Daniel made a very valid point in a recent quickie that we here at Wtfaith headquarters can sometimes be, shall I say, somewhat hostile people? And that, perhaps, in our zealous attempts to right the wrongs that we see in and among Christians (at least as they’re perceived by other people) we may come across as distinctly confrontational and sometimes, dare I say it, even anti-Christian.
We make a very serious attempt at honesty on these pages, and in these posts, so if we’re struggling with some concept of our toddler-level faith, or if we disagree with some primary Christian concept, tenant or action, we say so. Sometimes we say so in brutally honest ways. Sometimes we can be a little bit. . . harsh.
When Daniel said that he wanted to take a moment to talk about the things about being a Christian that were kind of cool, it made me stop and think. I realized that I do tend to focus on the stuff I don’t like with a real “Kill it with fire forever” mentality. I’m a bit more internalized with things that I like. I’m not sure why, but it’s easier for me to bitch than to praise. One of those choices feels more natural to me, which is a sign of how unhealthy a place my mental state can degrade to when left to my own devices.
There are two things to me that really stand out when I think of what it is about Christianity that I find to be super awesome. Both of them are from personal experience and I guess, in a way, stem from my own personal testimony. I’d like to share them with you. I know what I’m about to say is going to sound old hat to my Christian peeps, and completely crazy to my non-Christian peeps. I know it, and I’m sorry. Sometimes I genuinely wish I could say anything else here with honesty. But crazy or not, old-hat or not, it’s the truth. Maybe it’s an experiential truth, but even so, that doesn’t invalidate it for me.
The first thing that comes to mind when I think of what I like about being a christian is that being Christian has helped me talk to God. It sounds crazy, I know. The second thing is that being Christian has made me both feel and be better, all around.
Let me back up a bit. Throughout my faith journey I’ve been a lot of places, I’ve done a lot of things, I’ve tried out a lot of different religions, ideologies and philosophies. Generally speaking I only tried out things that seemed to make a certain amount of sense. I’m not the logical thinker that Daniel is so the things I tried didn’t have to hold up under merciless logical scrutiny. I’ll be honest with you, I would have gotten bored with being that mercilessly logical like five minutes in and gone and played Mass Effect or something. My brain just doesn’t work that way. Logical or not, the things I tried out did have to make me feel a certain kind of way, though. I wanted something real. If magic had been real, I’d still be a witch. If philosophy had changed my life in more than just brief epiphanies, which were exciting but ultimately not very deeply rooted, I’d probably be one of those thinker types. I grew up in a really fundamentalist church. It’s not like I was forced into the lifestyle, mind you. I started attending church with my parents at the tender age of 2, and while I didn’t “Give my life to Jesus” (as if you could give something that’s already His) right away, I waited until I was old enough to be accountable for my actions. In other words, I waited until I was about 5.
Once I’d “prayed the sinner’s prayer” I enthusiastically drank the Kool-Aid with everything I had in me. I’d gone to church twice every Sunday and even once on Wednesday nights as far back as I could remember, but it wasn’t long after my “getting saved” that I threw myself whole-heartedly into Christianity and serving within the church. I did everything right, man. From the age of 5 to the age of about 14, I was a total Jesus-Freak. I lifted my hands super high during song service, I closed my eyes and prayed fervently during the raucous breaks in between songs that I assume were for prayer. They were kind of loud and chaotic, so I’m not sure.
There was a point around age ten through fourteen where I was quite literally attending church – or a church sponsored function -every day of the week. This included, to my shame, street preaching. Apparently everyone thought the skinny pre-teen with a thick Tucson accent was really cute when she was screaming at them unintelligibly about hell through a bullhorn.
Thinking back it seems to have been a lot of show, but I was a kid, so I joined right in. I enthusiastically evangelized at my schools, single handedly starting bible studies and “prayer at the flag pole”. Why did I do all this? Well, besides a massive case of indoctrination, I saw people who were claiming to have been so moved, so touched, so change by this Jesus guy, as to have completely reconstructed their entire lives.
None of the following is exaggerated:
I’ve known people who claimed to have been seriously long time addicts (pick your poisonous addiction, it doesn’t matter) who prayed and God moved and they dumped out all their beer, flushed all their weed, threw out their crack pipes or stepped on all their cigarettes and 20 years later have never looked back.
I’ve known people who claim to have been severely mentally sick, sometimes undergoing treatments, or on constantly monitored medications to keep the voices quiet, or keep them stabilized, or help them not try to murder themselves. Whatever the case was, their interactions with God had been so miraculously moving they not only no longer needed their medication but were now perfectly stable human beings!
I’ve known people who had some sort of physical malady, ranging from mild to severe, which prayer and faith seem to have healed entirely.
I’ve known people moved to tears for the simplest motion of the “spirit” in the church.
I watched all these people, decent people at their core (aka: not people I would call liars), seemingly really moved and changed by this “spirit”. I wanted that. I fought for it, I did ALL the somatic components to the “Summon Holy Spirit” ritual, and you know what I felt? Nothing. Nothing at all. In fact, I eventually left the church in my teenage years for just that reason. The lack of follow-through after I had intentionally allowed myself to be completely taken in by the game and ritual led me on my journey through all the other religions I played around with just desperately trying to find something real.
In the midst of all this, and this is where it gets cool, there were times when God interacted with me. There were times when I felt that overwhelming presence in my life that moves me, a salty little scrapper, to tears for the simplest of reasons. It didn’t seem to matter what religion I was following or trying out at the time. Religion is a man-made institution designed to give us some understanding and ability to relate to an infinite being who our tiny little finite minds can’t even really grasp. Every ideology in the world is gonna have its places where it seems to conflict with itself, or not make much sense. I was looking for something bigger than the answers. I trusted the answers would come. I wanted something bigger than that. This was always so much bigger than that, and while it generally lasted for a short while, for that small amount of time, I really did feel something special.Something that was very close to real magic was happening in my heart. Of course at the time I didn’t understand what that was, but every glimpse, every touch made me want more and more. So I looked more and more.
Now I’m a Christian, and I guess I should embrace it even though I have a lot of damage from the church of my early years. I’m a Christian because I never stopped looking for that something real, but eventually I put aside the ritual and just started being something real while I was looking. Sure enough, I started to be able to interact more and more with this entity I’ve come to lovingly refer to as God.
It started with the God-Experiment, as Daniel and I call it, which was us reaching out to God from a place full of honesty and devoid of any religious trappings of any sort. That led us to make a huge life change – moving to Duluth – where we were eventually led, through trial and error, to hillside church. Sometimes, our interactions with God would seem to be one sided, but more often there would be these little inexplicable signs, little things that would happen in the people around us that would confirm everything we thought we were being told.
With that comes a sort of comfort, at least for me, that even when I’m not hearing God, he’s clearly there. I’ve never been great at faith, and too many things have happened for me to be able to have the faith that those things are mere coincidence.
Does that mean I never feel alone? Does it mean I never feel like I’m praying for no reason at all? Does it mean all my prayers are answered? No, not at all. But you know what it does mean? It means that occasionally, when I need it the most, God is there in very physical and undeniable ways. That God, the creator of everything, this crazy, infinite being I can’t even wrap my brain around, takes time to interact with me. . . . That is so amazingly cool to me. . . It’s precisely the something real I’ve been looking for.
In the spirit of perfect candidness, I did say God talked to and interacted with me while I was pagan, Buddhist, agnostic and just confused. That’s true. The difference is, he interacts with me much more now. Maybe that’s a result of me reaching out more from a place of honesty without all the trappings and ritual, and maybe it’s a result of the fact that I’m in a Christian church (though one could hardly say I emulate all the Christian beliefs or even follow all their rules). Either way, coincidence or not, I’ve noticed an increase since becoming “Christian”. I think it’s awesome, so I’ll take it.
The second thing that i think is an awesome byproduct of interacting with God through Jesus, is the general improvement of my mental state and character. Now I didn’t start following Jesus and lose my ability to reason about my fellow man. I’m still pro-choice, and for marriage equality, and the equal rights of gays and women. Its just that being Christian, directly interacting with God, has made me feel better and has gently encouraged me to stop doing things like complaining about my lot in life and being an asshole to my family. Why spendi time doing those things that make me feel like shit when I could help, love or give to someone because that makes me feel algebraic! The fact is I’ve always been pessimistic at best and tending toward a black hole of depression and self-loathing at worst. I once asked our pastor friend PB how one was supposed to interpret Jesus instruction to “Love your neighbor as yourself” if one hated oneself. Pete’s response was “You know, most people don’t REALLY hate themselves.” And he went on to give me some valid examples to back up that statement, which I may talk about in greater detail in some other future blog post. At the time when he told me this, I was being particularly angsty and emo, and I kind of shrugged and was like, “Whatever you say dude. You don’t know my pain. Life is darkness”. Or something like that, I’m paraphrasing. The point is, I didn’t get it then.
Since then, since my relationship with God has grown, since I’ve found ways to answer, or at least try to be at peace with my questions, I’ve noticed something else. I feel better. I genuinely feel better! For a while my issue was so severe there were times I couldn’t even summon the strength to get out of bed. For a while, right after moving here, I was so unstable in my struggle with depression that I was medicated for it. I took Zoloft every day just to be able to face my day, my life, my family. I hated everything about myself. I don’t feel that way anymore. And while I’m not sure that I love myself yet, I think I have a better idea of what Pete was talking about, when he said that. Having God show you exactly what to scrape away to get to the person worth loving underneath is pretty fucking epic, too.
There’s tons more to say on the subject of the things about Christianity that I think are cool. Today I focused on the things I personally have experienced, and picked two of my favorite bennies of being a Christian. Even though this post is longer than some stories I’ve written, there’s still more to say. I’d be happy to chat your ear off about it if you ask, but I’m done focusing on me and my experiences for a while.
What about you peeps? I would love some stories about what your favorite benefits to being a Christian are! Do you have any wicked-rad moments as a Christian that you mark down on your spiritual timeline? Are there things you’ve seen God do in someone else’s life? Maybe just a feature, like that peace without understanding that Daniel mentioned? Let’s hear your stories!