I don’t mean to complain, much less to sound petty. I don’t mean to lay blame, either. It is what it is. Own it and figure out where to go from here.
Anyway, as I think about my life of Christian faith, many of my experiences have, in hindsight, done more to hurt my perception of faith than help it—in large part because they are so under the surface, so much mixed in with the concrete of my “faith foundation.”
The thing is, I’m getting bored.
These 4 things are part of the mix. And you can see they are interrelated.
First, as a western Christian, my faith is overly intellectualized. I cannot remember a time when my Christian culture wasn’t dominated by the idea that being Christian meant being right, of essentially tapping into the data base of the universe and coming out with the right answers, of having the mind of God.
And with that, there is no room for mystery and for the spiritual value of not-knowing. I understand better now why “mystery” and “subjectivity” were mocked in much of my Christian training. I get it.
I’m NOT against rational processes (see here), but when “truth” is something that can only come to us through our rational activities, then there can be no room for mystery—indeed, no room for other ways of thinking.
I find such a mentality in which I participate bizarre, even arrogant. But more important, even central, is this: with an overly intellectualized faith the practice of the faith is minimized (except the act of “going to church” so doctrine can be taught.) And as a result, so much of what I read in the Bible (both testaments) about “doing” has fallen on deaf ears. All of those uncomfortable passages get catalogued for future consideration, after your theology is solid and secure.
Second, western faith is overly individualized. I see myself, far more often than I wish to admit, as functionally the center of the cosmos and that the Creator does too.
No, I don’t pray for a good sale at the mall and a great parking spot when I get there. But I do stop myself at times when I am praying or pondering some thought about God, faith, life, etc., and have a flash of insight, “Dude, you are so into your own little life, as if that’s the whole point of this Jesus business.”
Part of what lies behind this seems to be the co-opting of God in support of American individualism, and the corollary, that the end goal of all of this is “What will happen to you after you die?” As if that is the central question in Scripture and the primary concern of the Creator.
Unlike English, the Greek language of the New Testament has both a plural and singular form of the pronoun “you.” When I read “you”—even though I know better—my default is singular. And so I miss a lot.
And people like me whose default is the individual tend to think less of justice than we should, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
Third, White male privilege really is a thing. It’s hard to see because I’m not on the outside looking in. And I was never challenged to critique white male privilege and that doing so would be an expression of my faith. Rather, white privilege was allowed to fit far too comfortably with my faith.
Not being an oppressed person puts me at a disadvantage. I rarely need to cry out as the psalmists do about being treated with injustice, prejudice, with violence. I don’t need to worry about being pulled over by uniformed protectors of the public. There are many more places I can go and things I can do because I am part of the dominant culture.
And I don’t worry about my competence or value being questioned because of my gender. I am the default, the norm. I do the judging.
An iteration of the Christian faith that doesn’t see the problem here, really see it, is its own refutation.
Fourth, I rarely reflect on how rich I am and the effect of having all I need. I’m not rich rich (I’m a college professor, for heaven’s sake), but I’m still rich by global standards.
I own a lawn tractor that usually works and probably costs more than many impoverished American’s (let alone in developing countries) earn in months. I use that tractor to manicure the grass on a property with a house on it that has air-conditioning, ceiling fans, a refrigerator, stove, running water, internet, cable, and heat. We have 5 pets who will never starve or be without, which is more than I can say for the 19,000+ children who starve to death each day.
I was never really taught, except perhaps in passing, how much having wealth affects your outlook on life, and therefore your life of faith. The more you have, the less conscious you are of a deeper truth—that our lives are to be lived in trust of God rather than in what makes our lives artificially comfortable. Jesus said something like, “Blessed are the poor,” after all.
Wealth is prized in western culture as a sign of success, what to aim for. Wealth is needed to make the western church run—and it is. Salaries have to be paid, buildings need to be maintained, neighborhood projects are waiting. I get it—and that’s the point. We’re stuck in a system where it is hard to critique wealth and it is easy to get caught up in it.
Again, this isn’t about playing the blame game. For me, it’s more about insight, seeing more clearly the lay of the land, and proceeding forward with that understanding and owning it rather than being oblivious to it.
It’s on me to see myself as part of something bigger and far more interesting than what I have seen thus far.