Saturday, December 27, 2008

Self-Interview: Confessions (Part 1)

Religion/spirituality is on my mind all the time. I've been a Christian my whole life and I've given a lot of time and energy over to trying to understand what I think and what I experience as a Christian, especially in relation to the other world's religions that I spend a lot of time thinking about and teaching, one way or another, in my courses. I've been wanting to get my thoughts down. I've decided to interview myself and replicate the conversations I have with myself continually. This is, for the time being, my confession of faith.

You were born into the church, going to Sunday school, singing in junior choir, attending youth group, and have continued to be a part of the church, sometimes inconsistently, all your life. Is Jesus Christ your Savior?

I honestly don't understand what those words mean and I have never, except when participating in a liturgy, uttered them voluntarily. In fact, I'm distrustful of those words. Too often I hear them uttered as a line drawn in the sand, as a litmus test. When I was hired at Whitworth College on a temporary basis, full-time, in 1982, I had an interview with the college's president, Bob Mounce. The first thing he asked was whether Jesus Christ was my Savior. I answered in the affirmative. I knew it was President Mounce's way of asking me if I was a Christian, and I respected his way of asking that. But I felt uneasy. When I hear the words, "Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior", I hear hubris. Maybe it's the word "my" that I resist. It's one of those conditioned responses to Jesus Christ that I just can't say. I want to speak my own language for how I experience Jesus Christ, and proclaiming Him my personal Savior just doesn't work.

Well, then, do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?

I don't think so. I don't understand this concept. I respect, and sometimes envy, the many Christians I know who talk about Jesus being their friend or who claim a personal relationship with Him, but very little in my experience with Jesus Christ is anything like the relationships I have with my friends. I talk about books with my friends. I tell dirty jokes and laugh at theirs. I play cards with my friends, go on drives around the Silver Valley, talk about how to teach writing and literature, have coffee, tell tall tales, go on boat rides, talk about raising kids, reminisce. I don't have any of these experiences with Jesus. I have never experienced what many say they do, that Jesus Christ is specifically, uniquely, particularly concerned with what happens in my particular life. I don't think of Jesus in terms of me. I think of Jesus in terms of us, of the corporate body of Christ. The metaphor of personal savior or of personal friend doesn't work for me. I enjoy listening to others talk about how it does work for them. But, it's not my experience.

Well, how about the resurrection? Do you believe in it?

I don't think of the resurrection in terms of belief. In fact, I don't experience Christianity in terms of belief. To see the world through Christian eyes, is to see life as defined by resurrection. I do not have to make a conscious act of assent when it comes to seeing resurrection as the basis of the reality we live in. I do not have to say I believe in resurrection, or the resurrection. Resurrection exists. I don't say I believe in the concrete slab in my backyard. It exists. I experience resurrection in the same way. It's so fundamental I don't really ever get to the question of whether I believe in it or not.

But you've evaded my question. How about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It's the center of the Christian understanding of truth. To be Christian is to be constantly aware of new life, that what seems to be dead can be brought back to life again. I see it happen all the time and I experience it all the time. Nature most vividly illustrates resurrection in its cycles of life and death and the return to life again. Within the Christian world view, grace is the expression of resurrection. We forgive one another. Friendships, relationships at work, passages in a marriage, and other relationships can break, even die. When broken friends or spouses or colleagues find a way to forgive or extend grace, these dead relationships can be revivified, resurrected. Each of us can also die within ourselves. Passages of self-destruction, living out of harmony with the best ways to treat others and ourselves can drain us of life. But we can, as individuals, be forgiven, revived, resurrected. It's a kind of magic, the magic of the reality we live in that is defined by resurrection.

Regarding the Easter story, it's definitely an historical truth in the way that resurrection never stops. The story of the resurrection of Jesus Christ happens (although it is too often blocked by avarice, cruelty, lying, and other things we do that are not life giving). The story of Jesus Christ coming back to life from the dead is, to me, most important as a visible portrayal of an invisible truth in life. If someone came to me with undoctored videotaped documentary evidence that Jesus Christ emerged from his tomb alive, after being dead, I would be ecstatic. But, I don't think the fundamental truth of the resurrection changes because I think of the story as a profoundly enlightening fiction. The power of the resurrection, as we experience it personally and corporately or as we observe it in the natural world or in other aspects of life, continues whether Jesus walked out of that tomb literally or figuratively.

You know, there are those who would say that you aren't really a Christian. I mean listen to you. You don't experience Jesus Christ in a personal way, you experience the resurrection figuratively, and you can't bring yourself to say out loud that Jesus Christ is your Savior. Are you a Christian?

I practice Christianity. I am inspired and emboldened by worship from the Book of Common Prayer, by taking of the body and blood of Christ at the communion rail, and by my confession of sin. My Christian practice clarifies my thinking, informs my conscience, points me, delivers me from evil. I love the stories and poems of Scripture and am inspired by them to make my way in the world more sanely and wisely. I cherish the fellowship of the body of Christ. I've tried to give it all up, tried to pass off Christianity as rubbish, and I couldn't. I have experience God as a sparring partner and fought with God with all my might and I've also experienced God as the Great Shepherd, tirelessly in pursuit of me as a lost sheep. I experience what I understand to be the essential Christian experience. I am rather adamant, mostly within myself, however, not to let anyone define this experience for me and I will not hold my experience as a Christian up to anyone's litmus test. One person determining whether another is a real Christian or a true Christian or not is, to me, toxic sludge polluting the arteries of Christ's body. When I hear or read Christians engage in "he's in, she's out" talk, I shudder. I think an infinite God has infinite capacity to hold an infinite range of ways that people love and serve Him in His Bosom.

You just talked about God as a male. Do you believe God is a male being?

No. But, let's resume our conversation tomorrow and I'll tell you what I think about this question.


Mark said...

Bill ... this is amazing. I can relate to so much of what you are saying! I eagerly await installment 2. Thanks! Mark

inlandempiregirl said...

Lots to reflect on here.

Anonymous said...

I always wanted to believe
But the world never let me
Now I see Jesus
And my world of one is empty.

Grey Like Sunday said...

Hmmmm...I appreciate that you shared this heartfelt, introspective, and honest reflection. My own perspectives, beliefs, faith, relationship with Jesus Christ, etc doesn't align just perfectly with yours. However, when I interact with you, I recognize Jesus in you. For whatever that is worth.

You already know I rebel against those who say I am not the "right kind" of Christian or perhaps not a Christian at all if I...

This reminds me of my attempts to describe the "life" that exists when one lives in the "grey." I will post at "Grey" again one day. I know I will, but I've been in a different kind of "season" lately.

myrtle beached whale said...

I believe that a very small percentage of Christians are actually of the born again variety. I think most of the garden variety Christians are those that try to live their life as best they can and live and let live, not trying to push their beliefs down people's gullets. The holier than thou jerks that are intolerant of other religions and lifestyles tend to shoot Christianity in the foot. I have a newsflash, just because someone doesn't believe what they believe does not mean they are doomed to hell. Oh by the way, well-written.

Anonymous said...

Everyone helped his neighbor, and said to his brother, "Be of good courage!" Isa 41:6

Thank you, Raymond, for allowing the Holy Spirit to speak through you to me. Part three is my favorite. Thank you for reminding me that Truth is still very much alive in this world. It must only be found. And Jesus lives.