Progressive Christians: We Need to Talk About Jesus…

Glasses on Open Bible

Please note: Not all theological progressives wear glasses.

I’m a theological progressive.

When I fell away from faith, I fell away from a faith that was absolutely confused about its identity.  I was interacting in worlds that didn’t seem to speak the same language.  One world I lived in included people I knew and loved who were of intellect and not willing to take the Bible literally, people of different sexual orientations, people of different faiths.

And I also lived in a world of religion that didn’t seem to encompass that other world very well.  Or, if it did, it marginalized the people who didn’t fit well into certain categories, namely “Bible-believing,” “straight,” and “Christian.”

For a while my solution, then, was to leave the faith…at least in spirit.  I still moved in both worlds, but my heart was with the first world and turned against the second world.

And then I came back to faith…a faith re-figured.  A faith that could encompass the first world and still remain in the second.  In fact, it merged the two worlds so completely together that now, for me, they are one cohesive world.

I came out as a theological progressive.

To me this means a couple things:

I have a heart for justice.  Sometimes people call it “social justice,” but I think that phrase is laden with all sorts of issues and assumptions.  My justice is not just for society, though.  It’s for the world in sum.  Shalom is a better Biblical term for it.  I have a heart for Shalom, God’s good balance and peace.   Ensuring that people live with dignity, that the world we live in is respected, and that we keep an eye toward balance and harmony as we all eek out our God-given existence.

-I have a sincere respect for other faith traditions. The sincerity part comes from the realization that we are all trying to navigate life in a way that bends toward not putting ourselves at the center of it all.  We’re all trying to navigate life through the lens of deeper truth.

I talk about Jesus. Yes, I do.  Sometimes I call Jesus “the Christ,” or sometimes I refer to God as “the Divine,” but I do so because different language helps, not hurts, our understanding of God.  For a long time language has boxed God in…and we need to break God out of the box.  But that doesn’t mean, though, that I don’t talk about Jesus.  In fact, I think we have a lot of Christians who are afraid to talk about Jesus because they don’t want to be “that” type of Christian.  I get that.  But our silence isn’t doing Jesus’ rep any favors.  Why?  Because the Franklin Grahams and Glenn Becks (how did he become a Christian spokesperson, btw?) of this world do talk about Jesus.  And their Jesus does not look like my Jesus…

I want to be inclusive.  Lots of people are excluded from faith communities for things they’ve done or not done, or for things other people think are “sin,” usually things they do with their bodies.  In truth: I think we sin a lot more with our checkbooks than we do with our bodies.  Funny thing about the Jesus we find in the Gospels: he doesn’t spend a lot of time making people feel guilty for their sin, real or imagined.  In fact, Jesus doesn’t really talk a whole lot about specific sin if you read carefully.  What Jesus does talk about, though, are people who think they have no sin, or that they lead sinless lives.  “Because you say, ‘I am not blind,’ your sin remains,” Jesus says to the Pharisees, these archetype characters in John’s Gospel for those who think they’re above sin.  So, in modeling Jesus, I want to be inclusive.  Of everyone.  It’s dangerous; I know.  Try it out, though.  You might just find Jesus lurking in people you never thought possible…

To me being theologically progressive doesn’t mean:

I’m politically progressive. I know plenty of theological progressives who don’t fit into political categories.  Honestly, I’ve never been able to vote with a clear conscience.  And your church shouldn’t be a para-political organization, either.  Your church’s mission shouldn’t sound like a party platform.  Sure, faith is political.  My faith certainly informs and shapes my politics.  In fact, I think that pastors can’t help but be political.  After all, in the polis we deal with money, health, life, and death…all things Jesus talked about extensively.  But if Jesus were running for office, no party would claim him.

I don’t take the Bible seriously.  Actually, I take the Bible very seriously.  So seriously, in fact, that I take into consideration its origin, its writing styles, its editing, its historical conditioning…all of it.  I would claim that anyone who just takes anything at face value doesn’t take it seriously at all!  They’re ignoring so much in their quest for simplicity.  But life isn’t simple.  The books of the Bible aren’t simple.  God isn’t simple!  Let’s stop pretending that you have to be an idiot to be a believer. The only thing someone reading the Bible at face value takes seriously is their own desire for absolute certainty at the expense of their brain.

I’m a Communist.  Again, idiocy leads to this conclusion, or any other label of fear-mongering that people come up with to keep you from actually engaging with others in this world.  The best way to combat idiocy is to remove your head from your buttocks.

I have a church that won’t grow. Our church is growing.  We need not worry that fear and false certainty are the only ways to grow faithful Christians.  And as a parent, I want to help my son hold tension with faith, not inadequately resolve tension with easy answers and cheap grace.

So, theological progressives, here’s the deal: we have to talk about Jesus more.  Especially in this time of crappy Jesus movies and headlines of Christian charities being…well…uncharitable, and mega-church pastors claiming Jesus wants them to be wealthy, and Catholic bishops getting in hot water for building million dollar mansions.  Because Jesus is getting a bad rap.  And we shouldn’t be afraid to claim that we’re people of progressive faith.

And, sure, Jesus has a quiet way about him.  This is true.  Real Godly work doesn’t sound the trumpet in the temple, but locks itself in the closet.  And God sees in secret.

But, as a parishioner of mine recently said in a conversation about this issue, “We’re not doing Jesus any favors by being quiet.”

And she’s right.

“Relationship Issues” or “Jesus Doesn’t Want to be My Boyfriend.”

I know…the title.  images

I actually wanted to title this “Jesus Isn’t That Into You” as a play off of the movie…but that would have really brought the hate mail.

So let me start with a disclaimer.

Let me say, unequivocally, that I think Jesus is “into you” (although I think that sounds weird).

But maybe…maybe Jesus isn’t that into you.  Or, at least, not as solely about you as we’ve made it out to be.  Jesus doesn’t want to be my boyfriend.

Let me explain for a second.

In my blog on 5 Phrases I Think Christians Shouldn’t Say, I got a lot of push back for #2 on my list, “You just have to do God’s will…”  Specifically for my statement in the subsequent lines where I posit that I’m not convinced that God’s greatest wish is for us to be in relationship with God.

I should have put an asterisk next to that statement because, here’s what I really mean by that: I think that Christianity has adopted a “win souls for Jesus,” “you must invite Jesus into your heart,” “you need to have a personal relationship with Jesus” mentality at the sacrifice of every other type of relationship that God might desire for humanity.

We’ve given up our relationship as stewards of the Earth so that we can build monstrous mega-church compounds on open land to focus on the “Jesus-and-Me” relationship, adopting crazy ideas that perhaps global warming is fake and is God’s plan for the world.

We’ve given up our authentic relationships with others who, perhaps, don’t think the same things we do, because our singular focus is now to try and convert and “win souls for Christ.”

American evangelical Christianity has focused so much on fostering personal relationships with Jesus Christ, most other relationships are left in the dust…

Plus, speaking from a place of honesty, much of the agnostic/marginally Christian world (and a good number of us convicted Christians) finds the super-close-Jesus-is-my-boyfriend talk creepy.

I think we all want to be known; really known.  And I think God knows us; truly knows us.

But when we start talking about Jesus like he’s our lover in the modern sense we really are talking in ways that put people off.

Don’t think we do that?  Consider the song “In the Secret.”  Here are the lyrics:

In the secret, in the quiet place

in the stillness you are there.

In the secret, in the quiet hour I wait

only for you (this part is usually whispered)

Because I want to know you more.

I want to know you,

I want to hear your voice

I want to know you more.

I want to touch you

I want to see your face

I want to know you more.

Creepy, right?

Or what about Hillsong’s “I Surrender” where you sing “have your way in me, Lord”?  I’ve banned that song from my church because I can’t hear that without imagining how someone who has been sexually abused hears it…

I mean, c’mon folks, maybe Jesus isn’t that into us.

I’m all for the talk of having the “heart strangely warmed,” to use a Wesley phrase (and he was reading my boy, Luther, btw).  I’m all for the stirring of the spirit, for soul-stirring that you can’t explain.  I’m Lutheran, a spiritual descendant of the one who kept repeating over and over again, pro me, when it came to Jesus’ promises in Scripture.

“For me.”

It’s personal.  And the opposite can be true.  A lot of places talk so much about God in the abstract, that any sort of relational talk is totally absent.

But I hear less of the latter and more of the former.  It’s good to talk about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, but we’ve taken that and run right into the crazy bin.

If that’s all we focus on, the personal…and that’s a lot of what I hear…then, well, I think the boat has been missed, by and large.

When Jesus said “Love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself,” I don’t think he imagined we’d stop on the first part as much we have.  Remember, that second part is “like the first.”

I’m all for a relationship with God; the mystic in me can’t do without it. St. Julian spoke of her relationship with Jesus in the most intimate way possible (totally scandalous…everyone should read some St. Julian).  But even from Julian you get the sense that she’s speaking from a “remain in me” kind of way, echoing Jesus from the Gospel of John.

But if it stops there…

No, really…I think a lot of places talk as if it goes on from there, about helping the neighbor, loving people for who they are and where they are in life, but it’s really just about you and Jesus and what you gain from that.

If that’s the case, well, then I’d say you have relationship issues. Maybe it’s good to consider that Jesus might not be that into you…not your boyfriend.

And that singular focus that I hear so much really often makes me a reluctant Christian.

Does it Matter that I Call Myself “Christian” if I Don’t Try to be Involved in a Faith Community?

I think about this question a lot.Lower_back_cross_tattoos_for_women_1

Because I hear a lot of people, celebrities and politicians, neighbors and acquaintances and friends, claiming that they are Christian but admitting that they’re not in a faith community and not really interested in being a part of one.

And I’m interested as to what the benefit is for them to claim a faith without practicing one in community.  I want to ask them if it really matters to have that label.

Now, I know people who really long to have a community of faith but can’t find one that resonates with them.  I have friends all across the globe with that reality…and that’s rough.

I don’t think that’s typical, though.  And this question isn’t pointed toward them.  I’m more asking this question with those who claim to be Christian but who don’t make attempts to act on their faith communally in mind.

And this comes with a clear conviction on my part that being Christian means being in a faith community of some sort.  Because you can’t be a Christian alone, I think.

I mean, in some ways I can see the confusion over this issue.  We’ve turned the term “Christian” into a moral identifier in many ways.  It’s a way we privately identify personal beliefs and morals.  And we’ve made it into a cultural identifier as well (and what a travesty that reality is).

The Christian community has given the impression that we can be Christian alone.

It’s like a tattoo we get to wear without needing any real connection.  It may have a back story…but does it mean something now?

But does that mark have a future impact on our lives?  Or is it just a remnant of what was that we still sort of like but don’t know why?

Or it’s kind of like, well, could I consider myself a Republican or Democrat or Green or Libertarian if I never voted?

I don’t want to make too much of a comparison here because it only goes so far, but it’s an interesting one.  Would it matter if I claimed a political party if I never voted?  Could I call myself by a party name if I never practiced?

Well, I guess I could.

But would it mean anything?  Would it do any good?

I want to lean on this a bit…because I think it’s a conversation to have.

In fact, I think churches have it all the time in implicit ways.

And we have it poorly.

We have it every time we baptize a child in a church and then never see that child again (and don’t expect to).  We have it when we mark people with ashes at the bus stop on Ash Wednesday, but don’t expect anything else.

And the result is…what?  A bus full of people who think that faith connection is a bus stop encounter once a year.

I think the result is that we end up reinforcing a cultural Christianity without any real meaning.

So, I want to ask: does it matter?

And I fully get that there are some who are in faith communities and call themselves Christian who don’t trust any of it.  I get that being active in a community of faith does not indicate a Christian faith (however you might define “faith”).  Many people in faith communities are really despicable and don’t act or behave like I think the Christ invites us to.

This is true.  I think this also a symptom of cultural Christianity.

And there are many people are in faith communities, churches, but wouldn’t call themselves Christian.

This is also true.  We have people in my community who struggle with faith, and we encourage that struggle and those questions.  I respect and honor that they’ve decided to struggle in community, that we’ve decided to struggle together, and I think that’s better than struggling alone or not struggling at all.

Or pretending.

And in many ways I’d consider them more authentic than those who call themselves Christian but don’t engage in a community of faith or show interest trying to practice their faith.

Because I don’t think being a Christian is cultural.  And I don’t think it’s an indicator of personal morality.  In fact, I’ve more often than not found the moniker “Christian” to be absolutely unhelpful when it comes to determining morality.

I’m a reluctant Christian because I want to call myself Christian, but often times find that it’s hard to do because we’ve reduced that term down to the lowest denominator as either a cultural indicator or personal morality moniker…and it doesn’t seem to mean much anymore.

And so it’s no wonder that people don’t involve themselves in a faith community.  Because…does it matter?

I think that it does.  The first thing Jesus did was call people around him.  You can’t be a Christian alone.  Even our desert mothers and fathers were part of a larger community in their solitude.

We can’t be Christian alone.  But with the way we use the term “Christian” and the way we have the conversation in churches, I have to ask the question.  Because I’m seriously curious.

What is the benefit?  Does it matter?