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Open Letter to Marc Maron, Day 23 (on why I don’t always want to call myself a Christian)

…Why am I looking outward and comparing myself to others instead of looking to the ways that I already do whatever that hard thing is because, chances are, in some small way, I’ve probably already done it.

Not quite sure what to write. I just got home from Bible study and I just want to eat and go to bed. And I’m feeling like the aforementioned Jesus freak because 1) I just told you I went to Bible study and 2) what was on my mind was another God thing. And my vanity/fear/unwillingness to stand out in a crowd is urging me to find another topic. The conversation in my head’s going a little like: “People are barely reading this as it is and do you know how many people were turned off of this whole project by your whole nattering about God yesterday?” Perhaps I should add stupidity to the list of reasons why I’m whispering in my own ear that maybe another topic would be best.

It’s not that I’m ashamed of God, exactly. It’s more like I’m ashamed of being perceived as a person who’s head over heels with God. Because, let’s face it, these days any mention of the Christian God summons up images of the Westboro Baptist Church (not cool) or people who bomb abortion clinics (not cool) and a host of other things that by no stretch of the imagination could be included in a “Guide to Being a Practicing Christian.” I guess what I’m saying is I don’t have any problems with being a Christian, it’s more like I have a problem being called a Christian because, unfortunately these days it conjures up a host of images and behaviors that are not Christ-like at all. To put it in the terms of the marketplace (and to borrow shamelessly from Pastor Clark) as Christians we’ve been doing a fine job of corrupting Jesus’ brand. Jesus hasn’t failed; we have. And I just haven’t been able to come up with a word or phrase that takes back what the word “Christian” is supposed to mean from everyone who’s broken/defiled/screwed it up for the rest of us.

That being said, here’s the thing I wanted to write which prompted all of the above. I’ve periodically read the book of Jeremiah, which is basically God saying to the Israelites: “Look, you guys are screwing up. I keep giving you a chance to turn your lives are round, stop worshiping false idols and stuff, and you keep not taking them. So I’m going to let these other countries and peoples enslave you and take all your wealth.” Reading Jeremiah used to terrify me. I always identified with the Israelites and became convinced that I was doing everything wrong and God was going to sever all ties immediately. Forever. It never occurred to me, or at least it hadn’t occurred to me till a few weeks ago, that I could actually be Jeremiah. That I could read the book as a call for me to speak out, have a voice, use my skill as a writer to encourage other people to seek out a relationship with God. I was so busy feeling guilty and ashamed of all the times I’d messed up that I’d flat out missed what God was trying to tell me. So in addition to asking myself what I would do if I stopped focusing so intently (and unhealthily) on what other people do, I’ve got to ask myself what opportunities–for relationship, for healing, for grace, for favor–am I missing because I’m looking at situations through twin lenses of guilt and shame?

There’s probably a whole bunch of questions we could all stand to ask ourselves on a daily basis…

To be continued…

Open Letter to Marc Maron Day 22 (on figuring out why it’s important to understand “my way’)

…We need others to affirm our voices, our right to speak out loud for a good long while before we can finally begin to do that for ourselves. And even then, I for one, still need a refresher course more than every once in a while.

So I go to a Christian church. I’m not quite sure how to describe it as fundamentalist/born-again Christian have become so pejorative (thanks to so-called Christians who haven’t seemingly actually read the New Testament) and I don’t think anyone who hasn’t been churched for a bit really knows what full-gospel means. So perhaps I’ll just say I believe in God, I believe Jesus is the son of God who died to repair our relationship with God, and I’ve given my life to the Lord by which I mean I’m actively working at (and sometimes failing miserably at) having an active and close relationship with God.

That’s all background so you’ll understand when I say that witnessing—sharing one’s story of coming into or being in relationship with God—is an important principle in our church. Jesus did it, the original disciples did it, and so we should do it. That being said, guess who’s not raising her hand when they ask for people to gather on a Saturday evening to share the gospel with people in our community?

My friends and many of my colleagues know that I’m a Christian and that I attend church on a fairly regular basis but it rarely goes further than that. I do occasionally go through a long stretch of using “How can I pray for you” as my Facebook status update, and I will talk about my faith with people in my various communities who are also believers but I’m not big on witnessing to the unbeliever.

mom became a practicing Christian when I was around 13 and all of a sudden I couldn’t listen to secular music or go to the movies, and I went from attending an hour-long Catholic mass to a service that seemed to last all day and that scared the heck out of me. (Not a lot of fire-and-brimstone preaching and talk about demons and such in a Catholic church, at least not at St. Clare’s Roman Catholic Church in Rosedale, NYC.) My mom became a zealot overnight and wouldn’t and couldn’t tolerate anyone who didn’t follow her views.

I eventually left church and it took me nearly 20 years to find my way back. And though I know I’m wired quite differently than my mom is, I fight constantly against the fact that I’m going to turn into an intolerant zealot. I have this fear despite the fact that, while my mom is as obsessive about ministry as ever, I would no longer describe her as a zealot. (No woman who flirts that much can stay a zealot!) I don’t want to be that weird Jesus freak woman. If you ask, I’ll tell you in a heart beat about what God has done for me; I’m just not going to tell you unprompted.

Today while talking to a friend (she was raised Christian but doesn’t practice) about my father’s funeral (which was Christian even though he wasn’t) and her grandfather’s funeral (her grandfather was a pastor) I shared with her that one of the things I learned from my current pastor, and that I take to heart, is that when it comes to talking about Jesus and God that you really have to meet people where they are. As Pastor Clark expressed in our recent annual meeting, the temple at Jerusalem was comprised of multiple types of gathering places that you had to walk through to get to the holy of holies. And not everyone wanted to go to the holy of holies. With that in mind, we’ve reconfigured our service to offer multiple entry points for people so whether you’re a newbie, a seeker, or a long time churchgoer, there is a way for you to meet with God during the service. It wasn’t until my friend and I were finished with the conversation and she said, “That’s quite a witness,” that I realized that I had indeed witnessed to her. I had shared some of my beliefs about faith and about my relationship with God.

I’d stayed away from witnessing because I thought it was only about handing out tracts on the corner to strangers or somehow telling a stirring rendition of my personal story of coming to know God that would crescendo at the moment when the person decided to accept Christ as their savior and we, with joyous tears, recited the sinner’s prayer together. While that’s all admirable and necessary it just seemed too hard and scary to me.

But it turns out witnessing isn’t actually hard for me at all. I had just decided, based on what I’d seen other people do, that I couldn’t do it. What I should’ve focused on instead was how to do it—as Frank Sinatra said—my way. I get excited about stuff all the time and it just bubbles up into the conversation. I don’t make a plan (usually) to tell people about the new podcast I’m into or the book I’ve just read that changed my world. I just let myself be excited and that excitement finds its way out. And, as my conversation today proved, when I’m excited about the things of God, that bubbles out in conversation too. So I just need to let myself be excited and not worry so much about how I’m going to work it into the conversation.

So I guess what I’m wondering now is what other hard things do I not do because I keep looking at how other people tackle them? Why am I looking outward and comparing myself to others instead of looking to the ways that I already do whatever that hard thing is because, chances are, in some small way, I’ve probably already done it.

To be continued…

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