from the outside

“Why can’t Christians just love people?”

As a secular scholar, a (former) heathen, and having been employed at a church only a few short months ago, I am currently getting dunked face-first into a land that I had previously not really tiptoed into. Let’s just start by saying that I live in Boulder, Colorado, which is fondly referred to as “Nine square miles surrounded by reality.” The dynamic of my hometown is totally strung between the tension of the 30-thousand-something students wandering around CU’s campus and the rest of Boulder, many of whom are the most health conscious, open-minded, and socially responsible people you will ever come across.

You would think that with the level of education floating around here, there would be a pretty high percentage of atheists, but instead it seems that the numbers tend much more in favor of agnostics or towards people who practice more Eastern religious traditions or philosophies. And a huge number of those people will tell you that they grew up in Christian Church, but that they figured it out once they left. Which leads me to my point.

Last week, at the bright and painfully early hour of 5 am, I opened at the coffee shop I work at with another co-worker. A few days prior, we had a conversation about her search to set up someone with her roommate, and she had proceeded to ask all the other single girls at work if they’d be interested without once considering me as an option. Being the gently confrontational person I am, I of course asked why she would think that I wouldn’t be a good match for her male roommate. Prior to her being able to respond, the shop blew up and what felt like 80 million customers rushed in, absolutely blood-thirsty and desperate for a delicious coffee drink of their choice (ready in 3 minutes or less). Suffice it to say, we never finished our conversation. But at that bright and early hour, when the sun hadn’t even begun to rouse itself and I was still blinking the sleep out of my eyes, she brought it up.

“So, you know how I didn’t ask you about my roommate?”

My sleepy, not-totally-coherent response: “Uh….Yeah… um, what about it?”

“Well, he’s just not, you know, religious or anything. I just didn’t think you’d be into it. I mean, he does yoga and stuff, but that’s not really what you agree with, right?”

Pause.

Now how do you respond to a comment like that?

I don’t quite remember what I said, but it turned into this long conversation with my coworker about her journey out of the church. She had been raised going to Sunday School, was an active participant in youth group, and even went to China for a mission trip to share the Gospel with people. Our discussion included all these elements that she felt totally jaded by, included but not limited to: behavior modification (aka don’t have sex before you’re married), Christianese (ambiguous and kind of confusing phrases like “Quiet times” or “The Lord put it on my heart”), the injustice she saw in the way Christian missions functioned, and the way she had been treated by her Christian friends.

And as she was talking, it felt so hard to hear. I wanted to offer advice, punch someone in the face, or regurgitate any kind of words that might make her feel better, but all I could do was listen. And as I listened, I realized that I agree with a lot of what she was saying. It occurred to me that from the outside, there doesn’t seem to be a good reason to look in on the Christian bubble.

My last semester of college I took a seminar about notions of conversion, and we talked about the function of de-conversion in the academic study of religion. We looked at personal stories (or in Christianese, “testimonies”) of these people, many of whom I could have sat next to at church on a Sunday morning, who de-converted from Christianity. Talk about looking in on the Christian culture from the outside! I can’t even imagine what it would be like. But I think it’s a necessary point of view that needs to be heard.

In light of my conversation with my coworker, I ran across an article titled “Becoming Free from the Conditional Love of Christian Friendships.” It is tough to read, it challenges things that are hard to face, and might even make you question how you live out what you believe. The hardest part about this article for me to hear is that it isn’t until after the author choses to walk away from his faith that he feels free to care about others and be cared for in return. But if you’re ready for the challenge, check it out here.

Feel free to respond with any thoughts in the comments below. I think it’s absolutely necessary to start a conversation about the ways things are perceived from the outside.

3 thoughts on “from the outside

  1. Ali, I love you dearly. Thanks for sharing your story and thoughts, they are always so appreciated.

    This makes me think of a few things, probably most or all that you already know, but I’ll throw them out there. One, the word “Christian” holds a lot of weight. If you claim to be one, people expect things from you, they expect you to be “good,” nice, moral, humble, prude, and the list goes on. Also, though, they usually expect you to fail; to be opinionated, hypocritical, judgmental, exclusive, and much more. So my frustrations with the world looking in on Christian culture is:

    a) I need some grace. Get to know me, lay down YOUR assumptions and see who I really am.

    b) You’re right. I have probably fit onto all of these adjectives at one point or another in my life, and I’m sure I will continue to, not all intentionally, but I am a SERIOUS work in progress and as I try to become more like Jesus I’m always learning that I have a LONG way to go. I’m human, please treat me like it.

    c) I’m so, so sorry. I want to apologize for all the ways followers of Christ(this includes myself) have chosen darkness instead of light. Wow, we are so broken and we need forgiveness so desperately.

    It’s so hard, I am not perfect, I never will be on this earth, only the Lord is. ONLY THE LORD IS. While this doesn’t excuse sin, and the many ways that manifests itself toward other people, it causes me to be saddened and frustrated when I hear of people leaving the church because of people. Yes, our church is a body, a body of people, but first and foremost it’s about the Triune God that we worship. I feel as if a person leaves because of people, they have allowed their bitterness or hurt to get in the way of their purpose, worshiping the one true God.

    People can’t be God. People will never be God, so you cannot put expectations of Godly perfection on them. People WILL fail you. All people, in one way or another, Christian or non-Christian. People can’t look to people, they have to look to Jesus.

    Maybe that’s a good contribution, maybe not, but thanks for making me think! You always do my dear friend!

  2. Pingback: revolution | alabaster jar

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