Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Christians In Exile: Part 1- New Beginings

Where is the boundary between Christianity and everything else, and if we step over this boundary are we still considered Christians? Recently Don Rogers over at Reflections posted a Blog series on a new vision of Christianity, Jesus, and the relationship between this new vision and traditional Christianity. This is a very personal topic on religious identity that I continue to struggle with since I am surrounded by those within traditional Christianity that can not accept me as one of their own. I have written a few posts on how I view myself within Christianity which can be found in three parts, here.

[Emperor Cyrus the Great of Peria allowing The Hebrews to Return to the Holy Land, Jean Fouquet, 1470]

This is a 3 part response to Don's three posts on what it means to be a Christian in Exile, what Jesus means to an Exile, and the never ending journey as a Christian in Exile. Please read these before moving on.

Moving away from traditional protestant Christianity was a slowly evolving process for me. It began innocently when I realized that there were other traditions, sayings, and teachings of Jesus Christ in other faiths, especially Islam, where I began (To read my struggle between Christianity and Islam, click here.) a study on the three monotheistic faiths. That is when I realized the struggle humanity has endured in attempting to describe the indescribable. It was through this realization and the fact that humans are fallible that I came to fully understand that no single faith (let alone one denomination) has all the answers nor can have an accurate and complete description of God.

Everywhere I turned I found different words, symbols attempting to describe a Presence, a Spirit, something beneath and behind our various veils of reality. For awhile I had labeled myself a non-Christian. In fact I didn't know what to call myself other than a monotheist since those within Christianity (friends, family, etc.) would not accept me as one of their own. I strayed from the faith and found myself outside its gates. This was when I realized that my religious identity as a Christian is not validated by others but by my spiritual journey. I now view myself as a Christian standing on Christianity's frontier, a Christian in exile.

I don't think I can ever find the appropriate words to describe my departure from Christianity without offending someone, nevertheless my journey beyond the borders of Christianity began as a pull towards something greater as I found the church teachings lacking. There were corners of my spirituality that traditional Christianity failed to illuminate: the unjust system of punishment and reward (traditional views of Heaven and Hell), the literal reading of spiritual texts, and the extreme exclusivity of all other beliefs, just to name a few. I realized that questioning these elements within the church would only lead to dead ends, and in some cases caused those I questioned to retaliate by questioning my faithfulness in God. I reflected on my faith in God ("Had I lost faith, or was I questioning the borders that define that faith?"), and further down the rabbit hole I went.

I felt that my faith in God, my spirituality, must be based on something more than recited beliefs I've been raised to believe. It must be grounded in something that binds humanity despite all of our differences, and those foundation stones to my spirituality are called compassion and love. All other components within my spirituality are just expressions of my foundation: prayer, theology, beliefs, etc. If compassion and love is equated with this Ground of Being (See Don's post for further explanation) how then do we learn what is truly loving and compassionate despite our fallible nature? We turn to those throughout history that have best understood and have became physical manifestations of what it means to live a loving and compassionate life. As a Christian, I believe that Jesus is my main example, compass, and guide in best understanding this Ground of Being but he is not my only example.

Don's title alone, Christians in Exile, had me thinking about the Jewish Exile to Babylon, the present-day Jewish diaspora, and the continuous creative reinvention and reinterpretation of the Jewish faith before I completed the article. Are Christians going through a religious exile like the Jews? As membership in churches across all denominations in the U.S. begin to dwindle are we approaching the cusp of a creative reinvention and reinterpretation of the Christian faith? Can we still be considered Christian as we sing this "new song to a new vision of God"? I do not know the answers to these questions yet, but I am glad I have fellow travelers along this journey so that we may seek out these answers together.

Christians in Exile Blog Series:
Part 1- New Beginnings
Part 2- Ille qui nos omnes servabit
Part 3 - The Never Ending Journey

Or, you can read all three back-to-back, here.


captron52 said...

Hopefully we are all evolving our beliefs where we can all live in peace and joy with an understanding far greater than we now show. More tolerance more peace more unity. May we all quickly see the light!!

Don said...

Eruesso- I am glad we met in the blogworld while on our separate journeys. The similarities in our journeys are striking despite the obvious difference in age. That's what is so exciting about this journey; the people we meet along the way. Sharing with one another what we experience and what we learn is the real value I have gotten so far. Thank you for being a friend.

Eruesso said...

And thank you Don as well. As I've mentioned many times before I have no local community to share with so I must adopt those I find in the online world. I am glad we met and I hope to meet many more people that I may share and grow with. (That includes you, Ronnie.)

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