The name for this blog comes from the Hebrew word merchab. Merchab is a masculine noun that appears most often in the Psalms of the Hebrew Scriptures. It means a broad or roomy place, an expansive place, a wide place. Read more...

June 1, 2009

Post-embarrassment Christianity

In the spiritual supermarket that has characterized religious culture for most of my adult life, there have been a vast variety of paths available to the spiritual seeker. In the past thirty years many options have been accepted as valid ways of living a spiritual life.

It is acceptable to be a Taoist, Transcendental Meditator, Sufi, Theravada Buddhist, Mahayana Buddhist, Tibetan, Zen, Pure Land, or Tantric Buddhist, a Hindu, Muslim, or Jain. You can practice reiki, yoga, Tarot card reading, or follow the Diamond Approach, gnosticism, or wicca. You can be a monist, a pantheist or a panentheist. You can believe in karma, reincarnation, astral travel, channeling and astrology or crystals.

But in polite spiritual company, outside traditional church circles, the one thing you might hesitate to say is, “I am a Christian.” Christianity seems to have been the one spiritual option that is often viewed with real suspicion.

To be fair, some of the bad reputation Christianity has acquired is entirely our own fault. We have been arrogant, narrow, judgmental, exclusivist, triumphalistic, and violent towards those with whom we disagree. We have lacked humility, compassion, openness, and flexibility. We have inflicted enormous pain upon innocent people. We have demonized those who took a different perspective from that which we believed to be the only true way of “understanding” God. There is a great deal in both the distant and recent past of Christianity, about which we deserve to be seriously embarrassed. We have a lot for which to apologize.

But, all human institutions and human attempts to formulate truth have tragic blind spots and painful failures. Christianity is not the only religion to have caused harm both to its adherents and to those who remain outside its belief system. The fact that a particular community has done harm is no reason for every member to assume blame for every failure. If we are only willing to commit to a perfect belief system we must either live in denial of our flaws or never commit to any spiritual practice.

Recently I spent a weekend with a couple of hundred health care practitioners who are all either practicing or interested in pursuing alternative healing practices. This is a group of sensitive, open, spiritually aware people. Many of these people have witnessed the harm Christianity has done and in many cases have been harmed themselves. This is a group you would anticipate might be enormously antagonistic to any kind of Christian expression.

In this group I was publicly introduced as the “Rector of an Anglican Church,” and an “Archdeacon of the Diocese of British Columbia.” Surely, if anyone should be shunned for the atrocities of church life, it should be an “Anglican Rector” and “Archdeacon.” Yet, I found myself treated with respect and sensitivity. I was welcomed into the conversation of faith and apparently viewed as speaking from a legitimate spiritual perspective.

Perhaps the day has come when Christians can stop feeling embarrassed for our faith as one voice in the diverse spiritual company that characterizes our culture.

If I am right and the necessity for Christian embarrassment is coming to an end, we must proceed cautiously. We must steer clear of our old patterns of arrogance, judgment, and exclusivity. We must be willing to acknowledge that God is at work in many ways which we may not understand. We must approach all spiritual practitioners with deep respect and openness, acknowledging that we have as much to learn from them, as we have to teach.

There is absolutely no room in the diverse conversation of our culture for simplistic, narrow-minded bigotry towards people whose lives have brought them to a different understanding of life and faith. We must always move toward healing and connection. Fragmentation and division will never lead to a deepening work of God in our society.

Jesus said, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” (John 14:2) God’s heart is a spacious place. It would be tragic to treat poorly those who have found room in the open embrace of God’s love simply because they may not look or sound just like me.

1 comment:

Rob H said...

Being publicly introduced as the “Rector of an Anglican Church,” is a known commodity but how many of them know what an "Archdeacon of the Diocese of British Columbia is" ?
Saying you are a Christian or practicing it in public is our challenge as we strieve to not offend. We live in a society where it is more acceptable to practice a weird ism.. then to admit being part of a mainstream church. True , we have done wrongs in its name yet our founding ability to live in a peaceful democratic society was set by our past. It was passed on by those who lived in Christ and followed His teachings to the best of their ability. We have to acknowledge they also lived in a culture that wrapped around Christs teachings,an interpretation.
Today, we are getting better at allowing Christs words to be better known and to understand their is a spiritual world around us that God uses and is in control.
The challenge is to know your truths and not be absorbed by each new ismms.. To hold on to what Christ teachings are, to know He is is within you , to believe yet not to throw in someone's face.
To let His love work out of you to the place and people around you and to stand up for your place in the acceptance of your faith is just as good in a society that at least accepts spirituality.

As Christiopher states, we need to be open to Gods miricles we yet do not understand but is all around us.