Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Reclaiming "Christian"

Goodness, I have a lot of work to do.  I haven't seen the top of my desk in days.  But I'm really distracted by Facebook today.  So many of my Facebook friends are expressing some mix of rage-sadness-support-disappointment-frustration about the passing of North Carolina's Amendment 1 .   I have also noticed the absence of some voices that I miss.

It is no secret that, while I try to stay fairly apolitical when it comes to publicly supporting a particular party, there are issues about which I see no gray area.  This is one of them.  I see marriage equality as a simple matter of human rights.  I was raised in a home and in a church community to respect the rights of all people.  I don't always do it perfectly, but I do work at it.  Hard.  Every day.  As a matter of personal, familial, religious and political belief, I work at it.

Recently, though, what has irked me so much about the "debates" (can we even call them that?) over marriage equality is that they seem to be divided along religious lines.  The main reason that Amendment 1 has been so sad for me is that it is a step backward for people that I love who want/need/deserve equal rights under the law of the land.  The secondary-- and perhaps more directly personal to me-- reason that this has been tough today is that it has stirred back up the hatred and vitriol that otherwise good people spew about "Christians".

I am 100%, through-and-through, without exception and proudly, Christian.  I'm an Episcopal priest, after all.  I have moments of doubt and faith crises from time to time.  I get irritated at the Bible when I don't understand it.  I get made at my fellow human beings and make bad choices in my interactions with them.  Yes.  But none of these things negate my status as beloved, believing child of God and follower of Jesus Christ.

I also believe strongly, as I mentioned, in human rights.  I believe that all people should have the freedom to choose their spouses.  I believe people should live free of fear, fear of their government, of their neighbors, of their family members.  (I wish we could all live free of the judgement of others but as we're only human, I'll be happy if we could all judge a little less or maybe just keep judgements to ourselves.)  We all deserve conditions that allow us to thrive. And it is my understanding that God believes all of these things, too.  And, of course, believed them first.   

But somewhere along the line, "Christian" got all wrapped up and synonymous with "hateful" "spiteful" "ignorant" "close-minded" and "self-righteous".  How did this happen?  Where can we place the blame for this hijacking of the Christian "brand"?  Or perhaps more importantly, how can we reclaim it?

I've always been a big fan of the St. Francis method: "Preach the Gospel at all times.  If necessary use words."  That is: Live it, doofus.  Walk the talk.   

But I'm wondering if just walking the talk is enough anymore.  "Mainline Protestants Love Radically" doesn't seem to be making headlines.  "Christians Blow Up Abortion Clinic" does.  I am not, of course, suggesting we blow anything up.  But I'm genuinely concerned about how to make this happen.

I get tired, frustrated and sad when this thing, this Christian-Jesus-love your neighbor thing, that is so close to my heart and so self-defining for me gets lumped in with something so dramatically other, that Other Thing that stands for the opposite of what I do and believe in. 

The Amendment 1 debacle is not about me and my own need to rescue Christianity from the clutches of those who want to destroy it with hate.  I know that. It is about denying people what they need to thrive. It is anti-Gospel. But I'm having a hard time concentrating on what matters while dodging the flying excrement.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Satan: he is evil.

Recently, after a particularly rousing rendition of "This Little Light of Mine", my five-year-old asked, "Mommy, who is Satan?"


My first instinct was to say, " Let's call your Godparents!" because that's what Godparents are for: the hard questions, especially the theological ones, right?  But he's a preacher's kid and it seems like a question that I should be able to answer.

Deep breath.

"Satan is the baddest of bad guys, buddy.  He is the meanest, awfullest one out there.  There is no one worse than Satan. The thing that makes him so bad is that he doesn't like God and he doesn't listen to God and he tries to make other people not like God, too."

"Oh.  But he's not as bad as The Joker, right?"

"Much worse than The Joker."

"Worse than Megatron?"

"Yep."  This is going pretty well, I thought.  Satan as the anti-superhero.  Then just as I was patting my own back for relating properly to my five-year-old boy...

"Oh.  But he's not real, right?"

Drat.  "Well, yes, he is real.  But not in a way we can see.  Just like God is real in a way we can't see.  Satan is the one who puts thoughts in our heads that make us want to do bad things to other people.  Satan is the one who convinces us to make bad choices instead of good ones."

He seemed to accept that, my poor little preacher's kid.

It is a hard conversation to have, though, the conversation about evil.  On one hand, I want to protect him and his little sister from the idea that evil even exists, almost as much as I want to protect them from evil itself.  On the other hand, I'm a realist and I know that they will encounter it out in the world, so perhaps my job is to arm them with as much knowledge as possible, doling it out in bits and bytes as they become ready for it.  He is, after all, quite familiar with superheroes and bad guys.  he knows that he makes his own bad choices and that his friends do, too.  He even knows his parents make bad choices (Well, his dad does.  I, of course am perfect. *Snort*)

My husband and I have been treading ever-so-carefully on the idea of "good" people and "bad" people.   These conversations have come up as we have started teaching "stranger danger".  They've also come up when talking about smoking, graffiti, littering...

A huge portion of my own theology-- the one I'm passing on to my kids, like it or not-- centers around the idea that God created us good.  I believe we were created beloved, just as the Creator intended us to be. It isn't a perfect theology.  It hinges hard on free will.  I do think people can become "bad"-- spoiled, in a sense, by their own choices and choices others make that effect them-- but this is nuanced in a way that I'm not ready to discuss with my preschoolers.  And I (perhaps naively) believe that no one is beyond redemption, if not here on this earth, then in the next one.  If I can teach my kids to see that potential without inappropriate naiveté, I will consider my job well done.