[comment] I don't know that you'll find as much relief in abandoning the label as you might think. ...[T]here is more than a rejection of a label involved, including yet another schism between you and the community of faith that, imperfect 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." :-)
No, I'm not Out but I want to be In in a whole different way. You are a new reader so you probably haven't read enough of my story to know that I've already deconverted entirely about twenty years ago and only this last year and half come back to the Christian name. So I know pretty much exactly what I can expect to find without using the label.
It's not like I've been involved in a local church and been part of a physical faith community that I am now going to abandon. This blog is my faith community and I'm not going to walk away from it. Nothing external is going to change at all, nor is most of the internal stuff—I'm not leaving any of my barely-even-within-yelling-distance-from-the-box views on spiritual matters.
The only thing that changes is the expectation I have perceived (most likely only from myself) that I conform to or rebel against conventional, stereotypical American Evangelicalism. Usually I like to live in that sort of tension—or, if like isn't quite the word, keep finding myself in that tension—but after all the work I've done this last year making peace with my demons, well, that sort of tension is just not something I am capable of thriving with for a while.
I certainly have HUGE issues left with Evangelical Christianity that will need to be addressed if I am to continue growing and not continue dying. I am committed to working through them, eventually. I want to exorcise enough of those old demons that I don't feel like I got kicked in the gut every time I hear my friend say, "Praise Jesus" when anyone else would say, "Oh, that's so great".
Should I have had any illusion about the existence of unexorcised demons, yesterday enlightened me! My daughter's theater company rehearses at a local church campus. We moms hang out in the church coffee shop. A church member came in to solicit our attendance at a yoga class she is starting up during the rehearsal time. I have been missing my yoga classes so I got excited—until she listed as her credential that she was Holy Yoga certified and explained how regular yoga is bad but Holy Yoga is good because there's all in English and with Christian music and prayers. I heard her every word like a fist to the chest. Yeah, I still got issues.
The whole point of the work of my last two years has been to tame the demons enough so that I can heal the schism between me and the two-thousand-year tradition of faith. I have done loads of work finding out just what that ancient tradition is—since it is definitely not merely today’s conventional American Evangelicalism projected backwards in time, as I had been taught—I have spent thousands of hours reading hundreds of thousands of pages about the history of Christianity, theological history and debate, and the development of various streams of Christianity. I probably have a graduate degree worth of education, if only I’d got academic credit!
It is time for a “summer break” to rest and recoup from the work. And as long as I continue to call myself Christian, I can't let go of the immediacy of the struggle. After the hell of my last several years, learning to accommodate my hysterical illness, a need to rest is something I take very seriously.
This rest, different from previous times in my life, is one I can now take knowing that I have found a peace with Jesus and the Christian God that I never had before—as a Christian or as a heathen. This is definitely giving myself a chance to "rest in the Lord" rather than a "shaking the dust off my feet" as it was when I ran howling into heathendom twenty years ago.
[comment] …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.
Ah, good, I was hoping you weren’t trying to tell me to “stay the course, fight the fight” without recognition of the natural rhythms necessary to success. Because that would have inspired a whole ‘nother kind of sermon right back at ya. Now I can address your larger point: the mutuality of working, living, growing, and healing in community.
I so deeply agree with you that I see your point as one of the rock bottom foundations of my continuing journey with Christianity—with or without taking on the name. I have been deeply scarred, irretrievably bent/shaped/changed by Christianity. Learning to live with those scars, healing the remaining wounds, thriving in my own now-quirky way, is only possible by being in community. In so many ways, deepest healing can only come at the hands of those that hurt—maybe not the exact people but those who represent them for me. I cannot consider myself truly healthy until I can participate with my whole self in that community that taught me to be only part of myself.
Finding myself, stopping the worst of the continuing damage, could only happen by stepping out of the Christian community and embracing heathendom in all its secular, passionate glory. But having found that God is also a heathen, I needed to find that God could also be Christian. That has been the great success of my last two years. I found myself at a heathen as well, and will eventually need to find that I can be a Christian. But that work is for the future.
For today, I have found it ironic—inspiring many a chuckle at myself—that, while I am demanding so insistently that I am relinquishing the name of Christian, I have subscribed to a half dozen new blogs (all overtly and directly Christian), started a new Pandora station on my iPhone (Mahalia Jackson), and also just bought myself a new Bible (that I’m actually reading without undue PTSD). I may not claim the name anymore but I sure haven’t run very far away!