A year and a half ago I wrote a piece on the question, “How is your walk?” This one isn’t as funny, but a bit meatier, and more thoughtful.
The question has been rephrased: “Are you still Christian?”
I hadn’t talked to my friend in several long months. (“Country months” – I once went on a long bike ride in the boonies of Illinois, I asked a local where the nearest train station was. He said four miles away. His friend joked, “Them’s country miles.” 4 Country miles is about 20 normal miles.)
I was in this particular friend’s wedding. We caught up briefly. He asked if I was still Christian. I responded, ” Yeah, I think so. Are you not?”
He said that of course he was, and laughed; he had just assumed I wasn’t anymore. As a pseudo-intellectual I was flattered; as an interested religious person, I was disappointed, but I could understand where he was coming from. We have an image of Jesus in America — a basic understanding of the scriptures and how worship should be experienced; connecting with God in a Jazz night club, with a buzz on, does not really fit into that paradigm.
Having a “The Color Purple” attitude of God, sex, and weed is not really in line with mainstream church teachings. Of course, my politics line up with traditional Social Justice Church teachings, but most mainstream Christians have argued to me that it is essentially as unchristian as the prosperity gospel (the belief that the closer one is to God, the more wealth, power, and happiness one accumulates- it is spearheaded by Houston pastor Joel Olsteen), albeit perhaps more noble.
Old youth pastors have e-mailed me asking about my faith. I have actually offered to speak at some events about Christianity in Palestine, or Christian responsibility to the poor in Chicago. Most of the time I am rebuffed, and simply asked to give money, or to talk about my coming to faith. “Well, what’s the difference?” I ask, referring to the relationship of Palestine and the poor to my coming to faith. But they never respond, and if they do it is much later, and to ask about my salvation.
You can’t enjoy all the vices I publicly do and expect to be treated like a sibling of equal value to Christ. People seem to want to know what I think Christianity is. What do I think about salvation, the divinity of Christ? That is never asked, however. The question they ask is, ” are you still Christian?”
Christianity is the universal communion. It is believing that the bread is the body of Christ, that the body of Christ is the Church. It is also believing that the blood of Christ, the wine, is the spiritual and emotional bonds between people and each other. A pure essence of God binding us to nature and one another.
American Christianity isn’t really that Christian.
I maintain that Christianity only existed for 300-500 years. Christianity then took on different forms. It has changed much over the past two thousand years. And, really, all deviation from traditional church culture and theology is a split from Christianity.
There is a lot of God talk at the homeless shelter I currently work at. The poor are often very in-tune with the spiritual nature of the world. More so than the wealthy and affluent. Jesus told us this would be the case. And the early church practiced it in impoverished nearness to God. The cornucopia of lived theology (as opposed to the theorized and dialogued) is challenging to behold. Conversations fly in the face of what my truths are, and dismantle what theoretically seems right. Though, there are many points of intersectionality to analyze. Their relationships to God, and understanding of Christ vary wildly.
An important theological conversation happens at these shelters: who is invited into the shelter? These shelters are all operated by religious groups and within the confines of religious institutions. So the question we are often asking is really, “who is invited to the church?”
The Church is the world. It is my firm belief that the church is welcome to all people. And I believe we know this because of the communion the early church shared together. At these communions, all people were invited- the poor, the pariahs of society, the greatest of sinners and tax collectors, the pious and righteous. Though, there was one curious group not invited to the party- people who made a profession of violence (i.e. gladiators, mercenaries, and soldiers).
This stands in stark contrast to the dispensationalist theology that currently dominates mainstream American Evangelicalism, which is dependent on the concept that God blesses the United States and especially the US military because of the US’ general support of conservative, “Christian values.” These of course include a staunch military and political support of Israel, which, according to dispensationalist theology, is a blessed state.
It is not. This theology is a massive deviation from traditional early church teaching. This is because (and this may be a tough pill to swallow for some) Jesus was a pacifist. An anti-nationalist, pacifist at that. I am no longer a pacifist. But Christianity is dependent on this anti-violence attitude. And when I was more traditional in my Christian faith, I too believed in taking a proactive, yet pacifist stance towards conflict and oppression. These thoughts were inspired by and are extrapolated upon the works of John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas, and Richard Hays- I have only learned a bit from them, but it has been influential in my limited thinking.
I have learned from the failings of Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr., in the face of successes like Ho Chi Minh, the Democratic Army of Greece, the Black Panther Party, and the Liberation Theology movement in Latin American, that armed struggle can be a worthwhile tool for relieving the oppression of the poor. So while the early church may not have welcomed any soldiers, I believe it is important, as the Liberationists believe, to honor, and often join, the militant movements of the poor and oppressed. See James Cone or Gustavo Gutierrez for more on that.
And, so, this is my answer to “are you still Christian?”: I believe in the right for the poor, oppressed, and marginalized to defend themselves against racism, bigotry, homophobia, islamophobia, antisemitism, etc. I also believe comunities of faith encompasses all people, except the oppressors.
I play frisbee Monday nights and Saturdays during the day. Everyone I play with are white Christians who went to small Christian schools in the Midwest, and attend one of the many local churches in the area. I am often asked what church I go to.
I do not go to church. I find my community at jazz bars, protest rallies, and on front porches. I find my teaching from life, the internet, books,and lived experience. My worship is in nature and marching; my entertainment from quality artistry (like F.K.A. Twigs, Bjork, and Bird); my prayer is guided meditation on UCLA online, and with the Muslim Ummah at solidarity and interfaith events, and my Sabbath on Friday nights with my Jihadi Jewish friend in Evanston. All of this is the Church in the world, Jesus incarnate, the people of Allah come together as one — the true communion.
That’s a mouth full to explain, so I tell them my frisbee mates that I am Muslim. Which is true, in a sense. Though, I am not dogmatic, mainstream, or traditionalist (whether that be in Christianity or Islam, clearly).
They reply, astonished, “Really?”
Not skipping a beat, I shoot back, “Yeah, are you not?”
“Am I the only one here?”
“Well, we all got a little Allah in us.”
At this point they turn and walk away. This is not hypothetical; it happens exactly as I’ve described. And that’s okay; there’s a lot of Allah in them. And they don’t have to see it for it to be true. Just like with the Church: it doesn’t have to be recognized for it to be here; the Kingdom of God is present in the world. This is because God is the connection between all of creation. Allah advocates for the freedom of prisoners, relief for the oppressed, and justice for the poor just as Jesus did, who of course influenced the Prophet (peace and blessings upon him). Yes, God and Allah are one, and they embody all of us, growing closer to their causes and creations are to grow closer to the One.
So what would these polite frisbee-rs think if I said all that (which I have been tempted to do. I enjoy deep conversations)? I can’t say for sure. But I know the next question is, “well, what about the divinity of Christ?” Let me say this: it’s a non-issue for me. Jesus could be the son of God, he could be holy, he could have risen from the grave (which is an excellent illustration of sacrifice, love, and power to the powerless, but it is not necessary for the salvation or comfort of the soul), and he could be a skeleton in an unmarked grave. I don’t really care, because it doesn’t affect my seat at the universal table of Grace and Love that is the communion circle, the Sabbath feast, or the iftar dinner.
Do people have the right to criticize my religion? Of course, but not to demean it. Segregation in America includes religious segregation. We are taught to be deeply fearful and suspicious of people different than us. This is a hallmark attribute of white American nationalism (aka “patriotism”), and dispensationalist theology. Additionally, it is difficult for many to understand multiple faiths co-existing in one soul while mainstream faiths frequently squabble with one another in the proverbial public square.
But just because I don’t sound like your average Christian or Muslim, doesn’t mean I’m not on equal footing to God and Christ. Moreover, I don’t forsake my equality and power (or anyone else’s) through bigotry, homophobia, racism, antisemitism, islamophobia, etc. Rather, my faith is buttressed by my multifaith experiences of connecting to God and God’s people, the Ummah, the Church, and the spiritual meditative journeys of people worldwide.
I am not a seeker, though I am curious. I am not complete, though I am also not broken. I am saved, but I never needed it. I have a lot to say, but want to be cordial and quiet. So I’ll just keep ranting about Palestine, listening to Jazz, making friends, and playing frisbee.