Here’s the Question:
Just a short question: I have a Christian background, but the way I understand the message of Jesus and the Hebrew Bible makes me to avoid calling myself a Christian, mainly for similar reasons as described in your book A New Kind of Christianity. Instead of saying good-bye to the whole Bible, I spent almost half my lifetime (36) studying and searching to find an understanding of the message of Jesus that makes more sense to me.
After reading your two latest books, I really want to share some of my understandings but it feels to big to do this on my own. So I thought about working with initiatives like CANA. Maybe to start it here in Europe (the Netherlands). But CANA seems to be presented foremost like a Christian initiative, instead of an initiative where a lot of Christian involvement/inspiration takes place, but in essence transcends a particular religion.
Do you think I have to look further and/or start something on my own, or would you suggest I read the information on the website a little better?
Here’s My Response:
Thanks for your questions. First, I understand why you would want to distance yourself from the word “Christian” while still wanting to follow Jesus. I talk about this (using the term “Conflicted Religious Identity Syndrome”) in my latest book.
I continue to use the word “Christian” for several reasons, including …
1. To distance myself from my fellow human beings in the Christian religion doesn’t seem like a Christ-like thing to do. Jesus drew near to all in solidarity, including those of his own religious heritage from whom he differed in many ways, so I should do so too.
2. I choose to identify as a Christian as a way of expressing solidarity with others, whatever their religion. In other words, I open my heart to all people as a Christian, not apart from Christianity, and not in spite of being a Christian. I would hope that my Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, atheist, and other neighbors could do the same. If one has to leave a religion to express solidarity with others, that’s sad and not good for anyone, so I hope to practice a better way.
3. Christianity is my heritage, and I don’t want to deny or cover that up. I think of what the Dalai Lama told a Muslim friend of mine who told him he wanted to become a Buddhist. “Why?” the Buddhist teacher asked. “Because Buddhism is the religion of compassion,” my friend answered. “Don’t become a Buddhist,” the Dalai Lama said. “The world needs more Muslims who practice compassion, so be what you are in a more compassionate way.”
But I respect the fact that many people feel they cannot in good conscience continue to identify with Christianity, and I know that not everyone will resonate with reasons like these.
It’s interesting you mention the CANA initiative. We are having our first meeting this week in Washington, DC. Although Cana will be a US initiative, it is relevant to your concern because we will do our best to embody a Christian ethos and identity that people like you and me will feel more honest and authentic associating with.
There is a need for hundreds of people to organize similar initiatives in their contexts – whether it’s the Netherlands or Nigeria, Jamaica or Australia. Fortunately, an international group has formed to encourage this process. It’s called “mesa,” which is “table” in Spanish. You can learn more here:
We recently gathered in Thailand for our first face to face meeting, which you can learn about (and “like”) here: https://www.facebook.com/mesafriends
It too is a Christian initiative, but holds that identity in a “generous” way. I hope you’ll look into it, and maybe you’ll create a “table” for conversation in the Netherlands. I know that many would be interested in joining you.