Dear Ms. Rice:
You don't know me, so please excuse the intrusion. I hope you won't think this too forward, but I read about your recent remarks about quitting Christianity:
For those who care, and I understand if you don't: Today I quit being a Christian. I'm out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being "Christian" or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to "belong" to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten … years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.
I respect your decision. I can't even count the number of times I've felt the exact same way, but I lacked the gumption to declare it as boldly as you have done. I simply went about muttering, wishing for everything that I belonged to a different clan. A more perfect community.
I don't attend a large church, but it's large enough that I don't know everyone by name or by story. Take that lady passing out the programs at the door. I don't know her at all. I don't know if she's married or lost the love of her life to a fiery plane crash during World War II. I don't know what sufferings life has brought her way. For all I know hers could be one of the dozens of names listed weekly in the "Praying for those diagnosed with cancer."
Sometimes it's a relief to not know people. It keeps a person from the obligation of sharing their sorrows or from the disappointment of discovering their failings.
That's the thing about being in relationship with others. I don't know about you, Ms. Rice, but I've found that to be true whether you are in relationship with people who belong to the clan of Christianity, or friends you made at the local Farmers' Market. Hang with people long enough and you're going to be disgusted by them. They'll do something that hurts so badly you'll wonder why in the world you ever considered them a friend to begin with.
You'll feel as betrayed as Jesus. On some level you'll know that's ludicrous—there's no way you can know the betrayal of the Cross. But you'll still feel that you understand his pain the way he understands yours.
That's how God designed us.
Desmond Tutu says we are created for goodness. He says that's why we feel so good when we do good things—because we are designed for it.
I believe that.
I also believe that God created us so that we are able to identify with each other. He created us to feel what others feel. That's why when a person lacks the ability to be empathetic we consider them a sociopath or narcissistic.
We are designed for relationship, created for community. The good and bad of it all.
I was thinking about all that at church today as the man three rows in front of me raised his hands in worship. For the past four weeks, he's been confined to a hospital bed at Oregon's Health Science Center University Hospital. His poor body has withstood about all the suffering a person can withstand. I don't know if it it's the cancer that will take him finally or the treatment he receives for it.
But I didn't care about that. What I cared about was that he was on his feet, arms extended, praising the Christ whose blood has cleansed us all from the inside out. The Christ whose mercies are new every morning.
I stood next to a woman whose husband has been deployed so many times to Afghanistan and Iraq that he has missed his daughter's entire high school career. Now that he's home, he no longer has any fight left in him. He's walked out on them. I hurt for that girl. I know what it's like to lose a daddy to war—whether you do it through death or through trauma matters not. She's going to have wrangle some demons for her faith one day. I pray that when that day comes, she'll come to understand as I have, that God is faithful in ways people never can be.
I hope she'll find that he will never leave nor forsake her—no matter what. He's not like us that way.
Two rows in front of that young girl sat a woman who has endured a lung transplant. To be honest, when we were praying for her as a community, I figured they'd be wheeling her out of the hospital in a body bag. That's how small my faith is sometimes. I'm a skeptic. A cynic. I'm ashamed of it, but that's the truth of it.
God proves me wrong all the time. I'm glad for that. I know people, believers and unbelievers, who care more about being right than they do about being redeemed.
Down the pew directly in front of me sat a young woman. Another single mom with another infant to raise alone. I watched as a white-haired lady walked across the aisle during the singing and took that young mother's face into her withered hands and spoke words of encouragement and love to her.
I stood there, weeping, because I belong to a flawed but courageous community. They have discovered ways to share in the sufferings and joys of one another, despite the disappointments.
The Polish have a blessing: May your soul be as strong as your people.
The thing about opting out of the clan of Christians, Ms. Rice, is that when we do that, we run the risk of missing the blessing God created us for.
I wanted to share that with you.
Karen Spears Zacharias
Karen Spears Zacharias is author most recently of Will Jesus Buy Me a Double-Wide? She can be reached at karenzach.com or via Twitter @karenzach.
This post was reprinted from Karen's personal blog.
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