i’ve been thinking a lot about a conversation i had with a friend a couple of days ago. i say conversation, but after she made the remark i’m about to discuss, the conversation pretty much ended, because i really didn’t know what to say. she was talking about someone at her church who in talking about his walk with god said that he had known god all his life, and had started getting to know god’s son just a couple of years ago. my friend said, ‘it’s impossible to know god apart from christ.’
not so many years ago, i would have had a similar response. i believed that if you didn’t acknowledge that jesus died on the cross for *your* sins and that he was the only son of god, you were doomed to spend eternity in hell, no matter how *good* you might have appeared in this life. i lived, worked, and socialized with people who believed similarly.
then i read why christianity must change or die by john shelby spong and it literally changed my life. this was actually the second time i had tried to read it, as the first time it really made me angry. spong wrote all sorts of things in this book that went against everything i had been taught before and after i had gotten ‘saved’. the second time i read it, it also made me angry, but not because this supposed bishop was insulting my faith; this time i was angry at everyone involved with the church. i felt i had been lied to all my life about what i was ‘supposed’ to believe. but should i really be angry at those who taught me just what they had been taught? shouldn’t i be mad at the institution instead? but then, isn’t it pointless to be mad at some formless entity existing for hundreds of years previously? i didn’t know who or what to believe. one of the key things that got to me was spong’s assertion that jesus’ entire life story was really just an amalgamation of various pagan myths that had existed for thousands of years previously. i did the research (on the internet of course) and found that there was truth to what he was saying. so where did this leave me as far as my faith that i had built my life around?
i threw my hands in the air and literally said to god, ‘all i want to know is the truth.’ and i felt a reply from him/her in my heart: ‘now we can begin.’ we’re beginning after i’ve been a christian for more than 15 years? well, you know, a day is as 1000 years with god, so this 15 years was a blink of the eye, i suppose. anyway, for a short while, i had to walk away from it all, and explore god outside the christian ghetto.
i explored eastern philosophy for the first time and discovered a god more encompassing than the anthropomorphic god of judeo-christianity. i studied women’s spirituality and discovered that wiccans were not a bunch of devil worshipping lesbians as i had been led to believe, but show a reverence for god’s creation that many christians dismiss because ‘it’s all gonna burn anyway.’ i looked at islam, in particular sufism, and found the beginnings of true intimacy with god, an intimacy that just isn’t possible if you’re being made to feel guilty for every wayward thought you might have.
some people might call what i have a cut-and-paste spirituality, because i am at the point where i have taken what i believe to be the best of various world religions and am forging my own path. the work of ken wilber has been vital in helping me to bring it all together. outside of christianity, i most closely identify with sufism, because of the love i have for god that is inexplicable to any other person but god, and the vedanta branch of hinduism, because i believe that everything, good and bad, light and dark, it all points back to god. (i am always amazed at how in christianity many issues are posed as god vs. satan, without any acknowledgement that it was god who created satan in the first place. with god as creator, it seems that me that god is responsible for the existence of good and evil.) however, i still self-identify as a christian, and it’s not because of john3:16, or acts 2:38, which was drilled into my head as being the only way to get to heaven. to be honest, these days i am questioning whether a real flesh-and-blood jesus ever actually existed. but, the things he espoused, they do exist, things about how to treat one another and what our relationship with god can be. i believe that the life of jesus, including his crucifixion and resurrection, is a metaphor for the way we should live our lives. his death was our own dying to our egos and desires; his resurrection was our waking up to a new way of living and relating to god, and realizing our own divinity as a part of god. i can call myself a christian because i believe in what jesus taught and how he lived. unlike my friend that i mentioned at the beginning, it’s not a matter of knowing god because jesus took my place on the cross, it’s that jesus shows me how i can know god just like he did, and that we are, according to romans 8:17, joint heirs in christ of all that god has to give.
having said all that, the main reason i remain a christian is that it is what i know best. this is how i was raised and how i chose to spend a good part of my 20s and early 30s (being immersed in the christian ghetto). i am using practices from other traditions, but christianity is just as viable a way to know god as any other tradition. buddhism or hinduism or paganism might sound and look more exotic, but i don’t really care what it looks like. the underlying passion behind everything i do is to know god (believe it or not), and i believe that, for me, christ’s teachings (in combination with sufi and vedanta teachings) are the best way to work towards that.
now if only i weren’t such a chickenshit and could start this conversation with my friend…