Truer Christianity

I was recently asked to explain to three thousand evangelical youth workers gathered together at a conference in Nashville, Tennesee, why millennials like me are leaving the church.

I told them we’re tired of the culture wars, tired of Christianity getting entangled with party politics and power. Millennials want to be known by what we’re for, I said, not just what we’re against. We don’t want to choose between science and religion or between our intellectual integrity and our faith. Instead, we long for our churches to be safe places to doubt, to ask questions, and to tell the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable. We want to talk about the tough stuff — biblical interpretation, religious pluralism, sexuality, racial reconciliation, and social justice — but without predetermined conclusions or simplistic answers. We want to bring our whole selves through the church doors, without leaving our hears and minds behind, without wearing a mask.

I explained that when our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender friends aren’t welcome at the table, then we don’t feel welcome either, and that not every young adult gets married or has children, so we need to stop building our churches around categories and start building them around people. And I told them that, contrary to popular belief, we can’t be won back with hipper worship bands, fancy coffee shops, or pastors who wear skinny jeans. We millennials have been advertised to our entire lives so we can smell b.s. from a mile away. The church is the last place we want to be sold another product, the last place we want to be entertained.

Millenials aren’t looking for a hipper Christianity, I said. We’re looking for a truer Christianity, a more authentic Christianity. Like every generation before ours and every generation after, we’re looking for Jesus — the same Jesus who can be found in the strange places he’s always been found: in bread, in wine, in baptism, in the Word, in suffering, in community, and among the least of these.

— Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday, p. xiii-xiv

Moving With Others

I know who I am. I am a Christian. I love my heritage and thank God for it. But my identity as a Christian can never be a barrier, a wall, a reason for apartheid. Rather, my identity as a follower of Christ requires me first to move toward the other in friendship, and then to move with the other in service to those in need. In so doing, both the other and I are transformed from counterparts to partners. This is good news for both the haves and the have-nots. The haves suffer dehumanization — a loss of human-kindness — when they hold themselves aloof from their fellow humans, just as the have-nots suffer when the haves hoard wealth and opportunity at the have-nots’ expense. The gospel calls both to discover salvation in encounter with the other, in the love of God.

— Brian D. McLaren, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?, p. 249

First Follow

In the biblical pattern of faith, believing comes last. Indeed, this pattern repeats in both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament. From the calling of Abraham and Sarah through the great prophets and heroes of Israel to Jesus and the early church, those who walked with faith started by following, by becoming part of God’s community, by enacting the practices of God’s way, and finally by recognizing and proclaiming the glory of God.

— Diana Butler Bass, Christianity After Religion, p. 209

The Church Began with Community

It began when Jesus called out, “Follow me,” and his friends and neighbors left their old lives and started a new community. A dozen men and a band of women joined Jesus and one another in a journey of faith and sharing and compassion. Christianity did not begin with a confession. It began with an invitation into friendship, into creating a new community, into forming relationships based on love and service.

— Diana Butler Ross, Christianity After Religion, p. 204-205

Community First

If you want to knit, you find someone who knits to teach you. Go to the local yarn shop and find out when there is a knitting class. Sit in a circle where others will talk to you, show you how to hold the needles, guide your hands, and share their patterns with you. The first step in becoming a knitter is forming a relationship with knitters. The next step is to learn by doing and practice. After you knit for a while, after you have made scarves and hats and mittens, then you start forming ideas about knitting. You might come to think that the experience of knitting makes you a better person, more spiritual, or able to concentrate, gives you a sense of service to others, allows you to demonstrate love and care. You think about what you are doing, how you might do it better. You develop your own way of knitting, your own theory of the craft. You might invent a dazzling new pattern, a new way to make a stitch; you might write a knitting book or become a knitting teacher. In knitting, the process is exactly the reverse of that in church: belonging to a knitting group leads to behaving as a knitter, which leads to believing things about knitting.

Relationships lead to craft, which leads to experiential belief. That is the path to becoming and being someone different. The path of transformation.

It is also the path found in the New Testament; the Way of Jesus that leads to God. Long ago, before the last half millennium, Christians understood that faith was a matter of community first, practices second, and belief as a result of the first two. Our immediate ancestors reversed the order. Now, it is up to us to restore the original order.

— Diana Butler Bass, Christianity After Religion, p. 203

We Are Not Alone.

But books were showing me that everyone suffers, at different times in our lives. And that yes, in fact, there were many people who knew exactly what I was going through. Now, through reading, I found that suffering and finding joy are universal experiences, and that those experiences are the connection between me and the rest of the world. My friends could have told me the same, I know, but with friends there are always barriers, hidden corners, and covered emotions. In books, the characters are made known to me, inside and out, and in knowing them, I know myself, and the real people who populate my world.

— Nina Sankovitch, Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, p. 141

The Broadest Possible Exercise of Imagination

When definitions of “us” and “them” begin to contract, there seems to be no limit to how narrow these definitions can become. As they shrink and narrow, they are increasingly inflamed, more dangerous and inhumane. They present themselves as movements toward truer and purer community, but, as I have said, they are the destruction of community. They insist that the imagination must stay within the boundaries they establish for it, that sympathy and identification are only allowable within certain limits. I am convinced that the broadest possible exercise of imagination is the thing most conducive to human health, individual and global.

— Marilynne Robinson, When I Was a Child, I Read Books, p. 26

The Community of the Written Word

I belong to the community of the written word in several ways. First, books have taught me most of what I know, and they have trained my attention and my imagination. Second, they gave me a sense of the possible, which is the great service — and too often, when it is ungenerous, the great disservice — a community performs for its members. Third, they embodied richness and refinement of language, and the artful use of language in the service of the imagination. Fourth, they gave me and still give me courage. Sometimes, when I have spent days in my study dreaming a world while the world itself shines outside my windows, forgetting to call my mother because one of my nonbeings has come up with a thought that interests me, I think, this is a very odd way to spend a life. But I have my library all around me, my cloud of witnesses to the strangeness and brilliance of human experience, who have helped me to my deepest enjoyments of it.

— Marilynne Robinson, When I Was a Child, I Read Books, p. 22-23

Imaginative Love

I have spent literal years of my life lovingly absorbed in the thoughts and perceptions of — who knows it better than I? — people who do not exist. And, just as writers are engrossed in the making of them, readers are profoundly moved and also influenced by the nonexistent, that great clan whose numbers increase prodigiously with every publishing season. I think fiction may be, whatever else, an exercise in the capacity for imaginative love, or sympathy, or identification.

I love the writers of my thousand books. It pleases me to think how astonished old Homer, whoever he was, would be to find his epics on the shelf of such an unimaginable being as myself, in the middle of an unrumored continent. I love the large minority of the writers on my shelves who have struggled with words and thoughts and, by my lights, have lost the struggle. All together they are my community, the creators of the very idea of books, poetry, and extended narratives, and of the amazing human conversation that has taken place across millennia, through weal and woe, over the heads of interest and utility.

— Marilynne Robinson, When I Was a Child I Read Books, p. 21

Our Own Music

If we cannot hear the music of our own sweet nature calling to us, if we cannot remember that the intention is to live who we really are, it’s hard to know how to move, where to begin, how to dance. That’s why it’s not always a good idea to start shouting enthusiastically about what we are going to do, how we are going to live our soul’s longing, no matter how strongly this longing is felt in the moment. Sometimes we need to just stand quietly together, hand in hand, until one of us hears the music and begins to dance.

— Oriah Mountain Dreamer, The Dance, p. 15