When I was four or five, I thought I could fly. No, really. I started watching Superman. Clark Kent could do it. Why couldn’t I? I didn’t have a cape, though. Everyone knows the power is in the cape. So, I asked my grandmother to make me one. I showed her a picture of Superman’s cape. I told her I needed it to look exactly like the real thing. She said okay.
A month later, the cape arrived on my front door. I ran my fingers across the large S, and imagined where I might visit the first time I placed the cape on my back, extended my arm in the air and began to fly.
I prepared my things. I put on red shorts and a blue shirt and tied the cape around my back. I pulled my Red Ryder wagon out of the garage and into the front yard. I climbed on top of the wagon, shuffled towards the rear, took two large steps, and then one giant leap.
The ground never felt so hard. My lip and nose never hurt so bad. I cried, either from pain or disappointment. My whole world was shattered. I had big plans. I had lands to visit. I had lives to save. Why couldn’t I fly? What did I miss? I knew the answer was nothing. Sometimes reality welcomes you like a good friend and sometimes it hits you with the force of a thousand tons.
I think we all have these moments, though, at different points in life, when we’re so sure about something only to have life bloody our lip and force us to reassess. Life is hard. This is one of the truest maxims of being human. You go full steam towards something – a marriage, a job, etc. – never thinking this something might fail. Then, it does.
Sometimes, this happens with faith. There was a time when I was so sure about everything. That wasn’t too long ago. I was sure about God. I was sure about my church. Life hummed along like a Mary Poppins song. I walked around with bravado.
Then, I received my first bloody lip. A pastor at the church where I worked sat me down and told me he was worried about my family’s salvation. My theology, he said, was flawed, and if I didn’t change, I might not live with God forever. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This man knew me. He knew my heart. I wasn’t even sure what part of my theology he was talking about. I thought I was mainline. I was.
Slowly, my faith began to unravel. It felt like death. Once again, I was plopped against the side of my Red Ryder wagon, lip bloodied. Here’s the thing about falling down, though. You can get back up with a clearer, truer sense of reality. When I got up from my Red Ryder wagon as a five-year-old, I knew I would never fly. And, over time, I came to accept my limitations. I could live in a truer, more meaningful reality. And so it is with faith.
What is transformation?
Christian folks talk a lot about transformation. It’s a buzz word. It’s also a mysterious word. What does it mean? How do you transform? I think we know the answer, but we don’t like it, so we search for something more palatable, an answer that’s easier to digest. Transformation is quite simple: it’s when something old falls away. Transformation is when you let go of something you’re addicted to, something that used to serve you, guide you, move you along in life, like a set of beliefs.
We don’t like that, though. We don’t like letting go, do we? I don’t. It feels like death. It is death, in a sense. At some point, however, life will force you to let go, to re-examine your worldview, your theology, your perceptions of God. How you respond in these moments determines the quality of your days moving forward. Will you kick and scream and become bitter? Will you scratch and claw to protect this outdated worldview? Or will you let go and transform? Will you release your grip on certainty and embrace a new way forward.
Through a lot of hard work, that’s what I did. I decided to let go of some old, outdated parts of my faith. I want to share some of these things. Now, understand, you might not agree with what I’m about to say. That’s okay. I’m not the ultimate authority, and I leave open the possibility that I’m not right. Correctness is a silly goal to pursue anyway.
Here are 8 things I used to believe about being a Christian.
1. We are inherently sinful.
The Bible begins in Genesis 1, not Genesis 3. In Genesis 1, God creates man, look down on him, and says he is good. And that’s what we are. At our core, we are love. We are created in the image of God.
Original sin is a shame-based identity. It’s a proclamation about who you are, a proclamation that runs counter to who God has already claimed you to be. You are NOT born sinful. Every inclination in your heart is NOT towards wickedness.
You are good. You are holy. You are love.
Original sin is a mockery to God. It tells God that what he creates is inherently flawed. We should repent for believing such a thing. Sure, we make mistakes. We sin. But sin is NOT our identity.
2. God is male.
Can we agree that God is outside of gender? Sure, God is male. But God is also female. God is also neither male nor female. We use these terms to help us make sense of God. In reality, though, God is beyond language. God is outside of words.
Why does this matter? It matters because a male-dominated image of God has limitations, especially if, like me, you have a large father wound. For a long time, I thought God was distant and angry. I thought that because of my experience with my father. If my Christian community had taught me that God is nurturing and attentive and caring, maybe I wouldn’t have spent so many years fighting with my Creator. Maybe I wouldn’t have spent so much of my life afraid of God, running around trying to prove myself.
Our image of God shapes who we become. I believe God is male. I also believe God is female. We need both images if we hope to become whole.
3. The Bible is the primary revelation of God.
I no longer believe the Bible is the primary revelation of God. I believe creation is the primary revelation of God. Creation existed long before sacred texts. For many, many years, God’s people didn’t have anything resembling the Bible. They had creation and each other and that was enough.
When creation is the primary revelation of God, we’re more attuned to reality. We’re more connected to one another. We look for God in the world, which is the point of the Bible anyway, to remind us that regular people can hear from God in life-changing ways.
I love the Bible. But I don’t want to become a Christian who knows the Scriptures inside and out, but has no idea how to interact with God in the world. What have I gained if I can recite large swaths of Matthew, but I don’t care about the plight of my neighbor?
4. Complementarianism is God’s design for men and women.
Complementarianism says men and women have separate, but equal roles. That’s not true, though. The roles given to women, according to this view, are mostly secondary roles, helping and aiding men. Women are under men and must submit to them.
I’ve listened to and learned from too many gifted women teachers to believe women can’t lead. They can, and they should. We hamstring the coming of God’s kingdom when we refuse to allow women to teach and lead. How different might our churches look today if we never adopted this view? They would be healthier, more balanced and nuanced.
God’s kingdom shouldn’t recognize gender roles. God doesn’t recognize male or female, as Paul says in Galatians 3. I’m not the head of my household. Tiffani and I share leadership and parenting roles. She’s not under me. I’m not under her. We work together. Sometimes she leads because she’s more suited for it. Sometimes I lead.
Biblical headship and submission aren’t things. Christian patriarchy made them things. We can say this view gives men and women equal roles, but it doesn’t. This view keeps men in power. It keeps men on top.
5. Heaven and hell are future destinations.
Much of the Christian imagination centers on what happens after you die. That’s a great strategy for building large churches. It’s not a great strategy for growing people into the image of God. Why? It’s based on fear. And fear can’t transform. So, you have a lot of people who spend the entirety of their lives thinking they’re worshipping God, but they’re actually worshipping their anxiety. You know this because these people never change, and they protect doctrines and institutions above all else.
Also, when heaven and hell are future destinations, you don’t care about the actual world. You don’t care about preserving creation (it’s all gonna burn) or fighting against injustice (God will take care of that on the last day). End Times Christians live in self-preservation mode, and that’s the anti-thesis of God’s design.
The Bible doesn’t spend much time talking about the afterlife. Jesus didn’t talk it much. Neither did Paul or Peter or John. The writers of Scripture were much more interested in how you live right now. Heaven and hell are realities you can experience in this very moment. You can choose to embrace joy and peace and love. You can also choose cynicism and pride and lust. Everyday. The choice is yours.
6. Evangelism is the primary purpose of a Christian’s life.
I used to believe the goal of being a Christian was to convert as many people as possible. When I worked at a church, the number of people I baptized was a metric (the metric?) for the success of my ministry.
Over time, I’ve come to realize that I was just converting people to my way of seeing Jesus. Much of evangelism is an ego trip, a pride-filled quest to see how many people you can convince. It takes no interest in the well-being of people, apart from their eternal status with God. Evangelism doesn’t invest in people. It’s not concerned with wholeness. It doesn’t care if Sally needs money to feed her family or if Jim abuses his wife. All that matters is that you say this prayer or get dunked. Then, we move onto the next person. This seems like the opposite of how Jesus went about his ministry. Jesus cared for the whole person. He did take away sins, but he also healed.
I still believe in evangelism in the sense that I still talk about God to other people, like I’m doing here. But I no longer need to convert anyone. I just need to share how God has shaped my life, and I’ll let God handle the rest.
7. Going to church is essential to spiritual growth.
When I was really sick, I didn’t go to church for two years. I couldn’t. I was triggered by smells and chemicals and past wounds. If I went to church, I would spend several days in bed. During that time, I learned how to find God in new and different ways. I saw God in creation, in the trees and flowers outside my home. I saw God in simple things, like the beating of my heart, the breath in my lungs. I re-imagined how I encounter God, and I felt closer to my Creator than I ever had.
I love the church. I’m thankful for the community of God. But I also know some people can’t attend church. Abuse or trauma or disability keeps them away. If you’re in this boat, I understand. I’ve been there. You can still grow spiritually. Look for God where you are. Do the work necessary to heal. Find a few people you love and trust, if you can.
But don’t listen to the voices of shame. Don’t pay attention to people who would make you believe you’re not a real Christian. Those are the voices of power and privilege.
8. Christianity is the only true religion.
Christianity is a beautiful expression of God’s love and faithfulness. Christianity, however, doesn’t own the deed to Truth. Truth is universal. Even if I believe Christianity presents the clearest, most holistic picture of salvation and hope and healing – and I do – I also believe I can learn something about God from voices outside of my faith.
This isn’t about accepting other religions. This is about a mindset that stays open and curious, that refuses to tell God where he can and can’t reveal himself.
Sometimes we get too attached to words. Here’s something that’s true: anywhere you see love, you see God, whether that something is Christian or not. Buddhists and Hindus and even atheists can teach me something about God, if I have the eyes to see.
We create boxes for God, and God wants to lead us out of them. This feels like dying. God calls it transformation. It takes courage and perseverance. You must be willing to embrace anxiety and discomfort. But, on the other side of transformation, you experience a new and better life.
I feel more peace and joy than I ever have in my life. I feel more connected to creation and to humanity. I feel less need to prove or convince. That’s the beauty of transformation.
Grace and peace, friends.