We were sitting in a random shopping mall in Charlotte, NC last year and after an amazing conversation with a dear friend about spirituality, he looked at us and said, “I don’t know what you are, but you’re not Christians. I don’t know what to call it, but I love it.”
There are lots of things that I disagree with when it comes to what Christianity has become (specifically in America) but I had never really thought about whether or not I still was one.
For the first part of my life, I wore the label ‘Christian’ with pride, lots of pride. The condescending “I’m here to save you” kind of pride. The “I don’t do THOSE things” kind of pride. Over the past several years, I’ve let go of all of that. (I hurt a lot of people during those years of my life and if you haven’t read it already, this is my apology.)
This post is not about specific words and labels and all that, you can call me whatever you want to call me. The point I want to make is this:
I believe that every person is born with a sense of beautiful mystery and religion is man’s attempt to answer that which doesn’t really need to be answered.
We are all born with questions:
Who am I?
Where did I come from?
Why am I here?
What is this all about?
What is after this?
From a very early age, answers to those questions are thrown our way at an alarming rate. There’s a lot of blind acceptance because at first we’re very impressionable and trusting. Parents, teachers, coaches, pastors, relatives and many others all give their two cents about the mystery of your life and over time it forms and shapes your world and your view of that world. Influencing decisions, creating behavioral and emotional patterns, etc.
Religion takes those questions about the universe and your place in it and creates a very clearly defined set of rules, acceptable behaviors and a way you should live.
God is like this.
You got here like this.
You are here because of this or that.
You are supposed to do this.
You are NOT supposed to do that.
This is the right way.
This is the truth.
Huge, cosmic, universe-sized questions are brought down to simple one-sentence answers that can be easily regurgitated.
Questions that inspired awe and wonder are now boiled down into black and white answers that must be defended.
If that weren’t bad enough, these answers create enemies. Because, anything other than these answers is untrue. Anyone that believes differently is wrong.
Rewards are created for believing correctly.
Punishments are doled out for believing incorrectly.
(For example…Heaven and hell. Believe right = heaven, believe wrong = hell.)
It’s taken what should be a beautiful relationship between humans and the cosmic divine source and sat us down in a classroom with teachers and their textbooks teaching us a form, a shell, a watered down, boxed-in, easily reproducible product that has bits of Truth mixed in with the controlling propaganda. No room for relationship, seeking, etc. Instead of learning the secrets of the universe from exploring it in all its wonder, horror and enormity, we stay inside, every now and then catching a glimpse out the window and wondering if there’s more than what we’re hearing.
I believe that it should be more fun than that. More alive. I think that God, the Source, He, She, It- whatever you want to call whatever it is that is behind all of this is bigger than we can imagine. Our attempts at understanding (and packaging) God are as futile as trying to put the Amazon River in a shot glass.
Why try to box that in & understand it all? Then you’ve got a nice little God that you can control. That sounds like missing the point entirely.
“He doesn’t like being tied down– He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”
-C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe
With that bigness, I believe that God (or whatever you want to call it, you know what I mean!) is also better than we could ever imagine. He is outside of good & evil. He is outside of the realm of our understanding. Outside of our understandings of peace, justice, fairness, hope, love and everything else. Most importantly, I believe God is outside of time. Beyond minutes, days and years. Beyond even history, universes, etc. Our puny attempts at understanding and giving God these qualities results in all kinds of different mindsets. “God is ‘holy’” leads to thinking that we are not and should try to be. “God is ‘just’” leads to the idea that most of creation will end up burning for eternity and that bad things happen for a reason. In a way, I believe that God is those things (just, holy, etc.) but ‘holy’ in a way that makes me holy too and so ‘just’ that it offends my human understanding of that concept. This may seem ethereal and “out there” - but guess what- GOD IS ethereal & out there. He can’t be contained in books, buildings or bylaws. If you’re going to get down with the mysteries of the universe, you’ve got to be willing to get weird and “go there.”
The good students stay put in the schoolhouse, keep their head down and learn. They read the books and do the homework. They give the teachers apples and are always on their best behavior. Those that daydream, gazing out the window are scolded and reprimanded.
I say all that to say, I think the best thing that each of us could do, is to get up, leave the books, turn the desk over, run outside and not look back.
It’s not just Christianity that I’m talking about here. It’s ALL religions. They ALL do this. They ALL have their answers. Some are more black & white. Others are more colorful. But nevertheless, they are still trying to answer something that can’t (and maybe SHOULDN’T) be answered.
Each religion has it’s own schoolhouse, it’s own box. Don’t get me wrong; there is something to be said for having the “school house” experience when you’re young. I’m so glad that I was raised in a schoolhouse with baby blue carpet-covered pews. I am a spiritual person and I was born into a nice family in America, therefore Christianity was kind of the default when it came to spirituality. Had I been born in another part of the world, like India or Africa or wherever else, my spirituality probably would have found a different expression. My spirituality is going to be “Christ-leaning” as some have said because that’s how I got to where I am now. Other people come to the same place and decide to break free from religion, tradition & institutions by way of any other multitude of religious expressions. No matter how you are raised, in whatever religion, there comes a time when you’ve got to get up and go see for yourself. Go engage with the universe and get to know it personally outside of the context you grew up in or are currently familiar with.
Religion, all the religions, have truth in them. There’s good stuff in each and every one. But they all also have added elements to control, contain and even divide. THAT’S the stuff you’ve got to let go. Unfortunately, that’s the stuff that differentiates. That’s the stuff that labels are made of. So when you step away from that, you step into the land of the “DROP OUTS.” What a bad wrap those people have gotten!? But as I’m sure you know, there have been some high school and college dropouts that have done some amazing things.
(Side note: Dropping out doesn’t mean being an atheist and being an atheist isn’t dropping out, atheism in and of itself is a religion as well and let me tell you, there’s A LOT of truth in what these non-believers believe.)
This isn’t anti-religion. It’s pro-mystery, pro-“I don’t know, but there’s so much to experience here” and pro-LIFE. If you take the story of Adam & Eve in the Garden. There was a tree that they weren’t supposed to eat off of. The tree of the knowledge of Good & Evil. They ate from that tree and they died. Not physically, but spiritually. Religion is completely based on Good/Evil, right/wrong, us/them etc. Religion is a form of spirituality that lacks life and power. Even Christ said, I came that you may have LIFE. That’s the tree that we should be eating from.
SO, what am I saying?
I’m a drop out. I dropped out of the Christian “school house” that I spent most of life in, both as a student and as teacher.
You can always go back. A lot of people do. But don’t feel stuck. The only thing keeping you there is the illusion that you “should be there.” There’s no fear but what religion has created for you. Life outside of religion, tradition and institutions isn’t scary. We’re lead to believe that but it’s not true. It’s really great. I’m happier than ever. More at peace than ever. I feel that I am more kind, loving and generous. I like to say it like this: There’s a verse in Galatians in the Bible that lists off the “Fruit of the Spirit of God” (which I think is one of the truths that can be found in Christianity): Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, etc. – These are all great things; even our human understanding of these words is still great (imagine what true versions of those things are, mind-boggling). I have found that since I have “dropped out” and gone on my spiritual adventure, these fruits have been more evident in my life than ever before. Another verse (that only seemed to get tossed around when someone was behaving badly) says that “you can know a tree by it’s fruit.” I feel like my fruit is better than ever, even though I’m further than ever from what I originally thought and was taught was “the way to live.”
There’s LIFE everywhere out here.
There’s LOVE beyond the walls of that schoolhouse.
So much to learn, experience and this mystery, when you fully embrace it, leaving the need for answers behind, will take you on the adventure of a lifetime.
So much of what I see today is people getting bogged down with the questions of who goes to heaven and who goes to hell? Do those places even exist? Is it ok to be gay? Is the Bible the literal word of God? What about this? What about that?
Those are all very valid questions and I feel they need to be explored, especially by Americans and specifically by Christians. I will share some of my thoughts on those things in the next few posts, but those questions are only there because we are now experiencing things in our society and culture that aren’t really fitting into the boxes we’ve constructed. I think this is great and the sooner it happens the better. There will be backlash, there will be hate but as a generation of people decides to let go of perfection, having the answers and trying to save the world, the positive effects will far outweigh any and all negativity that would try to hinder the evolution of faith.
This journey of embracing the mystery of God and love and the universe is so much bigger than debate. It’s about living full on and loving with all we have, embracing mystery, embracing what’s next and having a lot of fun.
So this is me. The drop out. I’m on the principal’s loudspeaker… “COME ON GUYS! IT’S A BEAUTIFUL DAY OUTSIDE! LET’S GO!”
PS: There are so many people that can express and articulate these things better than I can. (Father Richard Rohr, Rob Bell, Robert Capon, and CS Lewis, just to name a few.) Find stuff that they’ve written and dive in. They will challenge you to live beyond the confines of religion and enter into a true relationship with the divine.