Thursday, January 16, 2014

Confessions of a Progressive Christian ~ 2014

I have friends who have been so hurt by fundamentalist Christianity that they can't even imagine that there is any other way to be Christian; and because the Christianity they have experienced is so myopic, narrow, petty, anti-intellectual, self-serving, and mean-spirited, they not only reject it, they run from any mention of the bible, Jesus, sacraments, worship, or prayer.

Now, many of them do believe in God, and even those who say they don't believe in God nevertheless believe in love, beauty, hope, compassion, possibilities, life (and its deep mysteries)...which is what I mean when I say "God" either they aren't complete atheists, or I am one (and either way, it's OK).

Moreover, I'm not invested in making these dear friends have a fondness for Jesus, or scripture, or prayer, or worship; but it does somehow bother me that some of these things (at least some of the time) can be so empowering or healing for me, and yet they dismiss them as being at best irrelevant relics of a superstitious past, or at worst, dangerous weapons meant to actually diminish human value and creativity.

Atheists, I bless you as you are!

Non-Christian religious people (Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Wiccans, Sikhs, etc.), I bless you as you are!

Spiritual but not religious (those who ponder the deep questions and who explore the endless mysteries of life without the need for ritual, hymns, saintly heroes, or holy days), I bless you as you are!

But do consider that some of us who call ourselves Christians (or post-Christians or Progressive Christians or Metaphysical Christians or followers of Jesus) may be as different from the Christianity you reject as you are (in fact, we probably, in whole or in part, have rejected the very same version of Christianity that you have!).

When I speak of God, I am speaking of a universal presence, a non-discriminating power, the best in life, the source of life, the invisible but honestly experienced energy of love and hope and compassion and grace.

When I speak of Jesus I am speaking of a symbol.
Jesus wrote nothing (and we have no proof he could even read).
His ministry/career lasted less than three years (and probably only one).
We don't know what he looked like, sounded like, or what his sexual orientation was (though, whichever orientation you guess, there are just enough hints to suggest you are right...mine is a thoroughly Queer Jesus).

What we do know is that he helped people who had felt broken experience a sense of wholeness, so we imagine him to be a healer.
We know that he appealed to women and children, that he spoke to Samaritans and at least one Canaanite, that he may have had (at least) one "beloved" male companion, that he touched the untouchables, that he confronted injustice, that he cared about the poor, and that he was tortured to death by the horrifically cruel Roman practice of crucifixion.

Jesus cared about those who suffered, and he suffered himself, so in our sufferings he can be a symbol of compassion (passion = suffer, com = with....Jesus then symbolizes one who understands our suffering and in some way shares them).
Jesus spent his life giving people their dignity back, and when he was executed his friends, followers, and admirers returned the favor, insisting that he didn't stay dead and could still be felt, experienced, loved, and depended on in some way. And those stories of unconquerable dignity we call "Resurrection."

When I speak of the bible I am speaking of a collection of books,entirely human in origin, but from the human words a divine message of hope and healing can often be gleaned (sadly, a message of horror and oppression can also be gleaned, because in the final analysis readers make meaning...what we say the bible says has much more to do with us than the bible itself).

When I speak of prayer, I'm speaking of an inward attempt to feel connected to All That Is, an effort to summon hope, courage, or comfort, an experience of mental or spiritaul energy, an effort to imagine and embrace possibilities. Prayer is not, for me, an attempt to persuade a deity to do what It otherwise would not do without my begging. In fact, prayer is powerful in and of itself and need not be offered "to" anything or anyone.

When I speak of heaven or hell (and I so RARELY do), I'm speaking of states of consciousness. Joy or peace is heaven; fear or misery is hell. Neither is a reward or punishment for opinions we hold (sometimes called beliefs). And I don't know what is after this experience of life, but if there is something more, it is for all of us and it can be good for all of us. If God punished people for not being in the right club or for not affirming a certain belief or even for some depravity resulting from mental illness or internalized pain from abuse or oppression, then such a god would be either evil or demented, and such a tyrant, divine or not, must be resisted at all costs!
But I don't believe that God (hope, love, beauty, compassion, peace, energy) is evil, so I don't believe in everlasting damnation for any person for any reason.

When I speak of miracles I am not suggesting that a deity beyond us grants favors to some while ignoring or denying others, nor am I suggesting that the laws of the universe are sometimes suspended (though there may be laws we don't yet fully understand or know how to employ just yet...flight, space travel, organ transplants, and instant messaging aren't breaking Nature's laws, they are understanding and cooperating with them in ways we once couldn't imagine); but rather, a miracle for me is a change of perception. When I see what I could not see before, when my perspective broadens or my hope is renewed or I embrace possibilities that weren't previously obvious to me, that is a miracle. I don't expect virgins to conceive, prophets to walk on water, or reluctant missionaries to set up housekeeping in the belly of a fish (but those mythic tales do show how we can each have a change of perception and therefor experience something differently than we did before).

When I speak of church I am speaking of a community of seekers who want to be in relationship with other seekers and with Something beyond (and still very much a part of) themselves.

And when I speak of sacraments I am speaking of human rituals that are meant to affirm our sacred value and remind us of the great potential (Christ, Buddha nature, Inward Light, Goddess, Higher Power, guardian angel, whatever image/name we choose) that is within each of us.

My Christianity is as valid (and I would argue as ancient) as Billy Graham's or the pope's.
You don't have to adopt my faith, but please don't confuse it for others that may share the name or some of the symbols (however differently interpreted) of Christianity. And don't dismiss it as being silly or crazy. There may be more to it than you have let yourself so far imagine. I bless you as you are. I seek your blessing as well.

That's the reality of my faith (riddled with doubts as it may be). It may not appeal to you, but do realize that it has done quite a lot of good for me. Whatever you embrace as Truth, I hope it proves to be a constant blessing in your life.

Durrell Watkins, DMin
Progressive Christian, Universalist, Spiritual Humanist (and some other stuff)

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