I was told recently by a parent figure that I was a lousy Christian. At first I was offended and thought that perhaps this person didn’t have the depth or wisdom to understand what I was saying. Then as I thought it over, I realized that this apparent attack was not unlike many other attacks I’ve received via the “approved Christians”. These experiences range from being thrown out of church because I was gay, to having the pastor drop by for a chat about my allowing a “divorcee” to be my “roommate” ( he never did figure out that we were really lovers), to being disowned and told by my parents that I was going to hell therefore they could have nothing to do with me, only for them to reappear a year later to nag me to death about not being gay so I wouldn’t go to hell! This back and forth scene constantly replays throughout my life on yearly cycles. Through all of these struggles it had never occurred to me that maybe I didn’t want to be a part of such an oppressive religious system any longer. Maybe I don’t want to be a Christian, as the world defines Christianity. Maybe being told that I was a lousy Christian was another hidden gift from God to point me on a new road in my journey to discover who God really is and where I am suppose to go. Sometimes the most beautiful gifts of God, come in small, painful packages.
The criticism that I received sent me on a soul searching mission to figure out what I believed in. It seems to me that the only criteria to being a Christian is to believe in Christ. I believe in Christ, therefore whether they like it or not, I belong to their club. However, there are a lot of rules and regulations that go along with being a “good Christian.” It’s most of those rules that get me in trouble. Most of the time I don’t tell anyone of my areas of disagreement. But that keeps me from getting close to other people. It’s also very annoying to have one’s silence, which is really an act of preserving a peaceful environment, mistaken for agreement. So I sat down and wrote out what I believe. It’s a wonderful exercise. I recommend it for everyone. I called it, “My Personal Dogma”. Allow me to share it with you. Perhaps some of my struggles will be familiar to you.
1) There is one true God of all Creation. The God of Moses, David, Jesus, and Buddha. God has many names — Jehovah, Yahweh, Allah.
Now you can see where that one gets me in trouble right off the start. Good “Christians” don’t like to acknowledge that Buddha had anything worthwhile to say, let alone may have spoken God’s words. And to call God Allah, for the Christian, is inconceivable.
2) One can come to know God through honesty and searching, no matter what religion it is. There is truth to all religions and there are errors in all religious doctrines. No one has the entire picture. God is too big to be chopped up, bottom-lined and put in a daily Missal.
Same problem. Very few people will be broad minded enough to admit that their religion doesn’t know it all. This also presents a problem for those who believe that the only way to God is through Christ.
3) Jesus Christ is the Son of God, sacrificed for the sins of humanity. We come to know God, by God’s grace and God’s revelations of him/herself to us.
This is the heart of Christianity. This should be the only definition of whether one is a Christian or not. Issues of whether you believe in the rapture or immersion style of water baptism or homosexuality aren’t relevant! Many churches take the position of, “It’s our way or the highway”, philosophically. Or they tell their parishioners, “Keep reading the Bible and let us tell you what it is suppose to mean.” Both of these philosophies are soul thieves. They distract people from their true personal search for God. There aren’t any simple, pat answers. God is not so small as to only be seen in black and white. This type of spiritual thievery leads to a stagnation of spiritual growth. People think they’re growing when in reality they are only meeting the expectations of a specific set of dogma, whether or not the dogma is stated.
4) God gave us the Ten Commandments as our guide to healthy happy living. Everything else beyond that is speculation.
God doesn’t care if we’re gay. God doesn’t care if we marry interracially, or about many other of the modern social taboos. What God cares about is very specifically laid out. Why do we have to add lists of rules, to lists of rules? What, ten’s not enough? Have you looked at them lately? There’s a lot to work on in just those ten.
5) Our divine purpose on earth is to Praise God and walk with God as we can understand and know God. God will keep drawing us into more challenging and questioning places, if we are open to learn and grow in God’s grace.
This is the heart of suffering. Without suffering, we wouldn’t change. The experiences that we’ve had, have molded us into who we are today. Gary Zukov writes of karma in The Seat of the Soul, “Every experience that you have and will have upon the Earth encourages the alignment of your personality with your soul. Every circumstance and situation gives you the opportunity to choose this path, to allow your soul to shine through you”(p.31). We personally, wouldn’t be who we are today if we had been accepted by the straight church community. I dare to say, this magazine wouldn’t exist, if we had been accepted into mainstream religion. Have you ever considered what it would be like if the world were 90% homosexual and 10% heterosexual? Would we be as cruel?
6) The Bible is mistranslated and full of errors. Some parts are inspiring, but it’s up to each of us to decide which parts, on our own, are inspirational to us personally. This puts the main responsibility of spiritual growth on everyone individually.
The Bible is not, nor was it intended to be, a recipe book for the petty concerns of daily life. It was intended to remind us to look up, when those petty concerns become overwhelming. It is not written plainly, and the translations from the original languages have historically been a botched job. People argue over text passages that don’t even mean what the English translations say. We’re most familiar with the mistranslated passages using homosexuality instead of the more accurate “temple prostitute” in the Old Testament writings of Leviticus. Another glaring example of this is the Rapture theology that is taken from the book of Revelation. Trained Biblical scholars cannot agree on the meaning of the book of Revelation. Yet people will argue and insist that you’re not a “Christian” if you don’t believe that you’re going to be raptured at any minute, while doing any task. Some even feel compelled to warn you with bumper stickers, that their cars may go out of control if the Rapture occurs while they’re driving! If it weren’t so sad it would be funny. People who can only look to heaven or “the great beyond”, miss the blessings and joys of the walk with their God of today.
7) Finally, I believe that God is a God of compassion, kindness and love. As we grow closer to God, we become more like God. We can then view the world differently.
So our focus should be to follow God, as we feel led, no matter what others call us. Whether we’re called Christians, New Ageists, or Sinners going to hell; no matter what labels they come up with. The pain can distract, or it can mobilize. We grow when we mobilize and move out because it hurts too bad to stay where we are. We need to look at books like Gary Zukov’s Seat of the Soul, or Gerd Ludemann’s Heretics, or Bishop Sprongs’ Why Christianity Must Change or Die. We need to be open to the ideas that mainstream Christianity is afraid of. Plato said, “An unexamined life is not worth living”, so too an unexamined belief system is not worth following. Take a moment and write down what you believe in. Own it. Everyone should know what they’re personal dogma is. Many churches during the service have everyone recite an “approved liturgical dogma”. Often this is the Nicene or Apostles’ Creed. It’s time for all of us to think out our own creeds, to direct our own pursuit of the God that we can come to know in an ever changing, ever growing reality.