Monday, April 11, 2011

I’m Not a Christian Anymore

At least, not in any recognizable or meaningful way.  According to most people who care about such things, I haven’t been a Christian for a long time anyway and my insistence this last year in using the name Christian has been an offence—even with the Heretic disclaimer prominently attached.  I am not changing my doctrinal positions (I had none anyway) or a faith in God (I tried atheism before and that just didn’t work well for a mystic). Nothing about me has changed at all, just the name.  I’m still debating whether to rename the blog or not.

I cast myself as a Christian Heretic a little over a year ago as I was working through the process of integrating my religious past with my spiritual present.  In that time, I’ve made peace with the Christian God, found a sense of Jesus that suits me, and stared down the darkest and meanest of my inner demons. It’s been a hell of a year.  Embracing the Christian name was a big part of my journey.  It gave me the ability to work from within my heritage instead of fighting myself as an outsider.  I did so much work that I just need to rest.  My soul is battered and bruised and needs to spend some significant time in Gilead

There is a balm in Gilead

To make the wounded whole; 

There is a balm in Gilead

To heal the sin-sick soul.

And I don’t think I can do that while keeping the name Christian.  Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of my Christian community is online and remarkably supportive of my heresies, I have nonetheless felt a constant pressure to conform, perform, reform.  Simply to stand my ground feels as though it requires a continuous effort to hold against the current of conventional thought.  This is not an indictment of any of my readers.  You have all been uniformly fabulous, gracious, kind, and loving.  More so that I ever expected when I began blogging.  In fact, this pressure is probably all in my own head, the result of yet-unresolved issues.  But I need to quit holding an identity whose very name triggers these internal pressures. 

I need to rest, regroup, recoup, not to continue breaking down old strongholds.  That will come someday but, for now, I need a long sleep.  So I am stepping outside the Christian identity, back to the place where I meet Grace without any baggage. I long for a time when I can be comfortable being a Christian solely on my own terms, without needing to challenge the paradigm, but that day is not now.  Now, I can’t seem to be a Christian without feeling the desire to get all up in the face of conventional institutional religion. 

My insistence on using the word Christian to describe my spirituality has become a boxing-in of myself rather than the freeing, whole-self inclusive soul-expansion that it has been.  The word itself feels like a weight pulling down from the backside of my chest. It is time to let it go.


  1. "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.." You call yourself by whatever label suits you, I will appreciate you just the same! =D

  2. (I don't know how to hyperlink that in my comments)

    Funny you should use that phrase, SS, I wrote a post almost a year ago using that very reference to talk about "what is Christian", although it turned more into a post about religious plurality than inclusive Christianity.

    Funnier still is how much lighter and easier I feel just relinquishing a meaningless label. I was thinking today as I replied to a FB comment that letting go of the name will let me be more of the Christian that I want to be.

  3. I have been on my own journey for the last few years. Christianity as it stands just doesn't suit me. The more questions I asked, the fewer answers I found. I finally decided "Freethinker" is the right term for me. I'm a spiritual person, but the label "christian" and all its assumptions and expectations just doesn't work for me.

    Have you read Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd? She comes to some interesting conclusions that may appeal to your mystical side, and I still think part of that book could have been written for me.

    I'm a first time reader of your blog- I saw a link to it on Twitter- but I'll be stopping in again.

    Cheers- you're on a courageous journey.

  4. Ashley, wow! I have links on Twitter? Cool. I skimmed The Dance when I first began exploring Christianity again but it didn't grab me. Maybe I'll look at it again. I'll add it to my Reader Recommendations book widget. Thanks for stopping by, come back soon.

  5. Sandra, you and your honesty inspire me. I admire your bravery to drop the label and your strength to know when you need a rest. I have neither of those things and sometimes I long for them. *hugs*

  6. Sandra! You won't believe it but originally my post today started differently it read: I Give Up(blog post title)followed by a plan to blog about freeing myself from the Christian label.

    And you're right that's exactly how I'd feel about it too: it'd be freeing.

    That makes me a little sad.

    I'd totally meet you in Chicago! :)

  7. Rachel, thanks for the props and I'm glad you are inspired. People have frequently called me "brave" or "courageous" or "strong" for the choices I made in life but each time I shake my head and wonder why. In each instance I took the option I did because for me there seemed no alternative that I could bear. The line between bravery and desperate foolhardiness fuzzy, l think. And sometimes it depends on the direction of observation--I feel desperate but you notice courage.

    You are more courageous than you think. i've read your new blog.

  8. Sandra, wow...we seem to be on the same page. I too felt that pressure to conform. My next two posts (already written but i try to limit my posts to 1/2 a week) are on church anxiety and one rambling about abandoning the label christian in exchange for seeker. Hang in there. I have found peace and healing in reliquishing control.

  9. Glad to find your site, Sandra!

    I could be wrong, but I don't know that you'll find as much relief in abandoning the label as you might think. Given some of my beliefs, I could probably do the same, and I'm sure there are Christians who wish I would, but I just won't give them the satisfaction. :-)

    I continue to seek, of course, but I guess for me, Christ is my home. He is my shepherd. And I have this sense though I stray seemingly ever further from mainline Christianity, the closer to true Christianity I come.

    Also, there is more than a rejection of a label involved, including yet another schism between you and the community of faith that, imperfectly though it may be, has guided seekers for centuries. I just don't like accepting the hegemony of their "Believe this or you're out." I want to respond to them, "No, I'm not out, and you're not out, either. You reject me all you want: I'll not reject you."

    Anyway, I'll say to you, "No, you're not out. Call yourself whatever, but you're not out, and Christ isn't done with you yet." :-)

  10. Steve, I resonate with your thoughts, and you are correct in the importance of seeking and questioning in the context of community (although it might be necessary to seek more emerging or mainline community, whether online or IRL while one is in a questioning mood (which i sort of suspect will just be a phase). Yet for me, the whole christian agnosticism thing, trying to go to church a la pascal's wager, was really hard b/c of all the haunting memories. I have found healing and am closer to christianity now more than i have been for a long time...but there's a long road ahead i think. Does this make any sense?

  11. It definitely does, LAC, and as I read my comment again I'm afraid it looks like I'm dismissing the urge to step back and give oneself some breathing room, to distance oneself from harmful associations. I understand all that.

    But as you said, a lot of our healing can best be done in community, and I do believe that God has people within fallible Christian communities who can support and with whom seekers like ourselves can engage in the Christian mission of helping the hurting, etc. Here's the danger I alluded to: you might well be able to accept them if they're still calling themselves Christians, but ceasing to call yourself one might well sever some relationships or close some opportunities. As painful as it is, I think constricting our perhaps more free minds into these communities models Christ's persistence despite suffering and rejection by his own. We don't have record of his rejecting the label of "Jew" in favor of the free-thinking "Christian" label! :-D

    Crap. I'm sermonizing again.

    Sandra, I really like the name Gileadite. Maybe it could bespeak both your need for balm and your commitment to being balm to the hurting.

  12. Steve, thanks for your comment. I started a reply to you but got so long-winded that I'm going to turn it into a post of its own! I look forward to continuing the conversation--and to reading your blog. Looks good.

  13. As I read this blog post, I could not help but identify. At first, I realized that I was not as far along the journey as you are; “I AM a Christian,” I reaffirmed. Yet, as I read further and realized how I’ve rejected the concept of original sin and therefore the need for the traditional fundagelical interpretation of salvation (conversion), I recognize that I have forsaken—at least for now for we all are a journey that tends to have unexpected twists and turns—central truths of Christianity.

    As I journaled this morning, I sense the Bible can be summed up in a single word: relationships. It is our relationship with God, with one another, and with our environment that defines what the Bible (what God?) is trying to tell us. Now, the fundies would claim that our original sin, compounded by our daily sins (oh, we are such awful creatures!), have made the personal application of the atonement a necessity to enact those relationships. I don’t see that in Jesus’ teaching, however; I don’t accept it.

    (Even as I write that, I feel guilt for doing so—not so much before God, but what will others think of me?)

    You and I have both come a long way since our blind acceptance of narrow so-called truths of Christianity. Rest for a while; let things sink in. And while you do, enjoy God during the time you are not working on analysis, which leads to paralysis, which kills enjoyment. Lighten up … and for ME to say that is really something of a change!

    Terry Gray

  14. Terry said, "... I was not as far along the journey as you are; “I AM a Christian,” I reaffirmed."

    I don't think you mean this the way I read it--as if the goal of spiritual seeking is to leave behind the institutions of faith--but maybe you do see it that way.

    Really, my goal is just the opposite! I long to be so spiritually healthy that I can partake of institutional religion again--ignoring (or changing) what harms, and being nourished by what feeds the soul.

  15. All I meant to say was this, my knee-jerk was, “Of course, I am a Christian, still.” But then as I thought a bit more deeply, I realized that I had left behind some of the basics of Christianity. Not that that is the goal of my spiritual search; it has simply happened that way. To see myself as okay, without all “the shame that stole love,” I cannot accept the concept that I was born a sinner and I sin every day. Some can put that all in the same pot, but I cannot, at least right now. (I think human error is of another stripe than this matter of sin.)

    My goal is the exactly same as yours (your last paragraph). Right now I am still having difficulties with ignoring certain things, like the weekly confession. Maybe I simply have to redefine what I personally am confessing. There is little in the millennia-old liturgy that I can change.

    But, as I mentioned, who knows what is around the next turn on the path? That would probably not be changing the liturgy but changing me some more.

    My goal is to have peace with God and my fellow human beings. All the shameful shit of my past beliefs prevented that. I see God (not god) and myself differently now, and (hopefully) soon will be seeing people differently. The fundagelical enculturation is pretty firmly fixed, and I may toss out a baby or two with the bathwater before reclaiming the babies. You know how that goes.

    Sorry if I did not clearly convey what I wanted to.

    Terry Gray

  16. Terry,

    Knowing you, I was pretty sure I was misinterpreting, but I wanted to give you the chance to clarify your words.

    I recently read "Jesus Freak" and one of the things she mentions about getting involved in your faith in a real and meaningful way is rewriting liturgy. Interesting and challenging book.

  17. Saw your comment on Permission to Live and so glad I hopped over to check out your blog! I'm going through my own struggle with labels. Raised Mormon, left that to search for something, concluded there's nothing, started a blog as an atheist but now am shedding that label as I'm learning about new ways to conceptualize and think about God. I think the only reason I took the atheist label was because I didn't want anyone thinking I believed in that God (the bipolar sky bully, as I call him). I go to an Episcopal church and like the teachings of Jesus but don't really consider myself Christian. Basically, I'm a seeker, and I don't expect I'll ever arrive at any static destination. I'm weary of people trying to insist that I fit into a box with a label. My religious beliefs on Facebook says simply "It's complicated." And changing too fast to slap any labels on it!

    Great blog! I'll be sticking around!

  18. Lolz Sandra, I love the responses on your blog almost as much as your blog! =D

  19. Oh and I hope you don't change the blog name! It's wonderful. This is just another chapter in the chronicle :)

  20. " I didn't want anyone thinking I believed in that God (the bipolar sky bully, as I call him)"

    Oh, Leah, that is just the funniest and true-est statement! I've heard the conventional Christian god call a bully cop but your description is just perfect. I live in a Mormon belt (and an Evangelical mega-church belt) so I can feel that god in the air sometimes--especially at homeschool gatherings. And I sooo don't want that god to rule my life anymore.

    It was a real struggle--one I have successfully reconciled--to accept that Christian identity and have to face that god down. As a heathen, I could and did ignore that god for long years but I never really kicked him off the playground (so to speak). Finding a way to reconcile the Christian God (the one whose followers are actually nourished by Christianity) with the Mystical Divine with whom I communed as a heathen has been soul-wracking for me. I almost didn't accept the name Christian simply out of fear that I would not be able to find the God in the god.

    Now that I really know (*kennen* not *wissen*, see Authority of God II) that God is God and is found anywhere one looks, even in Christianity, I have no more fear of a bipolar sky bully. .... It is only the people of god I fear.

  21. Shadow, I do attract such interesting people to this blog, don't I? Blogging has surpassed my expectations in so many ways--the most surprising way is the conversations in my comments. You guys have been such godsend to me this last year. And I totally never expected anyone to read my blog. Not only have I had readers, but I have really great readers!

    Michelle, I don't have plans to change the name of the blog--I really like The Chronicles, too--it was just a question that passed through my mind. No other name suits this place as well.

  22. Oh. My. Goodness. ***I’M SO EXCITED TO FIND YOUR BLOG!*** and resonate so much with the few posts that I’ve read! I, too, have been wondering lately if I can or even should self-identify as a Christian. So much of what I’ve come to believe just in the last year or so no longer aligns with “Christian doctrine.” I was afraid of where many of my questions and insights were leading me for a long time, but when I finally began to allow myself to question the doctrine of atonement, I just let go and went. In the absence of the fear-induced resistance, it just all fell apart very rapidly: the doctrines of hell, atonement, the trinity, the deity of Jesus, original sin…basically everything. None of ‘em made any sense to me anymore!

    I’ve been “out of church” for 8 years, and I think it’s taken that long to get most of the conditioning and pre-conceived notions out of me! (I’m sure there’s more that I just haven’t recognized yet!) While I’m sure that if I revealed what I really believe to the Christians that I know, they would no longer consider me a Christian, I know that I am a follower of the Christ way. So I do still identify as a Christian…

    Thank you for your blog, for putting some of the things I’ve been pondering into words, and also for doing this as a woman! There are many men who are asking these questions and writing about these things, and that’s wonderful - but it’s sure nice to hear a fellow female’s voice!

  23. Mae,

    Welcome and thank you. Finding my voice was a major goal for my blogging. A year later, I think maybe I might have one!

  24. Maybe a mystical heretic? IF one can be a mystic and any kind of heretic. I too have unmoored from my Christian background but have made peace with GOD (who is the GOD of all no matter what we call him/her) and have a sense of the Christ that works for me...not sure I've stared down any inner demons this year, but I have done so in the past & I am hoping you manage to stay with us no matter what you call yourself!!!


  25. I'm definitely mystic.. I don't know if it is possible to be a heretical mystic (since a mystic is by definition identified by his/her own personal inner experience) but loads of mystics have been heretics. I'd be in good company there.

  26. You might appreciate this post in which I give up the name, and then this one in which I take it back. :)

    Grateful I found your blog (via Steve Douglas).

  27. Kay, thanks for stopping by and sharing your blog. How did you hyperlink in the comments? I am forever wanting to do that but don't know how.