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“Do you want to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?”

For most of my life, a personal relationship with Jesus was the center of my faith. The Biblical story was summed up in a personal exchange of my sins for God’s salvation. I’d never heard of “corporate” worship let alone collective guilt or confession. Social justice didn’t seem to matter as long as I wasn’t the one who was racist or going astray.

Today, my notion of a personal relationship with Jesus has been deconstructed, it lies like a thousand Lego pieces across the table of my spirituality. Embracing my role in the world beyond a one-to-one relationship with the Divine has been difficult. It’s led me into tension: the tension of seeing systematic injustice as my problem; the tension of holding numerous theological traditions in balance; the tension of faith that is nuanced and debated because it is witnessed by more than my own eyes. I’ve found what I didn’t know I wanted: faith that exists well beyond my personal status on the divine grade sheet.

But the pendulum has swung the other way.

My struggles with some of the problems that come from a heavy focus on one’s personal relationship with God has resulted in me neglecting mine altogether. It’s like I helped plan the prom but forgot to ask my SO to go with me. My rejection of an ego-centric faith has become a hall-pass for holding God at arms-length.

Take, for instance, confession. I’ve become rather comfortable with confessing my role in oppressive and systematic injustice. Which is good. The world needs more straight, white, men who point to their towers of privilege and declare that they’re feats not of architecture brilliance but of oppression.

But I can (and do) hold such sin at arms-length. While corporate confession should involve personal grief, it’s all-too-easy for me to bypass it. I confess the oppressive nature of my white privilege on my Facebook feed, close the computer and then go on with my evening. But confessing arrogance, gluttony, and excessive drinking? Those require that I shut up then pass-up on the second taco and margarita, even if its Tuesday. It requires energy and humility; it requires that rather than face confession as a “we” I face it as just a “me.” It requires that I stand before God, alone, just me, waiting in the isolation of what I’ve done to hurt others, waiting for grace to intercede on my behalf; waiting because some fires we start together, but other times I’m the only one holding the match.

All of this feels like a drift into legalism and shame. And it goes back to the root of my frustrations with an isolated emphasis on the personal. I wish that half the time I’d spent as a teenager confessing lustful thoughts to my ‘accountability partner’ had gone toward advocating against the police brutality that took place in my hometown. I wish that I’d cared more about how gay kids in my high school were treated than whether or not I was ‘saved.’ I wish that the core teaching of Jesus dying for all my sins had been corrected prior to planting a cavity of shame deep within my own being.

But if I live in the regret of these errors, I’ll only perpetuate others. You can’t hike a trail backward, wishing you’d taken a different turn, without wandering off the path altogether.

I may vote for generous policies for the marginalized but how many vacation days do I spend in a soup kitchen?

I may call for racial reconciliation, but do I have the humility to develop deep enough relationships with people of color that my own racist tendencies might come to light?

Do I berate misogyny but value my own recognition in the workplace above that of others?

I may advocate for sexual minorities, but do I honestly wrestle with the dark corners of my sex life?

I don’t believe that my calls for reform in the church are unfounded. But I’ve thrown out the baby with the bathwater while calling myself an advocate for adoption. Neglecting my personal relationship with God quickly leads me to a faith that is directionless at best, blindly hypocritical at worst.

Grace is tension; it demands that I acknowledge the darkness around me enough to know when I’ve been liberated from it. It demands that I live in the tension of personal culpability alongside corporate confession and systematic advocacy.

I want to live in that tension; Christ calls me to that tension. It’s time to take two steps forward in terms of advocacy, but also find a way to take one step back, back to me and God, back to personal.

Whatever the results of today’s election…

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Whatever the result of today’s election, Donald John Trump and Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton are still made in the image of God.

Whatever the result of today’s election, Trump supporters are still God’s children. Clinton voters are too. Yes, all of them. And God wants all his children to be near to him. He mourns when they mourn. He hears them when they sing and when they pray.

Whatever the results of today’s election, there are still reasons to be thankful for this country and the people who run it. We are allowed to vote. We are allowed to speak out against politicians we do not support. We write our own history books. We have running water. We do not live under the imminent threat of foreign invasion.

Whatever the results of today’s election, America will one day be judged by a righteous judge. And we will be held accountable for the things we’ve done as a nation, from bombs dropped in the name of peace to humanitarian aid delivered to war-torn regions. It will be grace that saves us from the ugliness of our sins, our racism, our oppression, our greed, and gluttony. Only grace.

Whatever the result of today’s election, God’s kingdom is coming to this earth and his plan will, one day, be accomplished in full. Whatever the result of today’s election, his will is being done and his kingdom is coming right now, even in the smallest of ways, even when we can’t see it. Even when we don’t understand. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am praying for a specific outcome in today’s election. I voted for a candidate. My heart breaks at the thought of the other candidate winning; anger and frustration rise within me whenever I hear them speak. And I struggle to find the humility to love the other side.

But whatever the result of today’s election, it will be grace that saves me tomorrow. And it will be grace that convicts me to be a citizen of heaven in an earthly kingdom.

Because whatever the result of today’s election, I need to remember that I am one who follows Christ. This defines me. This directs me. This compels me to love others and love the world God has created. To love justice, to walk humbly and in grace.

And it forces me, whatever the results of today’s election, to live life as a conversation with God, and to invite others into that conversation, no matter who they voted for.

It is a simple conversation. It is also infinitely mysterious.

It goes something like this:

The people: “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.”

Jesus: “It is finished.”

The people: “Amazing grace, has saved a wretch like me…

 

…whatever the results of today’s election.”

37 Signs That You Were a Christian Kid Born in the 90’s

Christian kid

Growing up in the Christian subculture was a unique experience. As was growing up in the 90’s. Those of us who emerged from a blend of these two backgrounds share common-experiences, cultural bonds and traits that make up who we are- and what we believe- today.

Here’s just a few of them:

1.) All you need to know you learned from:

2.) You seriously questioned whether or not you should read the Harry Potter books when they first came out…because witches.

3.) This was what you watched at every youth-group movie night for, oh- about sixteen years:4.) Most of the anxiety in your life can be traced back to the Left Behind series:

Will YOU be??

 

6.) Avalon, Steven Curtis Chapman, Plus One, OC Supertones and, lest we forget:

7.) Speaking of which: you know all the words to “Jesus Freak.”

8.) …and your first AOL screename was derived from the title (JSUSFreakgurl3599)

9.) Today, as an adult, you sometimes feel as though the faith of your youth propagated an us verses them mentality against the culture and ‘the world.’

10.) When you started dating you learned the meaning of a DTR

11.) But then you kissed dating goodbye:

 

    (…and that hat too, I hope.)

12.) You’re not sure what Jesus would do..but he sure as h-e-doublehockeysticks would wear this bracelet:

13.) …and ironically (though not until now) your entire conservative, non-denominational youth group all wore rainbow versions of the above-mentioned.

14.) You had a lot of great experiences at church as a child, but sometimes feel like God was missing from them; and now you struggle to see how that faith is relevant to this life.

15.) You weren’t allowed to watch the Simpsons…because they make fun of Christians!

(though it does justify your previously mentioned anxieties about Harry Potter).

16.) You didn’t shop at Abercrombie and Fitch but did buy:

17.) You wanted (and tried) to vote Republican– at age 9.

18.) You can finish this bridge: “Scanned the cafeteria for some good seating / I found a good spot by the cheerleaders eating…”

19.) The first time you went to Mexico was on a missions trip the second time was on an all-inclusive cruise…sometimes you get the two mixed up. 

20.) You didn’t date your first love, you courted them… and it’s about as awkward as it sounds.

21.) Sometimes you long for the days when faith (and life, really) was black-and-white.

22.) You think Nicholas Cage is a poser, because:

23.) The first rapper you listened to was Kirk Franklin.

24.) You remember visiting the Creation Museum for the first time- you wondered then (and wonder now) if faith always has to come at the cost of science.

25.) It’s not Christmas without Amy Grant and it’s not Christmas (evidently) unless you’re in Tennessee.

26.) Your first kiss was at the youth group lock-in.

27.) Your first broken bone was at youth group, during a game of red rover.

28.) So was your second.

29.) That youth pastor was fired.

30.) You’ve done communion with Surge and Cheese-Its.

31.) That youth pastor wasn’t fired.

32.) You got a purity ring on your 13th birthday:

33.) Today you are fearful that members of your church might find out what you did while wearing it.

34.) The phrase “Touched by an Angel” prompts nostalgia, and this never seemed weird to you….until now.

It’s like a face-off with the board of Planned Parenthood

 

35.) Harvest parties not Halloween. Done.

36.) You accepted Christ nine times- usually at church lock-ins. Today you often wonder about those in the world who don’t get a chance to accept Christ. “Is the Christianity orf my youth really the only hope?” You’re not entirely sure. And you’re not sure who to ask.

37.) But what cheers you up is when you read the Bible and encounter a story you’ve definitely heard before… on Veggie Tales:

In a research project titled Faith That Lasts the Barna Group looked to identify the reason why nearly three out of every five young Christians (59%) walk away, either temporarily or permanently, from their faith after the age of 15. Their conclusion, after five years of interviews, surveys and case studies, was that

“No single reason dominated the break-up between church and young adults. Instead, a variety of reasons emerged.”

The most prevalent of these reasons being:

  1. Churches seem overprotective.
  2. Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.
  3. Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
  4. Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
  5. They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
  6. The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

Christian heritage is a wonderful thing. But it comes with its share of baggage. One of the great challenges for those of us entering adulthood is rectifying the realities of faith with the questions of our world. How does Jesus matter outside of Vacation Bible School? Is the notion of ‘purity’ we learned as kids truly pertinent to faith? Is there room on the straight and narrow for our wide and over-bearing questions? Where do I belong? 

What we have to remember- what we’re coming to learn- is these 37 things are not the cornerstone of our faith. The foundation of Christian faith is not what we do, how we identify ourselves or the way we grew up- the foundation of Christian faith is grace. Grace that permeates our homes, childhood and new beginnings; grace that opens up the gates and invites all to enter; grace that answers our questions with a gentle smile; grace that confronts our doubt with outstretched hands; grace that reminds us that we are caught up in it every minute of every day.

Maybe we can come to see our upbringing with all its traits, flaws, debaucheries, guffaws, legalities and nuances– maybe we can come to see these, not as relics of our disillusionment but as the quirky means of ordinary grace.

If we can accomplish this then maybe, just maybe, our reasons for leaving the faith can become the transformative means of God’s grace in this ongoing journey. Maybe we can take the good and the bad, knowing that Christ sees all of it as somewhat peculiar (at best) and yet loves us anyway. Maybe we can reform our hearts instead of leaving our traditions. Maybe renewal is possible and redemption- even of the most idiotic aspects of our backgrounds- does have a chance.

Maybe. Just maybe.

If nothing else, it’s worth a try.