I am a Christian. I am not always sure if it is okay to call myself one.
A week ago Marcus Mumford, whose music I enjoy, had an interview published in Rolling Stone where he said,
“I don’t really like that [the word Christian]… I wouldn’t call myself a Christian. I think the word just conjures up all these religious images that I don’t really like. I have my personal views about the person of Jesus and who he was. Like, you ask a Muslim and they’ll say, ‘Jesus was awesome’ – …. I’ve kind of separated myself from the culture of Christianity.”
A lot of other Christians, many of whom also enjoy Mumford & Sons’ music, had a reaction. What did it mean for Christians to listen to this music, laden with Christian imagery and theology, if Mr Mumford does not identify with Christianity. Honestly, I think I shrugged. I like the music; it’s a quote that is going to sell magazines; and there’s not a lot of music I like. Well, there’s not a lot of music which isn’t in the Hymnal and has lyrics that I like.
Then The Rev. Lillian Daniel, whom I greatly admire and several of whose books sit on my shelves, responded. Writing at Relevant, a platform aimed at Christian Millennials, she told us It’s OK to Call Yourself a Christian.
And I couldn’t just shrug anymore.
I was one of those college students who identified as a Christian and hated it when the convert-the-campus-with-giant-signs-and-yelling people visited. Because I knew that’s what a lot of my classmates thought Christian meant. Their two week stint made my 52 week-in-and-week-out life harder for four years. (Then I went to seminary. None of my friends was surprised.)
I have been an ordained member of The Episcopal Church for five years this May. I know that Reverend Daniel speaks the truth when she says that part of the challenge of being the Church is that Jesus left people in charge of it. We are, all of us, imperfect creatures, who come with baggage and blind spots.
Some of that we are called to love. And it can take a lot of love. People can be very challenging.
Sometimes the Church, the people and what the people have made institutional and systemic in the Church, is worse than the pointy elbows and knees or missed emails and ignored communicationof being human. Sometimes the Church is predatory, neglectful, and abusive.
A recent post on Episcopal Cafe about clergy being forced out of their positions prompted quieter murmurings other places about how little discussion happened on that post. No one came forward to say it had happened to them. Few examples were given. Fewer remedies were really offered. I worry it is because every victim who read this was too scared to speak openly. A week long discussion in concert with a three day synchroblog about spiritual abuse had me emotionally exhausted and angry by day two. But I know that far more frequently these voices are silent or are whispered in places no where near the local Church.
Reverend Daniel summarized the Church with,
“Because you might actually bump into humanity [in the Church]. You might hit up against something you disagree with. You might have to listen to music you don’t like. You might get asked to share your stuff. You might learn from a tradition far older than you, and realize how small you are standing before such a legacy. You might even be asked to worship something other than yourself.”
All of that I can easily own as part of the Church. I love when the Church, the Body of Jesus, gathers for our best times and for our worst times. I know that we are important for all of the in-between or awkward times too.
I don’t think that’s the hard part. I don’t know of any evidence that the ‘nones’ are anti-community, they just are persuaded that the Church’s community isn’t right for them.
I am afraid that people have heard the Church gathers for our best, our worst, and our awkward in-between times, and while they may like that, they also know they can find all of that somewhere else–without the abuse and the silence. I am afraid that they have stopped hearing us call for the Church to be Christian.
Christian means Christ-like.
Jesus is not just awesome. Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah, the Christ. And Christian means we are to be like Christ. Or at least trying.
Which is the hardest thing, ever. Because we aren’t going to succeed. Not all of the time and not completely. And all of the people being Christians, trying to be Christ-like, don’t agree on what that means.
The very act of striving to be Christ-like changes us. It’s not about individualism vs community. It is about transformation and resurrection. It is about being willing to look at the worst and hardest parts of ourselves and our society trusting that Christ is looking with us and will be found in those places. It is about remembering that our God is greater than our worst sins–personal or institutional. It is about trying to be better than we are, or can be. It is about knowing that all of our work in this world is of the utmost importance and will fall short of the completely new thing Christ is working in and through us.
I think that message has gotten lost and muted in the midst of the baggage that comes with the word Christian.
Christian means more than Jesus is awesome. Christian means Christ-like. Being Christ-like means believing Easter is a verb, transformation is possible, and that we must have faith in what we cannot see.
I keep discovering that I’m not always OK with calling myself a Christian. Because Christian demands something of me. Not from the equally human people around me, but from from the Risen Savior who insists that I follow him.
But I am a Christian. And I keep trying.