I get along with atheists. Humanists. Agnostics. Buddhists. Jews. Muslims. Hindus. It’s not a question of whether I will or will not. My foundation of faith isn’t based on scare tactics, or the premiss that you’ll burn in hell.
But let’s share something raw: In the United States specifically, Christianity has become (or has always been) the “white man’s religion”. The safe and comfortable choice. The place where you can rest your head in wealth, or whiteness, or privilege (in whatever way that is manifested) and be safe from critique. It is the political choice, and the “American choice”.
But to reclaim religion—and Christianity, in the United States specifically—we must throw it out. I agree with Paul Tillich, who said that "being religious means asking passionately the question of the meaning of our existence; and being willing to receive answers, even if the answers hurt." But our socially-reinforced minds and structures (and those sometimes radical actions we see on the news), have painted religious practice to look more like a rotting corpse, than a hopeful freedom or worthy pursuit.
To reclaim religion, we must leave it. We must leave the war, the bigotry, the shaming, the violence, the fear mongering, the political safety net. Speaking specifically to those within American Christianity, we must leave the “privileged space” behind. We must acknowledge the fact that the poor and the orphan and the “other” are often forgotten and ignored (sometimes within our own church walls). We must acknowledge the fact that though we have biblical knowledge and truth, we do not have a copyright on all truth, or all goodness, or all manifestations of such. That "good" and "true" things are happening every day, and they are not being added to 1 Timothy or 2 Peter. We must acknowledge that the “right way” doesn’t always mean the “denomination’s way” or the “pastor’s way”.
Christian brothers and sisters and family: We must acknowledge the fact that though we claim to be “not of this world”, we live here. We breathe here. We were born and we will die here. And escapist theologies or doctrines will not redeem or restore anything in front of our eyes, and we must be about the work of restoring everything in front of our eyes. “Because the Kingdom of God is in your midst” (Luke 17:21).
The Kingdom of God is heaven crashing into earth—and that doesn’t mean setting it on fire, either.
I am not a theologian (yet). I am not a scholar, or an academic, and you will not see me debating these anytime soon. I’ve realized I’m not there yet; but where I am, is acknowledging this: I want religion to stop being a dirty word. And (I think) for that to happen, we have to abandon it.
I only “chose faith” when I could leave it. I only made a decision, consciously, to follow a God—and then specifically, this “Jesus”—when I could question, and walk away; when I stopped needing to justify or defend either of those concepts.
It was only when I had the ability to abandon it, that I ever reclaimed faith for myself.
And this discussion isn’t just for “the Christian”. This is for the human. The boggled down and confused, abused, lost, searching for purpose and meaning. Sometimes you have to let go of what you believed should define you, in order to see what actually does define you. Sometimes your “ideal” is only a perceived safety net, and you have to cut loose in order to do anything but stay tangled on the ground. You must be willing to sacrifice everything—even the most foundational parts of you—in order to truly own anything for yourself.
When I entertained the idea that I could be wrong about a faith I was born into—at the age of 19, asking questions like “Why not Buddha or Mohammad?”—I was able to reclaim a faith as my own. Years later, when I sacrificed the idea that “gay” and “Christian” were antonyms, I was able to reclaim both in ways that felt redemptive and truer to a Gospel (living and breathing) that I had known from birth.
I get along with Atheists, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Agnostics, and the non-definable others that want to stay unboxed. And beyond those labels, these people have names, dreams, and manifestations of hope and love bigger than any of these socially-polarizing identifiers.
We are all asking these “questions of existence”.
Whether it’s your next career move, your very “self”, your faith, your relationships, or your ambitions. Can we all stand in the open air—without the need to define our wandering hopes and dreams—and can we allow the present moment to educate us further on who we are? Can we allow the present moment to educate us on where we are, why we choose to be here, and where we want to go?
Can we stand in this moment of silence, utterly naked and exposed—relationally, theologically, professionally—and can we wait for the whispers of wind, rain, and sun?
Let's stand here, utterly naked and exposed, without giving into the fear of being seen (finally) for what we are: utterly human, and utterly searching for more.
This was written in response to seeing two metro riders, man and wife wearing tie-dyed shirts, who'd just left a rally at the Lincoln memorial. Their signs read “Good Without a God”, and “Not Afraid of Going to Hell”.