Why I’m a Christian, Still

Why I’m a Christian, Still August 5, 2015

shutterstock_147358865The relentless religious decline of my fellow Americans doesn’t really surprise me — even as I am one who loves the church, claims it as my spiritual home, and wonders why people don’t “get it” the way do. It’s just that I know too many perfectly wonderful people – friends, family, colleagues – who simply hold zero to little interest in going to church or affiliating with a faith that is so often seen as being hypocritical, judgmental, and exclusive, not to mention irrelevant, old-fashioned and just plain boring (or worse yet, overly peppy!!!).

What perhaps surprises me more is that, given the statistics and anecdotal evidence that surrounds me every day, I remain a Christian. Specifically one who goes to church most Sundays of the year. What gives? Why, when so many people have drifted away and found a hundred other life-giving ways to spend their Sunday mornings, do I still choose to drag myself out of bed on a perfectly quiet weekend morning and drive a half hour to my imperfect little church?

Now, aside from the clearly obvious reason that my church is truly remarkable in its progressive vision, preaching and inclusive welcome (still not convinced? no, I didn’t think so), I have a few other thoughts. But first, some brief background.

My church-going life began when I was about nine years old, after my parents moved our family from the Bay Area to Denver. Everyone went to church in Denver. A new playmate of mine was the daughter of a United Church of Christ minister, and we all liked their family a lot, so we started going to their church. First Plymouth Congregational Church in a southern suburb of Denver became our new community. We went to church regularly, joined a bunch of other families every summer for community camp in the Black Forest, got confirmed, hung out in youth group, and socialized, served, and grew with this congregation. My parents and I belong there to this day. I am now adult friends with the men and women who taught me Sunday school and supervised youth group. My brother was married in the sanctuary a month ago. I sing in the choir, I’ve served on the Stewardship Committee, the Mission Team, and am a co-chair of our Web of Care ministry. All of this is to say, I don’t just attend church now and then; I’m committed. And…I really, really love it.

But why? Why am I a Christian, still? I’ve attempted to distill it down into six reasons, purely subjective, deeply personal, and surely eclectic, as to why I stick around when most of my friends have long left the building.

1.  When Jesus comes to dance with you, it’s hard to leave the dance floor.

In my late 20s, I took a job at the San Francisco Theological Seminary, serving in the Program in Christian Spirituality. My very first week, my boss sent me on a week-long retreat at Lake Tahoe, where I learned contemplative prayer, lectio divina, and experienced for the first time a God who was imminent and not just transcendent. One evening during communion, as I was singing with my eyes closed, Jesus came to me, took my hands, and began swirling me around and around, like a Dad swinging his little kid in the park. Jesus and I were laughing and dancing; his hair was flowing behind him in this crazy bright sunshine, and he had the biggest, warmest smile on his face. It was the most joyful prayer experience I’ve ever had and certainly the most intimate experience to date with the person of Jesus. It hasn’t happened quite that way since, but when Jesus comes and dances with you — even once – you don’t leave the dance floor.

2. Being Christian fits me with Love glasses.

“And we were put on Earth a little space/ To learn to bear the beams of love.” – Walt Whitman

I believe I care more about the people around me, my community, and the world at large because I’m a Christian. This is not to say in any way that you can’t care about the world if you’re not Christian, I just attribute my own capacity for caring to my sense of being loved by God and being called to return that love. I try to see the world through a lens of love, instead of a lens of fear (hard and daily work). Christianity has taught me to put on Love glasses; my church community helps me not to lose them. And it’s a discipline that I believe makes me a better, more generous, and more compassionate person.

3. When you lose it in church, women come to comfort you.

When I returned to Denver in my early 40s after living in California for nearly 20 years, I went through a painful separation and eventually, a divorce. The first Sunday I returned to the church I grew up in as a new divorcee, I was overcome by a strong grief cocktail of guilt, confusion and despair, mixed with a strong sense of being home and being known. I completely broke down at the end of the service and began sobbing in the pew. Instead of being embarrassed and running to the restroom, I just sat there, letting the tears flow. Several women — some who knew me as a young girl, and others who had never met me — came to me to comfort me with soft words, nods and kleenex. Church was, and is, the place I can bring my grief (as well as joy) in the full hope of being seen, heard, and healed.

4. Church grounds me like nothing else, in ways I never quite understand.

Hiking in the mountains grounds me. Lying in my hammock on a still summer evening grounds me. Snuggling with my scruffy dog, Buster Brown, grounds me. But going to church grounds me in a different way I can’t really put a finger on. All I know is when I miss too many Sundays in a row, I begin to feel untethered. Less… human. My life begins to be about me, and my problems, and my needs, and my desires. Not that having all of those things is bad, it’s just that when “my life” begins to consume my days, they become very small, and shallow, and dimly lit. The church is a magnet that draws my heart back to God, and reminds me of a higher calling and purpose in this world: to love and serve others. And on Communion Sunday, when we all walk forward to receive the bread and wine; the old, the young, the big, the little, the gay, the straight, the brown, the white, I’m moved beyond words as I experience a taste of the Kingdom of God.

5. God keeps calling me back, no matter how far I stray or how much I forget my identity as “beloved.”

Another great gift of my time at the seminary was my coming to know myself as God’s “beloved.” And nothing I do seems to change God’s mind on that! In fact, I sense God wooing me, as a lover might, day by day –through nature, through people, through interactions and events. And unlike most other lovers, God is accessible and interested in me 24/7, inviting me to “please, come love the world, be in relationship with me, see what I see, smell what I smell, love how I love.” This God of second, and third, and fourth chances continues to call me back to life, and to love, and to possibility, when I’m feeling unlovable and listless.

 6. Which leads me to… Resurrection.

My beau has watched every episode of every season of Game of Thrones – and loved it. But this past season he got mad; mad enough to stop watching. They keep killing off all the good characters, he says, and it feels like nothing is sacred and there is no reason to keep watching the show. No one you care about survives. That’s pretty dismal. I couldn’t watch that show week after week. I have to see some kind of redemption to go on with the show. I have to believe that death doesn’t get the final bow, that there is something more behind that curtain. And I don’t necessarily mean a Heaven. I mean something more than what we’re experiencing here and now. Something mysterious is occurring behind the scenes. As David Wilcox sings, “There is evil cast around us. But it’s love that wrote the play.” Love has set the stage. And the story of Jesus offers me a glimpse of that, a glimpse of a Love that won’t leave any of its characters – beloved or otherwise – without a final bow. That has been a saving grace in my life, over and over again, and I see it play out in the lives of others, and in the natural world, every day.

So, what about you? Why are you still a Christian? Why do you stay when so many have left? Throughout the rest of the summer, we’ll be sharing our responses to the question here at the Progressive Christian Channel in conjunction with our stellar The Future of Progressive Christianity series, and I’ll link back to your favorite bloggers in this space as they post. And if you’re inspired to chime in with a guest post, send it to me (or send me your link) and you might just wind up here on Faith Forward as well.

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6 responses to “Why I’m a Christian, Still”

  1. You have articulated many of the reasons I am still a Christian. My life story is a bit different. I grew up in a Methodist church where my parents are charter members. Sunday school, confirmation, youth group, then I stopped. From sometime in my teenage years until I was 30 years old, the only times I stepped into a church was for weddings and funerals. It might have continued that way until I experienced deep tragedy in my life (which I will spare the details). I found myself at a crossroads and the deep feeling that I could no longer follow the path I was on. Since then I have rejoined the church of my youth which is a pretty progressive church (in the pulpit, maybe a bit more conservative in the pews). I have had the kind of imminent experience with the divine that you describe. I’m a leader within the church, and my wife is on the paid staff. Our friends are “church” friends. My youngest daughter attends a Christian college. Church and all that entails is part of the fabric of our lives. I’m not really sure how I could untangle it. When I hear that people have left the church with no intention of returning, I wonder just how committed they really were. Did they just show up on Sunday? Did they lose interest and rather spend Sunday mornings in a different way? Were they, as John Wesley said, “almost” Christians? I’m not claiming that I’m “altogether” Christian, although I try, and I’ll keep trying. Maybe those who left really never were there in the first place. Why? Maybe it’s the fault of “almost” churches. I have always felt that if you ask 100 people why they stopped going to church, you get 100 answers. Which makes it hard for churches to find ways to attract and keep congregants. Which I then find fault with churches who scramble to find the next killer program to attract and keep people in the doors. Maybe we’re just to leave it to God and keep being a light in the world until someone sees it in us.

  2. Deborah (Deb?)……no I don’t know you so it is Deborah,

    Just read your essay and I must say well done. Brava! I am a new Christian (came from Judaism) but I see the writing on the wall already. Thank God I have a small group of friends to meet with on a weekly basis. We read scripture, books (Pastrix right now) and we discuss our lives as Christians with its joys and challenges. I continue to look for a church home and maybe God will lead me to where he wants me to be or he may want me to be where I am. My favorite prayer is “I don’t know God, you know.” I think fellowship is important for continued growth in our relationship with God. I love my life as a Christian because for the first time I am sure of my relationship with God. In Judaism, not so much. Don’t get me wrong I loved being a Jew, but I am so grateful to Jesus for my salvation, God’s Grace in forgiveness and the Holy Spirit’s guidance, that simply being a Jew again would never be enough. I refer to myself as a completed Jew. Ha!

    God bless you and Shalom Adonai.

  3. Reasons I am still a Christian. I believe theres a mis-conception here that Christians don’t seem to realize. Concerning the Church, I’m sure more than once someone will ask you,” Where do you go to Church ?” or “Why don’t you go to Church ?” And people want to know why so many are leaving the Church. The problem here is that Christians use the word Church as if their” House of Worship” is the Church. The truth shall set you free, the truth here is, Your the Church, you don’t go to Church, your in Church everyday, every minute of the day. Your body is the Temple of God. It seem Christians think and lose their faith not in God, but themselves when they quit going to Church. They feel condemned for leaving the church and thus lose their faith and identity. Gee I wonder who is behind that mis-conception or “Lie”. You’ve got to realize, Your the Church, not that House of Worship you go to. Sure the devil wants Christians to think there in Church on Sundays only, that way He”the devil” can have you the other 6 days. and most Christians live their lives accordingly. They act like Christ only in Church on Sundays. But that’s what the World see’s and why people say, They like the teachings and the example of the way to live towards others, Jesus taught in the bible. but they don’t like Christians. I believe the reason for this is because of the mis-conception, Christians think they only go to church on Sundays and live that way ! When I realized I can’t go to Church because I’m already there, I can’t leave the Church, I am the Church. You as a Christian should live your life everyday, like your in your “House of Worship”, aka. The Church” because you are, and people are watching and so is God !! Quit condemning yourself for not going to church or leaving it, you haven’t. Christ is with you everyday, not just Sundays, Show the world everyday who the Real Church is “YOU”. You can choose what ever House of Worship you want to go to, or not go to. I choose to Worship God everyday with who ever has ears to hear and love that fellowship with them, and do as Jesus taught us to live towards others, because I’m in Church everyday, not just Sundays ! I’m not still a Christian because I go to Church, I’m still a Christian because I am the Church. Love in Christ, logan790 .

  4. Your first reason “When Jesus comes to dance with you, it’s hard to leave the dance floor.” as to why you are still a Christian is why I continue to be one too. I don’t know a time when I have not danced with Jesus. I loved going to church as a child and teen (slipped on church attendance in college). As an adult when the church did not act like Christ, it was hard for me to keep going. I did because I felt the presence of Christ and wanted to go to church to worship with the community. I often hear God saying that the church, imperfect though it may be, is still belongs to God and God wants me there with others who believe. God also reminds me that I am imperfect and even so I am called to walk with Christ.

  5. I wish I could feel this way about church. it’s how I would love to feel. But after a life time of fundamentalism, even walking into a church makes me anxious and afraid. Like I don’t belong there. Of course, i’ve never tried a progressive church, But right now the thought of getting up on a Sunday morning to be flogged by a right-wing, woman-hating, gay-bashing preacher is nauseating. I long for the type of church you attend!

  6. logan790 –

    Good point. Of course, being in a congregation that will comfort you when you dissolve into tears does offer some special attractions. Hearing the word of God proclaimed and interpreted does offer some special attractions. Sharing bread and cup with other ordinary humans does offer some special attractions.

    I wish you well in your walk.