Thursday, March 26, 2009

We're Sorry

This is important, and so I'll say it first; this entry is not for Christians. It is not to be answered with scripture references or church terminology. We're going to step outside of the believer's mindset (or at least try to) and look at things from the other side of the table. This is We're Sorry's namesake, and the whole reason it was started in the first place.

This entry is for the nonbeliever. This is for the person who doesn't believe in God, Jesus or any of that salvation hooha. This is for the person who isn't sure what they believe, or is sure that they don't believe at all.

That said, I promise you that I will not try to “convert” you. I will not try to convince or coerce you to my way of thinking. I will not force anything on you, and I will do my best to be sincere, and express my thoughts in a way that makes sense outside of a religious context. If I fail then I can only ask you to understand – I don't see things the same way you do.

Christians believe what they believe for a lot of reasons. The easiest one, and perhaps the most common is the “I was raised to” argument, which holds little to no water when debating the existence of God with someone who was not raised to. You can be raised to do just about anything, from hating black people to liking sauerkraut. I think religion is especially easy, because when it's presented to us from a young age, and (as it was in my case) is a positive thing, it is easy – too easy – to hang onto the belief of it for the rest of one's natural life. Kids break away from a lot of things that their parents tell them, but you put a kid in a class room on a weekly basis and tell him that an all knowing and all powerful being has a plan for his life, and you really convince him that it's the truth, then that's probably the belief he's going to roll with (it even says that in the Bible).

But you weren't raised that way. Or maybe you were, but it was presented to you in a way that repelled you, even disgusted you, and now you see the concept of Christianity or belief in God in general as being ludicrous. Or maybe you saw how nasty the world is, and decided that a REAL god, a LOVING god wouldn't let that kind of stuff happen. All of these attitudes are logical, reasonable, and make practical sense. A lot of us will never admit it, but it's not fair for us to say, “you're wrong, God is real”, when we don't understand how you feel and why you feel that way. I can say to an immigrant, “you should speak English, that's what Americans speak”, but if they don't speak English to begin with, they won't understand me when I say it. And I'm not from where they're from, I don't know what they've been through. Assuming otherwise makes me an arrogant bigot, and the same is true of us. We’ve no right to admonish you.

We cannot convince you to a mathematical and scientific certainty that God exists, and I know that for many people, this is reason enough not to believe. I think that even if we could, to do so might be to invalidate the entire experience, but that’s beside the point. It is not knowledge, nor logic which makes the thing we call faith. There are aspects of faith and belief which are very “logical”, but this alone simply will not suffice. It is inadequate, and a poor vehicle to convey the existence of something that cannot be touched, felt or seen (believers need not comment here - we are speaking in physical terms). There is something which runs deeper than "here is what I can prove", and it is difficult to describe.

I have never been an atheist. I've never experienced a life apart from a belief in God. And while I cannot say that I wish I had, I DO wish that I could relate. I do wish that I understood what that feels like. And allow me to apologize on behalf of us that can't understand how you feel, because we, the haughty and proud religious, find it hard to view things from an atheistic standpoint. We see the world in a manner that is quite often black and white, this way and that, with little to no middle ground, where every question can be answered with, "God says so" or "It must be his will."

But for those who don't believe as we do, these answers are simply not enough, and we shouldn't expect them to be. You who don't believe what we believe deal with and understand things in a way that is difficult for us to grasp. It frustrates us, and we are bad at hiding it. This frustration manifests itself in a variety of distasteful ways, and I don’t think I need to name them.

I do not say this to patronize or condescend. I do not condemn or criticize you. I cannot say to you, "you're wrong", because I am so often wrong myself. I can only offer my apologies on behalf of myself and those like me, for we have crafted a religious subterfuge that may very well be our undoing.

I am sorry for being a part of a group that makes you feel unwelcome. I am sorry for being a hypocrite. I'm sorry for being weird, unrelatable and irrelevant. I apologize for the times you've felt alienated, uncomfortable and awkward around us. We are sorry for trying to "evangelize" and "save" you, without first getting to know you, understand you, and take the time to invest in friendship with you. We are sorry for the crusades, inquisitions, the Salem witch hunts, the gaybashing, hate mongering, justification of slavery, and other atrocities too numerous to name. We are sorry for coming at you with rules, agendas, underlying intentions and false promises. We're sorry for bubble-gum superficial Christian pop sub-culture and an almost xenophobic fear of things that we don't understand. We are sorry for being overly defensive and closed to other mindsets. We're sorry for assuming that we know everything while being so ignorant. We're sorry for judging you, and expecting you to change without giving you a valid reason. We’re sorry for replies to this entry that detract from the point its message or dampen its impact.

It's an easy thing to say, and perhaps you've heard it before, but I'll say it anyway - none of this is what Christianity was ever supposed to be about. Jesus' message was simple; Love God, Love People. Doing the both of these, and doing them with honesty and humility, comprise the entirety of what we believe. We fail so often and so loudly that I wonder if you can see it at all.

I'll say this only to clarify; we cannot, and will not apologize for what we believe. The reasons that we have found to believe in God are myriad, and while I can think of a counter argument to any one of them, I want to make it clear that it is not WHAT we believe that we (or the very least I) want to apologize for. Rather it is the miserable way in which we've chosen to express it.

Normally this is the part where we might try to "convert" you, or convince you to "give God a chance." Not today. You've had enough of that. This is nothing but an apology, pure and simple, devoid of agenda and outstretched offering plate.

I will say only this; we desperately want to share the things we've come to believe with you, not to bolster our numbers or bring more money into the church. It's not so we can win brownie points in heaven or say, "I SAVED someone today." While these attitudes do exist, and should be done away with, they are not indicative of what we truly believe. We only - and I promise you - only want to show you what we've found because it's made our lives better. A lot of us (this may be hard to believe) care about the people in our lives (all of them) and this serves as our primary motivation in wanting to spread what we believe is the truth of a loving and real God. We just don't know how to show it yet, even after 2,000 years of trying to figure it out.

And for this, we are sorry.

Bumper Stickers

"A lot of people don't like bumper stickers. I don't mind bumper stickers. To me a bumper sticker is a shortcut. It's like a little sign that says 'Hey, let's never hang out.'"
-Demetri Martin

You can find them anywhere, and they say everything. From sexual preferences to your favorite color, there is a bumper sticker to express every idea, personality type, and mood. Your traits, likes and dislikes can be broadcasted via bold and gaudy text to motorists fortunate enough to find themselves behind you in traffic. Whether they like it or not, they will get to know you. Sort of.

Christianity is not excluded from this basic fact of modern life. Whether it be the subtle silver icthus or bold, militant phrases like, "If you died tonight, would you go to hell?", Christians love to plaster indications of their faith on the back of their vehicles. Every once in awhile one will see a minivan, it's rear hatch so thoroughly covered in decals that it begs the question, "are these things addictive?" In my personal experience, these addicts are usually Christians, and their bumper stickers make sure that you know it.

I've never quite understood the thinking behind the Christian bumper sticker. Perhaps it is believed that an aggressive tailgater will read John 3:16 in the middle of rush hour and come to a saving knowledge of the Lord. Maybe the silver plastic "Jesus fish" has a divine property that immediately causes people to believe. Or maybe we're just being bold, showing off our faith to the world and letting them know that we're not ashamed.

But let's be honest. Bumper stickers are about as bold as attending a mass protest; it's easy to be courageous in a crowd of 300 others who agree with you. It's easy to hide behind the tinted glass of a minivan while the person at your back reads, "For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." And personally, I believe they're both equally ineffective in showing God's character to the rest of the world. They're cop outs, plain and simple, and ask little to nothing of us as individuals.

I don't think most people really care what your bumper stickers say. Show me by the way that you live - and by the way that you drive - that you mean it. Don't cut me off in traffic. Don't go twenty below the speed limit. Don't block the entryways to gas stations and fast food joints. Doing these or otherwise driving rudely, when paired with a Christian bumper sticker just makes things worse. Imagine getting cut off in traffic and then immediately being presented with, "IN CASE OF RAPTURE THIS VEHICLE WILL BE UNMANNED." Maybe that's already happened to you.

Bumper stickers are too easy. Loving people? That's hard. But at least it means something.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

All the same

Gary's getting drunk to forget Sarah
Sarah's stealing money from her parents
Aaron's lying straight to John
About Megan and the things that went on
Jessica's a gossip
Laura's a slut
Derek hits Bridgette
Ben deals drugs
Seth spent all this money gambling
Joey stopped praying
It's all the same
We are all the same
People with sinning hearts
That make us equal

"Listening to Freddy Mercury" by Emery

Hi. My name is Aaron.

I'm 21 years old. I watch R rated movies, and I play violent video games. I listen to a lot of secular music, and I don't buy the edited versions. I curse a lot. I enjoy the taste of beer and drink a few times a week. I always forget to tithe. I make excuses for all the of the above, and am generally unrepentant when I say "shit", or judge someone based on what they're wearing. I am also a Christian, and I am just like you.

Christianity can be a messy, difficult thing. We each have our own opinions about what's right and what's wrong, and we spend hours into days debating the morality of this, the ethics of that. We argue over what the Bible says or doesn't say about grace and judgment, heaven and hell, and all the things that happen in the space between the two. We sit proudly on the general consensus that Jesus is the son of God, as well as the reason that we walk and breath (as well we should). When it comes to the details however, the little things, we often seem all too eager to decide the validity of each others faith based on a checklist of dos and don'ts. We over emphasize things that, when viewed from a broader, more enlightened perspective, might be called meaningless.

I say this not to excuse myself; my sin is no more acceptable than is murder or grand theft. I am no holier than the career criminal or the child molester. And while the purpose of this argument is not to debate the ethics of moderate alcohol consumption, or whether or not it was okay for me to see Watchmen (and enjoy it), these things bear testament to what this entry is really about.

Christians are sinners. We're as flawed as the world around us. We covet, lust, cheat, lie, have affairs and drink too much. Some times we read Maxim and Cosmopolitan, and we don't feel bad about it. We gossip, are two faced and dishonest. Some of us are gay. Some have had abortions. Some hate each other. We are not the shining, beautiful people that they taught us to be in Sunday School. From my side of the table at least, we look more like the world every day. You can say this is due to a decay in the fabric of society's morals, or blame it on unfaithfulness, or use fancy, churchy words like "backsliding", but in my mind it's all a part of the human experience. Like it or not, we live in the world. We're here, and until God calls us home, we're stuck here.

And of course, we should do our best to live the way we're called to live. We should do our damnedest, day after day to set an example and portray Christ through our actions. The problem is that we can't, at least not all the time. This, of course, is where grace comes in.

Scripture tells us to worry about the plank in our own eye before removing the dust from the eyes of a friend. This can be, and often is, taken as an admonishment against hypocritical nitpicking. I see it not only as being thus, but also as having another similar meaning: your relationship with God is for you, and not anyone else, to worry about. Your friend's relationship with God is their own business. We can't save each other. Only one man was ever up to the task, and he's already taken care of it. By comparison, our job is far simpler - love each other.

I promise you this, and I say it with stone cold certainty: your relationship with God is not dependent upon anyone else's. It will not damage your ability to believe if everyone around you isn't living the way you think they should. Of course, we should council and rebuke one another (in love), but council and rebuke are a far cry from judgment. We so often swing towards the latter.

And at the end of the day, if we're to be honest with ourselves, is the kid in your youth group who smokes weed really all that different from you? We're all made of the same chemicals, have the same maker, and one day, we'll all stand before the same throne. We all have the same task to perform, and we all fail in it.

We are all the same, Christians and non-Christians alike. The only thing which divides us is a single decision, and it is this decision which should bring us together. Not tear us apart. We are all the same.