Month: June 2016

This Is What It Feels Like To Be Loved By You : An Open Letter To Conservative Christians

I love you, and I am one of you—no, not a conservative Christian per se, but a fellow Jesus-loving, God-created human being journeying along this mutual path of faith—a travel that is often dimly lit and consistently uncertain. At the end of the day, I am trying to center by life, understanding, and beliefs in the person of Jesus, as are you. We are fellow children of God, sisters and brothers in faith, bedazzled by the Father with divine dignity and worth. Ours, is a journey with much in common.

At one time, I shared much of the same conservative perspectives, tenets, and interpretations as do you. I understand fully the foundations upon which you stand and the lenses through which you see God, scripture, and the world.  Over the course of 21 years as an Evangelical pastor, my knowledge of conservative Christianity is intimate.  I respect you and the framework from which your faith is established.

Right now, we live in a pivotal time and space, loaded with opportunity to be Light that outshines the shadows. The earth and all that has life and breath is opening wide its arms and lifting its chest in hopes of being collided with fresh winds of divine rendering, bringing life to its every limb, bending and swaying all humanity as the Spirit blows free with freedom.

One of the most awakening moments in my spiritual journey came when I was confronted with the person I had become and the stark reality of what my conservative Christianity had done to me. With the noblest of intentions, I had become the opposite in results. So much of what I held certain to be of truth, faithfulness, and the person of Jesus was chased out from behind the masks of my religious ignorance and pride—revealing a monster of demonic proportions dressed as faithfulness to Jesus and the Bible. What stared back at me in the mirror shook me to my core—I was irrevocably convinced of being so close to His heart, but discovered in truth, I was universes away.

I wonder if you know what it feels like to be “loved” by you and to interact with your faith understandings and pursuits.

As well intentioned as I know you are, quite honestly, your love often feels highly conditional and even pretentious, if not all together condemning. To be sure, there are many in your faith tradition, like you, who are loving and pursuing with great ambition, but it feels like any love that’s given is mainly because at some level, you kinda have to—all seemingly all part of your faith obligations and spiritual mission. I am sure your heart is real, but it feels like you love me more as a project than a person, with an overall goal to “disciple” me into thinking, believing, and behaving just like you. You call it transformation, the manifestation of a God who loves me enough to “meet me where I am at, but not leave me there”—but I am not even sure what that really means, or if it’s really true. I’m thinking it might be as simple as God just loves me, period—which leaves me wondering, why doesn’t it feel like you do too?

To be sure, conservative Christianity can taste so wonderful when you fit snug into the mold, but it can also feel like a sure kind of hell when you don’t—smiles to greet you at your face, surface pleasantries all around, but twitch with a wrong move—knives ready to stab you in your back, pushed to the outside, and even left to drown. The requirements to keeping-good-going in a relationship with you feels like a tireless game of making sure one plays by all the rules, completes all the steps, and meets your every expectation—otherwise, a clear message is surely in the mail, “we love you but, you’re falling short, repent or be removed.”

Oh I understand the idea of divine-authored, corrective conviction and the displeasure that can entail. It’s an integral part of your faith system and how the Jesus of your understanding impacts and transforms the world. But this is not about objecting to a dose of divine discipline, but rather the hurt, shame, and harm that’s caused by your faith prescriptions and interventions. For divine correction carries with it a kind of pleasurable discomfort as it begins and ends with Grace, kindness, humility, and unconditional acceptance—and thus, what hurts in the process is not the correction, but the regret of not seeing and embracing all the love, forgiveness, acceptance, kindness, and Grace that is already ours in Christ, so much sooner—the very things, the only things ironically, that bring about genuine change and transformation. That’s why sadly, so much of your discipling and speaking your “truth in love” only feels like pain and punishment as it’s completely devoid of the very Grace and truth that saves and makes the broken, whole—for punishment never made anyone holy.

I wonder, do you know what it feels like to be shunned—the facial displeasures, the flippant remarks, the disapproving stares, the disassociations and marginalizations? Do you know what it feels like to be labeled as lessor, inferior, and even evil, particular by you who declare to be so spiritual and echo the voice of the Creator? Do you understand how your “hating my sin,” but loving me as a “sinner” sucks the life out of my soul, condemned by your words as a second-class citizen?

Rejection, shame, disgust—do you know what they feel like when wielded from the visceral of another human?

Where is the discrimination in your life? Where are the toilets from which you have been banned their use? Where are the cakes that you have been refused? Where are the church fellowships and leadership positions from which you have been deemed disqualified? Where are the parents that sent you to the curb as illegitimate and no longer their true child? Where have we seen you dehumanized to the point of suicide, all in the name of Jesus and biblical faithfulness? Where are the gallows from which you have been hung for simply having a different color of skin? Where do we see you doing more listening than lecturing—more serving than judging?

To be loved by you feels like becoming a carny in a circus of constantly created wars against enemies you desperately need to exist and the formation of dire solutions for which there are no real problems. It feels like you believe yours is a privileged faith that entitles you special treatment—that you have deemed yourself as being better than the rest and possessors of the inside scoop to all that is Jesus, God, the Bible, and truth.

Oh, how I wish things were different as it feels like you have little to no sense of how much your words impale and your displeasure tortures and kills from the innards on out—your faith brand imprisoning me in a spiritual maze from which I will never find my way, upon a scale I will never measure up, and within a race I can never cross the finish. If there was ever a move by the Spirit to improve me, all your conditions, religious prescriptions, and condemnations would surely eclipse it.

I wonder, why do you have to interpret the Bible in all the most legalistic, negative, barbaric ways?

You don’t have to believe in a skin-melting, eternal-tormenting hell, an angry schizophrenic God, homosexual abomination, and the conquering of the world through militant, empire Christianity in order to be biblically faithful. Yet for some reason, you still do.

Why is it that when it’s shared with you, the words translated as “homosexual” in the New Testament were not translated as such until 1945, all the sudden you frantically determine that Greek translations are no longer important—but then, when it’s suggested that God loves everyone and desires all to be saved (and gets what He desires), all the sudden Greek translations used to limit God’s love become, to you, ever so critical?  I can’t help but feel like you are intentionally spinning the Bible towards restricting, restraining, and putting conditions on God, love, and the true freedom and life Jesus brings. It feels like any blanks left in scripture are always filled in with the most negative, condemning, legalistic, and conditional conclusions possible—not to mention, the convenient love it feels like you give, allowing a pass on your own biblical sins while judging harshly those who sin differently than you.

To be loved by you feels like, even though when met with faithful alternative, biblical understandings—you would still choose the ones that are the most hurtful, shaming, condemning and conditional.

It feels like you want to hate so much more than Jesus and the Bible are telling you to do so.

It feels like you are much more in love with your stances on the Bible, than in love with standing with people.

It feels like your love of justice is much more like a love of “just us.”

I long so desperately for the day when you will love me “as is” and all the same if I never change to your liking, but I am grieving the loss that from this, your conservative creed construct, that day will never come.

Maybe, just maybe, the Bible isn’t a strict dictation from God of His nature and ways, nor a detailed, infallible diary of His human interactions, but rather an organic catalog of important human journeys towards the understanding of life and God’s intersection and interactions therein—human understandings that are often imperfect and at times even drastically off the mark, painting colors and storylines into a picture of God that are in reality, far from who or how He truly is. Yet, nonetheless, each giving us a window into the highs and lows, the clarities and the misunderstandings we all experience along the way—each step, right or wrong, filled with the capacity to know Him more fully and live Him more accurately than at first.

Maybe, just maybe, the Bible is intentionally imperfect and incomplete so as to launch us into this same ever-flowing river of encounters with the perfect One—encounters not purposed on gaining complete understanding, but on finding complete rest in the One who is Understanding—writing along side of us our own personal Bible of faith journeys with Him where theology is best learned at the feet of Jesus not in the pages of someone else’s experiences and interpretations.

Maybe just maybe, this is the essence of what is truly authoritative and divinely inspired about the collection of faith experiences we call the Bible—all leading us to encounter for ourselves the Author and Finisher of our faith, Jesus the Christ. In so doing, we embark not upon a slippery slope that steers our theologies into the ditch, but a trail of faith that allows God to reveal Himself more clearly and deeply as we discover there is always more to know and more that He reveals of the expanse of God who is Love.

For this I surely know, until our theology is Love, we will always be leaning on our own understanding to the detriment, and even destruction, of other people.

My friend, may I suggest, a new absolute is coming and has already long been here—Grace.

For the non-judgement day is upon us, because all is finished, forgiven, and made whole by the Father through the Son.

But yet it feels like, to you, this is bad news, as much as Jesus died to make it good.

It feels like you want hell, judgement, condemnation, discrimination, lines, labels, battles, distance, and differences more than Jesus or the Bible could ever desire or deem so.

I mean no disrespect, nor look away from my own imperfections and failures, I just thought there could be a chance you might want to know…

this is what it truly feels like to be loved by you—

which, for so many of us, we are truly questioning if it’s really love at all.

Orlando And The LGBT Blood On The Hands Of Christians

Mass murder doesn’t happen in a vacuum. To be sure, the ultimate responsibility for the terrorism in Orlando, Florida that slaughtered 50 innocent, God-loved people of the LGBT community lies with Omar Mateen. We will probably never be able to fully determine all the psychological, environmental, and religious nuances of influence that contributed to this act of premeditated evil. However, what can’t be ignored nor remain undefinable is a growing atmosphere in America of religious hate charged with all the right conditions to fuel the increasing discrimination, condemnation, and violence committed towards the LGBT community.

At face value, it would be easy to conclude that Islamic Fundamentalism is the primary catalyst to the Pulse Nightclub atrocities. However, behind the scenes of nearly every harming reality thrusted into the lives of the LGBT community in America is the hand of a significant segment of conservative, Evangelical Christianity that worships the very same kind of angry, vengeful, hell-wielding, punishing, violence-justifying, imperial, and militant God as does Islamic Fundamentals.

We can put all the lipstick we want on the pig of conservative Christianity in America, but the truth is, the blood of 50 Jesus-imaged, God-affirmed, LGBT people in Orlando is upon every denomination who has determined that an LGBT person is a divinely decreed abomination in direct opposition to their Christian teachings and the Christ who authored them, every church leader and committee member who’s slung a gay member to the curb in an effort to “cleanse” their righteous community,  every politician of faith whose vote and law-making has served to bring LGBT discrimination, every “Christian” baker who refused to bake a cake in solidarity to a god who “hates fags” and a faith whose primary role is to police a sinful, “fallen” world, and every billboard creator, meme designer, Facebook poster, and Target boycotter who has joined in the dehumanizing, marginalizing, deChristianizing, and demonizing of the LGBT community in words or action. It is within this oppressive context of continual religious torture, Christian or otherwise, that ideologies of hate find the oxygen to breathe. For hate is suffocated and render powerless among those who believe that God is love, Jesus is Grace, and serving our fellow human is the ultimate way of peace. Sadly, these are not the tenants of much of Christianity in America today.

If we simply believe that the mass murder in Orlando targeted specifically at the LGBT community is exclusively one of only ISIS capacity, we have failed to see the evils embedded within much of conservative Christianity whose hate, discrimination, and willingness to bring harm to this unprotected group of humanity increases with every cry for and assertion of their God given value, dignity and rights. Equality always feels like war to those who are privileged.

I am thankful for Christians who are using their voice to condemn this act of terrorism. Yet, nothing measures the truth of these words like the deafening silence of countless conservatives who, truth be told, inwardly believe that in some fashion or other, the murder of 50 LGBT people fits within the plot of their faith, Bible, and the God who set it all into motion.

Where one believes violence, retribution, punishment, and revenge are part of some divinely written story and the Divinity who penned it, these same verses will surely become a part of the human story they write towards the ones with whom they disagree and their faith defines as the enemy.

Until Christians become true people of Grace, truth, love, equality, and peace, America and the world beyond will increasingly become a place of religiously authored harm, violence, and death, no matter from what creed.

The greatest enemy of human equality is modern Christianity, who ironically claims to worship the One who definitively created all people equal, valued and affirmed under Grace–none are better, only different. Equality and human dignity are not something that need to be created, Jesus already accomplished that and made them an irrevocable cosmic reality, we need only awaken, embrace, and live within it.

Religion is always fighting what God has already established in Grace—and apparently, it’s even willing to murder it.

“Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer…” -Jesus

 

Why We All Should Stop Calling Ourselves Christians

Not many enjoy dealing with negative issues, certainly I don’t, but the reality we face is daunting—much of modern American Christianity is a kind of full blown, DEFCON 5 mess. Are we intrinsically bad people? No, of course not. Is the bulk of Christianity in dire straits? I believe so.

Whether by eyes-wide-open intention or some kind of unconscious seduction, many of us who claim the name “Christian” have sadly become some of the most hateful, selfish, condemning, privileged, demanding, and arrogant people on planet earth. I wish this weren’t true, but unfortunately it is—American Christianity’s overall deplorable state is the pink elephant in the room draped with blinking lights and sounding alarms that somehow is still being ignored by many of us who refuse to see beyond our ideologies and listen beyond the cooing sounds of our own ignorance.

Like an alcoholic in denial of their disease, many of us have gone nose-blind to the stench of our religious breaths. Sadly, as virtuous as our pursuits may seem and our intentions might be, we are drunk on everything but Jesus, who is pure Grace. We are the wasted guy at the bar who thinks their high is so spiritual and worthy, totally oblivious to the superficial buffoons we have become—a laughing stock to the world of the highest cringe-worthiness, increasingly dangerous to ourselves and even more so to others.

Despite the divine-pleasing nobility we seek, our creeds and our creed-doing are so far gone from Christ and His earthly essence that our wayward faith looks back from some distant planet and dares to declare it’s the world that’s moved away. We are self-professed experts at label giving, boasting of a “biblical” accuracy to put names to the sins and the sinners we decree. Yet, more and more, it seems our credibility to even place the title “Christian” on our own backs is showing itself to be anything but an act of genuine, on-target appropriateness.

Oh how we have fallen from Grace and stand in diametrical contradiction to the very label we profess—”Christian.”

A Christian is supposed to be a person who, first and foremost, is resting totally in Grace—as was Jesus. Grace is the Gospel—anything less or added along side is nothing but deceptive, cruel, bad news. Grace alone is our salvation, our sanctification, our justification, our preservation and our summation. To “believe” is to simply rest in Grace—to be awakened to all that God is (Love), and all that humanity is (sons and daughters of the living God)—whole, righteous, and fully alive because of Jesus’ performance, not ours. By Grace, from Grace, and through Grace, Jesus is the author and finisher of everything about everyone. To love Jesus is to love pure Grace, to believe in Jesus is to rest solely in Grace. Nothing more, nothing less.

Sadly, most Christians, especially Evangelical conservatives, aren’t resting in Grace but fidgeting in their souls, putting their trust in some level of spiritual performance for the existence, quality and closeness of their relationship with Jesus. They don’t believe they, or anyone else, are truly a finished work of Christ through the cross, but rather that one must embark on a spiritual process of sin-management, life-change, and evil-overcoming in order to establish and maintain a working relationship with God—what many call “becoming a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ.”

In technical terms, they think the Law, in all its forms of religious rule-keeping, is actually doable. If you just pray enough, press into Jesus enough, get radical enough, keep your sins at bay enough, subscribe to the right belief systems and complete the right steps enough, your spiritual faithfulness will result in a wellspring of life leading to blessings from God now, eternity with Him later, and a superior standing over the rest of humanity. God loves you “but,” if you don’t love Him back through a life of rule-keeping, expectation-meeting, church-playing, correct doctrine-believing, radical-serving and sin-overcoming, all bets are essentially off.

In essence, those who subscribe to this self-righteous way of living are ironically the ones leading the way at watering down sin as they pridefully lift up some kind of system of human capacity that’s able to overcome it—believing within the application and declaration of religious effort and striving there is life. A life, for them, that is attained by leveraging Jesus and mixing Him into a cocktail of personal performance they believe will satisfy the thirst of God and cause Him to release a sum of blessings and favor that wouldn’t be otherwise rendered. If one can just bolster enough spiritual steam and put Jesus in their pocket along the way, the conquering of sin is just a few sermon bullet points away. The need for Jesus is reduced to a pawn in their spiritual game purposed on check-mating God into being required to love, bless, and keep them because they, through their spiritual gymnastics, have fulfilled the just requirements, checked the boxes, and have done their part.

Because they have this lessor view of sin, they also have a lessor view of Grace and their need for it, reducing the cross to an ongoing, open-ended negotiation instead of a once-and-for-all, one-and-done salvation. Attend just about any church in America and you will experience this “Jesus plus me-and-my-faithfulness” concoction that’s sadly bottled as the Gospel.

I wish things were different, but I can’t be silent, this is the most anti-Christ, anti-Jesus-like way to believe and live—flipping Jesus the middle finger while we pat Him on the back in declaration that what He did on behalf of all humanity was pretty damn good, but not quite good enough—Jesus got us so far, but there is a significant amount of human pedaling to muscle in order to open up the heavens now and get us in later.

The truth is, for most Christians, we aren’t resting, trusting, and believing solely in Christ alone, but something much different and deeply sinister—and our performance-driven, legalistic, self-improving, judgmental, conditional-loving and pretentious faith is all the world needs to see as proof. We don’t truly worship Jesus, we worship Jesus plus “us”—Jesus plus repentance, Jesus plus church attendance, Jesus plus spiritual notches on our belts, Jesus plus this, that, and everything else. At the end of the day, we don’t truly love Jesus, rather, we are using Him like a street corner prostitute to empower our spiritual joy ride of self-righteousness, self-justification, world-judgement and world-condemnation. We want as much Jesus as we need in order to get what we want and yet maintain a sure level of control, superiority over others, and self-righteous satisfaction.

That’s why words about Jesus (the Bible) are more important to us than the living Word, Jesus Himself. We don’t interpret the Bible through the person of Jesus—as did Jesus. Rather, we interpret it through the lens of our selective agendas, self-justification, and a need for some skin in the game to quiet down our restless faiths that are afraid to acknowledging the full ramifications of Grace—you aren’t in control, He is; your performance doesn’t matter, only His does; you aren’t any better than anyone else, only different. In our minds, when Jesus doesn’t do and say what we need Him to do and say, we scramble for something or someone else to legitimize our convictions and justify our religious agendas—enter, the Bible.

Let’s be honest, we aren’t totally in love with all of humanity—as was Jesus.

We aren’t totally impassioned with equality and justice for all people—as was Jesus.

We aren’t totally focused on helping people see themselves through the lens of Grace instead of sin, guilt and shame—as was Jesus.

We aren’t unconditionally loving the broken and discarded, and confronting the religious, legalistic and Grace withholders of our day—as did Jesus.

So many of the things that are primary to Jesus aren’t even on the bus of our religious joy ride. Instead, we have become consummate, spiritual mixologists—diluting the purity of Jesus and His Grace with our religious additives and preservatives, pouring it all into our crystalline clubs with crosses on top and calling it faith and faithfulness—hoping the world will drink from the very same poison that’s killing us, while sadly we believe it’s bringing us Life.

We say we love “justice,” but it feels so much more like we love “just us.”

We say we love “Jesus,” but it feels so much more like we love “judging everybody but us”

We say we’re all about “Love,” but we have polluted Him and His affections with so many “conditions.”

“Evangelical,” “Conservative,” whatever name you want to hoist is fine with me, but with all due respect, please stop calling yourself a “Christian,” it simply doesn’t fit. The Christ you claim and the Christ you proclaim is almost nowhere to be found within all the spin, conditions, and condemnation riddled in your game.

Call yourself religians, sin-managians, world-judgians, homophobians, sin-hatingians, discriminatians, mixed-gospelians, legalismians, churchians, conservativians, bible-thumpians, church-franchisians, empire-christianityians—whatever title floats your boat, but please reconsider calling yourself a Christ-ian.

It’s all too obvious you are comfortable with making the world into an all-you-can-judge buffet as you cling to a bipolar God and a book you can wield to justify your angry deity, inner underlying hate, and an addiction to self-righteous justification. No doubt, the rest of us are beginning to clearly understand that because of you, to self-identify as a “Christian” in America today is to position oneself as a rabid porcupine in a world of balloons—rightly predisposed as haters, bigots, egomaniacs, ignoramuses, and overall life deflators.

For this, I am actually glad. It’s high time the people of Jesus put faith-handles aside and let our actions speak louder than a title ever could.

Let’s all stop worrying about the label and determine to be the Love.

Let’s stage our love and grace do the talking and the persuading—the best way to reveal the Who we are trusting. For by the way we love without restraint and adore without limits, people won’t even need to ask, they will simply know—Love has come to town.

But how will they know it’s Jesus who is the subject of our souls? Because Jesus is Grace, nothing and no one else truly is, and people aren’t stupid.

It’s sad, but true, the more I become unchristian, the more Jesus recognizes me as His own.

If you need the title “Christian” to be one and to do His work, then perhaps you have missed the entire point of who Jesus is and the true nature and essence of what is truly His work.

Perhaps the less we call ourselves “Christians” the more we truly show ourselves to be one.

And more importantly, the more the world might believe in the One and only who is Grace.

© 2017 Chris Kratzer

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