A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Religious Identity Crisis

I have been feeling uncertain lately when it comes to religion/spirituality/church.  In my preaching, in my writing, in conversations should I speak what I believe or what people need to hear?  Should I bluntly describe what I believe to be truth or should I couch it all in terms which make it more palatable so folks will listen?  Do I label myself a Christian with all the associated baggage and misunderstanding?  Or do I throw in the towel and call myself an "atheist " because while such a label does not describe my beliefs it often seems the only way to avoid the endless assumptions about Christian = conservative fundamentalist?  Is calling myself atheist the only way to make clear my disbelief in God as dude in the sky, wish granter, and cosmic creed cop? Is this the only way to clearly delineate my commitment to freedom of thought, rational public discourse, and disdain for religious privilege?  How do I identify myself honestly while dodging ad nauseam assumptions?  

For years I have been preaching about the importance of identity.  I have talked repeatedly about our identity as children of God.  As I question my own identity, then, I question also this message.  
What I have intended to convey is our preciousness, our value aside from any particular personality quirks, mistakes, behaviors, triumphs or failures.  I have intended to suggest rooting ourselves in something deeper than gender, physical appearance or skills by rooting ourselves in valuing and loving our neighbors around the world.  

But I wonder if I have been clear enough explaining “children of God” does not mean of a particular denomination, particular faith or even any faith at all.  Have I made clear my belief all people are children of God?  Does claiming a particular identity automatically mean excluding others?  

The thing is, all faiths are an attempt to describe something which is beyond words.  No religion has a monopoly on truth and neither does atheism.  The story of Jesus speaks truth to me in a way I can understand.  I also resist giving up on church because participating deeply in a faith tradition forces me to challenge myself and my assumptions.  Taking the bible and religious traditions seriously often forces me to work through traditions and ideas with which I am uncomfortable.  The more troubling passages force me to consider why I believe what I believe and what difference it would make if I believed differently. Learning wisdom from many different sources is of tremendous value, don’t get me wrong.  But experiencing the depths of one tradition is valuable as well.  

So, I continue to call myself a follower of Jesus...except this can sound almost cultish.  And I am not sure about defining myself as a follower as it sounds way too passive and mindless.  
Maybe “Jesus grounded” is what I mean: grounded in love as shown through the life and death of Jesus.  Perhaps I can identify myself as one who attempts to ground her life in love which sees brothers and sisters in all people of the world.  I try to ground myself in love which in its purest form is willing to sacrifice for the sake of others.   

But maybe I wouldn't need to have an identity crisis over labels of my faith if we all could practice making fewer assumptions about others.  Not all people who practice a faith in Jesus rejoice over every time someone sneaks in a Christian prayer or a Christian symbol or a Christian bias in a public space, for example.  And that's just for starters.  

So, this is the plea of one Christian/Atheist/Follower of Jesus/Jesus Grounded One: let's set aside the assumptions so we can all be heard.  


Rachel said...

This really resonates with me! I often struggle with this identity crisis and wonder not just what to call myself, but how to act. Growing up in the church has provided a set of traditions to follow which can be rooted in some pretty meaningful stuff, but can also be empty and even harmful at times. Sifting through it all without offending is pretty hard.

Sheri Ellwood said...

I hear you, Rachel. And it is not like offending someone is something I am always afraid of but it shuts down conversation or gets you labeled a heretic and dismissed. And even beyond offending or not I find it difficult to make myself understood. Many of my neighbors don't seem to be able to imagine why a Christian wouldn't love Kirk Cameron movies or think it is wonderful when we pray at public non church related meetings or....I could go on and on. It is like I am speaking a different language.