same for them didn’t have to dichotomize my existence and relegate me to this category of “walking in open rebellion” and “choosing my sin over Jesus” and all of these other kind of bombastic things…but my tears are for so much more than this.
I cry because behind my brother’s questions about me and my experiences are my brother’s questions about his own life and his own experiences. Who does God say He is? Could He love someone like me? What actually is grace?
My brother never took issue with Jesus. He never resisted the gospel for sake of the gospel. My brother just wasn’t ever capable of the social gymnastics it took to morph into evangelical culture.
Will my brother come to know and qualify the message of Jesus? It is certainly possible.
But will my brother enter as that as a black sheep? Absolutely. My brother will simply become a little black sheep who loves Jesus just as I am a little rainbow sheep who loves Jesus.