The original title of this blog was going to be ‘So Mad I Could Spit’ but then I realized … well, who even knows what that means?
Plus I’m not really much of a spitter. Never have been. And I’m not a professional athlete so I don’t have to spit to make a living.
Oh, I can spit if I have to, don’t you worry – I can spit with the best of them. The problem is my wife gets edgy if I spit on the floor so, who wants to go outside just to spit? She doesn’t even like me spitting on the ceramic tile which is strange because it’s much more wipeable than carpet or hardwood. And let’s just say it would be a mistake to get caught spitting in the car again.
Now, where was I? Oh yes, so angry I can hardly breathe…
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As you can tell I have cooled off a bit but it is still there, lurking inside me, yet always close to the surface. It’s an anger some of you won’t understand; an anger others will understand all too well. For me and for millions like me, it’s real.
Let me explain by turning to a couple of recent, Christian-niche news items.
Somebody named Joshua Harris stirred the waters about three weeks ago. No, I didn’t know who he was either but a large slice of the evangelical population knew him for a book he had written in 1997 called, ‘I Kissed Dating Goodbye’ which was a criticism of the current self-centred dating culture and a call to return to traditional courtship and purity. It was accented with an appropriate number of Bible verses to make it all very God-approved.
Recently things took a very unfortunate turn when he and his wife announced that they were separating. However there was even more happening inside Joshua and an Instagram post confirmed such to his followers. The following are selected from the full statement:
“The information that was left out of our announcement is that I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus. The popular phrase for this is “deconstruction,” the biblical phrase is “falling away.” By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian. Many people tell me that there is a different way to practice faith and I want to remain open to this, but I’m not there now . . .
“. . . To my Christians friends, I am grateful for your prayers. Don’t take it personally if I don’t immediately return calls. I can’t join in your mourning. I don’t view this moment negatively. I feel very much alive, and awake, and surprisingly hopeful. I believe with my sister Julian that, “All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
Marty Sampson is a famous singer/songwriter with the worldwide worship music phenomenon known simply as Hillsong. He appeared on more than thirty Hillsong contemporary Christian records. On August 10 he confessed on Instagram that he is “…genuinely losing my faith and it doesn’t bother me” and later, “… I want genuine truth. Not the ‘I just believe it’ kind of truth.”
He later clarified his statements. “If the truth is true, it will remain so regardless of my understanding of it. If I search it out, surely it will become even more clearly seen as the truth that it is. Examining a diamond more closer reveals the quality of the diamond. As I am still breathing, I am still learning.”
Did I mention that I’m so angry I can hardly breathe?
Yeah, you’re really upset with those guys walking away from their faith, right Brian?
Um. No, actually.
First of all, it’s not apparent that either of them is giving up on God. They are walking away from the Christianity they have experienced and are critically re-examining what they believe. What’s wrong with exploring the principles you build your life around?
You would expect the Christian community to rush to encourage them on their journey. Beautifully, many did, including his former church.
Others were kind but questioning, like Michael Brown in the Christian Post or John Cooper of the band Skillet who confirmed the struggles but were also strident in wondering how they had come to this place.
Still others, like Franklin Graham, were more stilted in their response. In an interview on FOX Nation he questioned whether they had ever been real leaders, warned they were in a “dangerous place” and suggested both had done these things as publicity stunts. Then he basically said, You’re shameful. God will judge you one day.
But most chillingly, Graham also shared this nugget: “And, for me, I’m going to keep going doing what I do.”
Did you catch that? Do you hear a frozen faith undressed in those words? If you are doubting; if you are searching for more; if you are spiritually hungry … well, just close your mind and keep doing the same thing!
Remember Harris’s, “By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian”? I wonder what those measurements are and where he got them?
Remember Sampson’s, ” … I want genuine truth. Not the ‘I just believe it’ kind of truth.” I wonder why he felt choked off from exploring truth?
Each of them also commented on how freeing it felt to be in this place. That suggests the likelihood that performance expectations in their Christian communities strangled their life-line to God. They had become celebrity Christians – it was their ‘job’ – and that’s neither godly nor Christlike. It makes me so angry I can hardly breathe.
You see, what I’m most angry about is the version of Christianity that created them and then pushed them away. That slice of our faith is rigid, close-minded – admiring what is outside rather than sensing what is inside. A religion that doesn’t think it important to take time to swim deep.
I’m angry at a faith that fixates on performance and rules and expectations rather than freedom, grace and peace. I’m angry at a religion that provides simplistic answers and then balks when people squirm under those answers.
We teach how to worship in church but not on a hillside. We learn to pray in public but not how to meditate in private. We learn how to sing with a worship team but not in our heart. We are taught what the Bible means but not how to understand it. We give to our charities but not to those on the street. We listen to sermons but don’t know how to learn. We know how to praise noisily but not with our imagination.
Then when people fall, we shake our heads sadly, wonder why, then get on to blaming them.
I’m angry with a Christian celebrity culture that celebrates popularity and consumerism and religious leaders who bathe in those notions even as the people under their care are fallow and stuck. Jesus said so.
The way we fall over ourselves to create celebrity Christian leaders is idolatrous. From faith healers and popular TV preachers, to musicians, authors, (bloggers?) and authoritarian preachers, we cling to their words, crave their products and travel to see them while ignoring the academics, theologians, gentle pastors and veteran saints who have so much more to give.
How appropriate is this reading from the Lectionary?
Am I a God who is only close at hand?” says the Lord.
“No, I am far away at the same time.
Can anyone hide from me in a secret place?
Am I not everywhere in all the heavens and earth?”
says the Lord.
“I have heard these prophets say, ‘Listen to the dream I had from God last night.’ And then they proceed to tell lies in my name. How long will this go on? If they are prophets, they are prophets of deceit, inventing everything they say. By telling these false dreams, they are trying to get my people to forget me, just as their ancestors did by worshiping the idols of Baal.
“Let these false prophets tell their dreams,
but let my true messengers faithfully proclaim my every word.
There is a difference between straw and grain!
Does not my word burn like fire?”
says the Lord.
“Is it not like a mighty hammer
that smashes a rock to pieces? – Jeremiah 23:23-29 (NLT)
It reminds us that God rolls his eyes at the stunted religious activities of those who pretend they have the ear of God. And it tells us he cares about those who genuinely do the hard, fire-and-hammer work of finding faith.
Interestingly, both Harris and Sampson feel freedom now that they have become honest seekers. Know what? An honest search for truth is the greatest act of faith.
Look, I don’t know if my view of their stories is accurate or how sincere these two men are in their hearts. All I’m saying is we should encourage, not question, brave people who search for more. We should be glad it matters to them.
Don’t worry, God is pretty secure and He can withstand doubt and investigation.
The good news is that if Harris and Sampson (and millions more) are sincere, they will find new freedom and faith they could not have known without the doubt.
How do I know? Been there. Done that.