And No, This Change Is Probably Not What You're Thinking
by Daniel D. Maurer
I'm probably going to lose followers just by the title of this piece.
I gotta write it. I'm compelled to write about this topic, because it's a disturbing one for me. Not disturbing in the sense of keep-me-up-at-night-and-forcing-me-to-watch-Netflix-to-distract-myself disturbing, but more like a rock in my left sandal while I'm out for a hike in all nature's glory.
Except the rock never gets kicked out but keeps grinding ever deeper into my heel.
Spirituality is important to me. However, I make a point of reminding folks when I speak publicly that I'm "never in your face with my beliefs." What that means for me is that I (at least try) never to use faith or spirituality as a blunt instrument to quash whatever it is you believe. I believe in the inclusivity of the Gospel much more than any exclusive proof-texts you can dig up in scripture proving that you're right and I'm wrong.
The infinite love of God, I believe, trumps (erk!) any carefully crafted argument that, "I'm in . . . therefore you're out." I believe that the person we know as Jesus of Nazareth had lots to say about who's in and who's out, and that the conclusion I've come to is that you're only out if you start drawing lines of demarcation in the way you treat other human beings negatively in your private and public life.
God is about drawing the circle around the whole universe. Does that make me a universalist? Who knows. Maybe I'm just deluded. But I believe that there's more to life than what we see, and I believe that in the center of it all is love. Without love, I'm nothing. I find meaning, purpose, and value in this love.
In my recovery life, I've had to reboot my spirituality—mostly because I was forced to. I had to face the lies I'd been telling my family, my friends, the people I'd served as an ordained ELCA pastor . . . shit, even the lies I was telling myself. Only when I began to get honest with my destructive behavior and started to see that life is much more than how I "feel" in any given moment—but how I can be of service to others to engender kindness and love—did I finally understand what this whole Higher Power stuff was all about.
Hint: It ain't about me.
So why would I want to stand up at the podium and claim that I'm not a Christian?
In a nutshell: it's about the word.
The Problem With Language
As a freelance writer and author, my daily fare is with words. I like words. I enjoy tossing them in a hot wok and stirring them around to watch them sizzle. They make a delicious meal anyone can enjoy when they want if you're skillful enough to evoke not just information, but emotion as well.
But words are slippery. Their meaning can change.
Take, for example, the word gay. It used to mean happy and carefree. Now, it no longer has that meaning. I don't have a problem with that. But I do realize that I can't adequately express happiness or carefree by using that word. Cool.
Rather than risk diving into a Yellowstone geyser of semiotics and etymology, let me continue to offer more examples:
Just like it sounds, spinsters used to just be women who spun yarn. Throughout time, people relegated the word to mean what it is today, but without the positive spin that the term bachelor gets. (Thanks, patriarchy.)
Senile used to refer simply to anything related to old age, "senile maturity" had a completely legitimate, non-ageist connotation. Now it refers to those suffering from senile dementia.
This one has a bit of history with me. I remember reading the book The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger's one-hit wonder in High School (or was it college?). Anyway, in the book I recall when Holden's mother chides him for using the word lousy and I could never figure out why. It's not like it's a swear or curse word. Until I realized that it originally meant "infested with lice." Today, it just means "of low quality" or "crummy."
And in English, at least (dunno about other languages), we have the wonderful contronym (also called an autoantonym) which is a word which means one thing, but also its opposite—all at the same time!
Means to hold together with a metal bolt, but also to fly apart or run away from.
Can mean either to carefully oversee or supervise a project, but also denotes a mistake due to forgetfulness or poor supervision!
I think the slippery nature as well as its inherent complexity are what make language and words so fun and equally difficult to work with. (So I ended a sentence with a preposition. Bite me. It's a myth that it's a no-no, anyway.) I enjoy a good challenge, and the professional bonus is that some people are even willing to pay me to grind away at my laptop.
Oh yeah! I also happened to get published online with an article I wrote about the word disease when referring to the medical phenomenon of addiction. I won't go into that quagmire though this time around; you can read the article some other time if you like. (It was fun article to write and an important topic too.)
Then we come to this word, which is the topic I want to address:
Oh my . . .
What have I done by even mentioning this on this blog?! A blog that should be covering personal transformations, and not forbidden topics such as religion or politics!
Well, fuck it. It's my blog and this is a change I want to write about. Besides, it's important.
Here's Google's take on the etymology of the word Christian:
Here are some other nifty tidbits about the word that you'll find interesting as well:
Basically, the word Christian meant: "a person who is a believer in Jesus Christ and his teachings."
Well, that's me.
For me, the Big J is more than just rad or a cool dude; he's the incarnation of the Creator herself (try that one on for size—but really, God isn't a gender to begin with, a point with which I happen to agree with another writer, Corax, on this website. But, hey, I'm willing to give equal time nonetheless.)
I'm even willing to entertain the fact that the whole story is made up: the belief that, although Jesus might have been a real guy living and breathing at the start of the first century in what is today called Palestine, it's certainly possible (probable, even) that he didn't walk on water or supply fine wine after they ran out of it at a wedding party. My beliefs ground themselves in the power of the story and the community. At worst, I'm a pragmatist. At best, perhaps a believer that stories shape reality.
The problem with the term Christian is that it has been hijacked.
An article that's once again making the rounds in social media comes by the way of Brookings Institution study showing that the majority of "Christian" Americans believe that they are victims of discrimination. Now, we hear that the buzzword isn't just discrimination, but "persecution."
News flash: if you live in America, you're not being "persecuted" for being "Christian."
I know that there are others throughout the world who are persecuted for their religious or spiritual beliefs. Christians even. I eschew any persecution or discrimination on the basis of whatever belief system you follow, unless, of course, that belief system is bent on curtailing another's freedom to believe.
Evangelical Christianity in America has become defined not by what it is for—the universally-applied "good news" (which, ironically, is what the root word "evangelical" points to)—rather, it's identity becomes defined by what it is against, namely: anti-homosexuality, anti-abortion, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Wiccan, anti-feminist theology, et cetera, ad nauseam.
Perhaps it stands to reason.
America, after all, was founded (or at least ruled) by mostly European folks who weren't allowed to practice what they believed in their countries-of-origin. The irony is once they got here they took every opportunity to state how they weren't like those folks in Rhode Island, or Pennsylvania, or wherever. Goodness me, even the word protestant has its roots in the word protest, or "I stand apart."
Face it, the age-old, beloved hymn "They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love" certainly isn't couched within history, much less reality.
And, yes, I know many progressive faith communities do good work. I happen to belong to one in my home city of Saint Paul, Minnesota which (again ironically) belongs to the ELCA, a denomination with that good-newsie word in it—Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I also served as a minister in this denomination for 11 years. I know there are many, many salt-o-the-earth people working tirelessly and quietly behind the scenes.
But today many Christians in the United States who hold a more fundamentalist and populist conviction announce they are "persecuted" over things like wedding cakes for gay couples.
Give me a break. When you have a lion ripping your leg off in the Circus Maximus, come to me then; you'll have my full attention and pity.
The death-knell of Christian hegemony in the United States seems to have fired up the folks to vote for a real leader, an "inspiration," one whose personal life and whose lack of anything but a basic knowledge of what it means to be a selfless servant seem to be entirely missing.
So . . . what's my point?
The Point: Change
The point I'm making is that I'm changing something with myself. Follow me if it suits you.
I'm no longer calling myself a Christian, because to do so is disingenuous to what the word—like it or not—has become: a term engendering hatefulness, embracing xenophobia.
I'm not sure what I should call myself. Maybe it doesn't matter. Labels shouldn't have to make us who we are. Maybe all I need to realize is that—you and I both—are children of the creator, endowed with a capacity to love our fellows. We also have the capacity for great evil. However, I won't let the latter define me going forward.
We're living in a precarious time. I think the less we label each other on the basis of our beliefs, our sexual identity, our skin color, our country-of-origin, our politics, or—shit—even the football team we root for (PS, the Packers suck), we'll find that we can stand for community values without necessarily saying that we're against something.
Maybe we can start saying what we're for.
I'm for abstinence from drugs and alcohol, because I'm allergic. I break out in handcuffs if I use. You? You'll need to figure that out for yourself. How you do it is up to you. I'm only too happy to share what it was like, what happened, and what it's like now for me. Hint: It's amazing.
I'm for recycling. Mostly. I still think we need to tweak how efficient paper recycling is.
I'm for the arts, for without which a world turns dull and colorless.
I'm for the police and the justice system. We need to keep order. I get that.
I'm for schools. Fair and for everyone. Learning is a birthright. Period.
I'm for mommies and daddies. And mommies and mommies. And daddies and daddies. Kids need people who love and teach them how to genuinely love others and live within a diverse community.
I'm for honesty in the media. And politics. And general transparency with any public office.
I'm for communities. I realize that just because you do something differently than my community doesn't make you an outsider or less of a human being.
What else? I'm for Jesus. I follow his teachings. Why? Because he speaks to me in ways like nothing else can. He challenges me. He makes me want to be a better person, not for some heaven, light years away, but for now, right here.
Am I Christian? Nope. Sorry. That word doesn't mean the thing it used to.
About the author
Daniel D. Maurer is a freelance writer, author, publisher, and nationally acclaimed speaker on addiction and recovery. He keeps the blog, Transformation is Real. His fourth, soon-to-be-released book deals with the topic of how a person's resilience is positively influenced by spirituality. For more information, please see his bio page on this website. Daniel lives with his family in Saint Paul, Minnesota.