Late last spring, while walking around a thawing city lake, a man approached my husband, brother, and I. “Are you in church?” he asked, and quickly explained he was a member of a church focused specifically on the end times. He had a pitch, a message of doom. We’d be safe if we joined his church, but if not, well……..
In that moment, I felt accosted by his proselytizing, and the assumption I was in an incorrect church because it was not his church. But as I thought about it, I realized he’s not an isolated fundamentalist. In our zeal, we’re quick to think the worst of people, condemn them prematurely, and create counter arguments instead of simply listening.
In his book Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys, Richard Twiss writes of an encounter with a white evangelical facility that barred him from holding an event for Native American Christians. In a series of e-mails, he was told his tradition of Christianity, informed by his Lakota heritage, was too mystical, too aberrant. In unspoken words: too Indian. He writes poignantly of the brand of western evangelicalism that appears incapable of embracing the ways culture, ethnicity, and heritage guide our faith.
There’s an expectation in our western expression of Christianity for sameness. A template to follow, a list to adhere to. We conform so easily and expect others to follow suit. We’re accustomed to a certain type of church and specific habits we’re convinced will lead to God’s blessings. I can’t help but wonder if some have accidentally adopted a soft version of prosperity gospel theology.
The man in the park may not have recognized it in himself, but his argument hinged on “correct” action = God’s protection. Who determines that the action is correct? His version of the Bible? His church leaders? The actual voice of God? His closed mind and vigorous arguing were indicators of actual deception.
We’re more in danger of leading people astray when we’re married to our certainty, when we’re so convinced our church, our personal convictions, our religious traditions are the correct ones. We can, accidentally, lure people right into a cult if we’re not careful. In our vigor for our way, we can obliterate and other the ethnicities and heritages of those around us who practice this ancient faith differently.
There’s something truly beautiful in releasing ourselves from a template and embracing the depth of this mysterious, mystical, imaginative faith. Reading Richard Twiss, I learned of the deep reverence within Native culture for Creator. For centuries, many Native traditions have taught and told stories of Creator. They knew the Gospel before the missionaries came, some that brought death, destruction, and genocide with them. From my friend Dante Stewart, I’ve learned far more about the Pentecostal Church, a charismatic tradition that sprang up first in oppression. Cries for liberation and deliverance led to the exuberant types of worship found in Black Pentecostal churches today. From Rabbi Abraham Heschel, I learned the Hebrew faith makes far more room for wonder and mystery than western (white) Christianity allows. From Rachel Held Evans, I learned my doubts are not the end, but the beginning. And from Kathleen Norris, I’ve learned of the radical hospitality found within Catholic monasteries, the solace of liturgical traditions and evening vespers.
Here’s the dangerous reality of reading widely: you will encounter stories completely unlike your own. You will learn words you didn’t know, discover beliefs that contradict the ones you hold. You will learn of alternate theories for the origin of the universe, the rates of melting ice caps, the sobering truths of America’s mass incarceration system, the history that led to the rise of Christian nationalism, the many theories surrounding atonement, the many, many, many diverse expressions of the Christian faith, those who (as Richard Twiss called it) follow the Jesus Way.
We were not created by a deeply creative Creator to assimilate to a template and establish communities solely based on our shared identifying features while judging everyone else who fails to assimilate. We were created for more, for growth and renewal, to learn from the people around us, to lay down our assumptions of “correct living” and step outside that dangerous door of possibility.
Loving & Savoring
Instagram Account: Sharon Says So – I’ve shared her account and podcast before, but Sharon is a really helpful resource when it comes to better understanding the complexities of government, history, and international events. She’s been sharing some helpful thoughts and additional resources over the past week in regards to Ukraine. This particular post was especially sobering and important.
TV Show: Somebody Feed Phil – During 2020 and much of last year, I struggled with travel shows because I worried I’d never get to travel again (a little dramatic, I know). Travel shows reminded me of something I longed to do but couldn’t. We finally have some exciting trips coming up this year, which has me craving travel tv and podcasts once again! Phil is incredibly endearing and funny as he eats his way through top cities, which I can’t help but love. The show is currently available on Netflix.
Substack Newsletter: Big Story Living – My friend Amy recently started an Instagram account and substack newsletter all about budget travel. I’ve already learned so much from Amy and am planning my first Italy trip with all her budgeting advice in mind. Check out her newsletter for her first series called “Frequent Flyer Bootcamp”—it’s packed with so much helpful information!
Book: How the Bible Actually Works by Peter Enns – I’ve written of this book before but it’s one I keep returning to. It expanded my mind in an easily accessible way, and relates particularly to the essay above.