From birth to age 16 I was Methodist, African Methodist Episcopal to be exact. There were things about it that I loved and that stay with me to this very day. And, naturally, there were things that frustrated me—hence 16 years of attending other churches. But today I am re-thinking the traditional denominational church and a whole lot of other stuff.
Around this time of year the church I grew up in was getting ready for “The Lenten Season”. I knew that meant the 40 days leading up to Easter, beginning on Ash Wednesday, but you better believe that was all I knew. I had friends who were Catholic or Presbyterian or something who would “give up” something for Lent, but I had no idea what that was all about either. Then, as I got older I realized that Mardi Gras was about “getting it all out” of your system before Lent started the next day. It all seemed so bizarre to me, so utterly ridiculous and pointless. I never really talked to anyone who could explain it to me, so I dismissed it as another useless, meaningless traditional Christian exercise to try to make believers feel like they were worthy or something. Poo, poo. End of story-until last weekend.
As I’ve said before, I have set out upon a journey of self-discovery that involves unpacking, re-examining, and challenging many things that I have considered my “beliefs”. It’s a risky journey because, to do this wholeheartedly, I must be prepared to ultimately abandon some ideas that have been comfortable to hold on to, or that have helped me fit comfortably into a group. My hope is to discover my core beliefs, not as they have been passed down to me, but those which most truly reflect my views of God, of mankind, of self. Arguably it is a philosophical journey, but for me it is deeply spiritual, if the two can truly be distinguished. Oh, last weekend…
I felt like something was calling me back to my traditional roots. While the nondenominational church I’ve been attending has things about it that appeal to me, it is doctrinally conservative in some areas that are hard for me accept, namely it in its treatment of women. I react strongly to reading scripture through a sexist lens because if I am convinced of nothing else, it is that the God of the universe loves women and values them equally (not just nominally as I often feel is the case with conservative Christianity). Digressing again….sorry. Like I said, re-thinking a lot of stuff today.
Anyway, I felt like I wanted to taste something more familiar, maybe because of the season that’s approaching. I decided to go visit a Lutheran church. To a degree, it was a pretty random choice of denomination except that I did a little research to confirm my suspicion that they, at the very least, ordained women. This was good enough for me, for the moment so off I went. It was very traditional. Even the “contemporary” service I attended. But somehow the liturgies and the peace-passing touched me in a way that reminded me of moments in the Methodist church that took my breath away. The communication was more than reading the printed text. The words came alive and stirred something in me. I’m still processing just what that was, but it made me aware of a longing for more…of whatever that was.
At the end of the service the pastor introduced Lent in a way I could understand, by addressing the children. She called the kids to the front of the church and took down a banner that said Alleluia. She said, “Kids, today we are packing away the Alleluia”, as she folded the banner into a painted purple box, locked it and sent a girl to carry it out of the sanctuary. She went on to explain that the Alleluia banner came out during Advent (the period leading up to Christmas) and that it was a celebratory reminder of Christ’s coming and that now we were entering into Lent when we take the time to reflect on what things would be like for us if Christ hadn’t come and died. Hmmmmm? Lent? Reflecting upon life in a fallen world without redemption? All of a sudden the black and purple drapes in the church, the ashes on Wednesday, the mourning all made sense. I know there’s more to it than that, but this little bit was enough to set me on a course for the next 40 days.
I have decided that there’s no better time than Lent for me to be deliberate about giving up some things to make time and space to really consider my faith. There are some tough questions that I am wrestling with that I have only told a few people about. I guess it grieves me that I fear asking questions about my own faith for fear of being labeled as an infidel, backslider, blasphemer or ….GOD forbid, liberal (LOL)! I don’t know. I don’t know where I’ll find myself on Easter Sunday. I’m daring to question things like:
*How is it that when Israel kills and mutilates their enemies and says that their God told them to do it, it’s ok? But when Islam or others kill in the name of God they are barbarians?
*If Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient to cover my sin, what gives Christians the right to pick out issues in others that apparently have a higher redemption threshold?
*Was redemption finished at the cross or not?
*For whom? All who believe? A select few? All mankind?
*If for all mankind, what is the extent of the implications?
*What if God is tolerant?
*Is there any hope of redemption without Christ?
There was a time when a well-defended answer to these questions would have rolled off of my tongue authoritatively. But what if I was wrong? What if I am wrong? What if what I’ve told others is wrong? What if there is no right or wrong answer to some of these? What if there are many?
I’ve been scared to ask a lot of these questions for fear that I’ll wake up one day and decide not be a Christian any longer. But, I’m at the point where I believe that to continue to truly consider myself a Christian I must truly try my faith. Abandonment is the risk I must take.
I solicit the prayers of all who love me during this season. If all you can pray is, “Lord, Lexi has lost her mind. Set her straight!” then never mind. For those who can pray with restraint and trust, please pray that I may meet and know God in a way I never have before.
I hope to be able to share my journey and discuss it in this community.