Monday, November 12, 2007

Am I a Christian? Part 1

I’m filling out school applications again! Oh joy! For graduate school. Religious studies. Yes, I will have a lovely cardboard box one of these days. All kinds of fun questions. (Why are male and female the only choices for gender? Can’t we get past that already? Especially at liberal/progressive schools!) And, among them, we have this kicker.

Religious Affiliation: ________________

Okay, Metra, don’t panic. You’re going into academia, not ministry. It isn’t a big deal. Right. You can, after all, be an agnostic or an atheist and be a scholar of religion.

But it’s a good question. How should I describe my religious beliefs? N/A doesn’t quite seem to work. Half-crazed Mystic seems rather pretentious, as does Cosmic Lesbian Relationship with the Divine Sophia. Citizen of the Republic of Heaven – maybe I should save references to children’s novels for later – like, when I have tenure somewhere. Four years ago my mother got mad because I refused to describe myself as a member of the Church of Christ on college applications. I wrote in Christian at the time.

I read somewhere that the Cathars described themselves as Good Christians. This didn’t mean that they weren’t considered heretics.

Since I’m not going into ministry, I decided to write a sermon on the matter. Which I’m breaking up into four parts, because no blog entry should be 2800 words long.

Dear Family Members who have found this blog, although, in all but one case, I’m not sure how – please, don’t panic. And anyone who comments in anyway about my father – well, I’m not sure what I’ll do – but you do not have the right to do so.

Recovering Church of Christ

“That’s me in the corner, that’s me in the spotlight, losing my religion.

Trying to keep a few, and I don’t know if I can do it.

Oh no, I’ve said too much. I haven’t said enough.”

R.E.M., ‘Losing My Religion’

“Blessed is the church service makes me nervous.”

Paul Simon

I’m not comfortable with using the word Christian to describe myself. I’m from the buckle of the Bible Belt. Christian is carrying a lot of baggage that I don’t want. And the fundamentalist part of my life has been over for a long time. I don’t want to be associated with the religious right and the Southern Baptist Convention and so on and so forth. Or with that 80 some percent of Tennesseans who voted a year ago to enshrine their homophobia in the state constitution.

Put it this way. I’m not an evangelical. I don’t think Christians, much less the CofC or the SBC, has a monopoly on salvation – however you would like to define it. And if I have to think that to be a Christian – well then, I’m not one. And in the neck of the woods I’m from, the evangelicals have a hegemony of representation.

What is a Christian anyway? There are plenty of people I recognize as Christians who wouldn’t recognize me as such? There are several people who call themselves Christians, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how they are. (James Dobson for instance. Distorting science for the purpose of libel, actively promoting the stripping of basic secular rights from persons – yes, that’s what Jesus was all about!) And no, you don’t need to agree with me on every issue for me to recognize you as a Christian. But I’m happy to tell you that from where I’m standing, your actions are dead wrong.

And maybe I should do more to break the evangelical hegemony of representation. In the real world, that is, not just poking badgers with spoons on the internets. I was silent about too many things too often. Sure I made a feeble effort here and there, questioning the doctrine of baptism as necessary for salvation, refusing to hand out certain pieces of literature, playing devil’s advocate in class. Occasionally, when I think people will get the joke, I’ll respond to an inquiry about my religion with “I’m Satanic.” And by Satanic, I do not refer to black masses, but simply to the role of questioning the authority. Nor is this incompatible with being “Christ-like.” One way or the other, the gospel call is a challenge to the established balance.

But more frequently than doing something, I also failed to do something. Senior of high school, I should have gone to the college girl who was teaching a class to middle/early high school girls with the theme: How to be the Perfect Woman for Your Future Husband, and asked her to reconsider her choice of a topic that denied the ability of women to be complete individuals on their own. If she didn’t listen, I should have gone on up the chain. Heck, I should have taken it to the elders, if it came to it. I wouldn’t even have needed to draw on feminist theory for my argument. Instead, I just told my little sister than was a load of BS, and she shouldn’t believe a word of it. I should have questioned the one youth minister who preached a whole lesson on how he had to accept that his Methodist family members were going to hell in order to be a TRUE Christian. But I just ranted with my little sister. But these are times that I failed. When I didn’t try because I didn’t believe that anything could come of it.

I like the title of Kelly Fryer’s blog: Reclaiming the F Word. I love that Soulforce exists – I’m even more pleased that a CofC college was one of the ones that welcomed them for dialogue. I admire that there are people who are far more optimistic than me, who want to reclaim their religion from the Religious Right. I hear my CofC feminist cousin, trying to encourage me to stay in, to try to change things, saying that my generation. But I can’t. There’s too much anger in me. I don’t have the privilege my father did – I’ve been written off too many times. I wish these people the best, but I can’t do it.


rlarrye said...

I'm not sure how I found your blog...oh I remember now, I was doing a little net research on Silena Holman and it brought me to one of your blogs.

Anyway as a 59 year old CofC'er who has struggled with the irrelevance of much of my religious upbringing, I read your "confessions" with interest.

Like yourself, I would like the word Christian to be free of its historical baggage, but it's a little late for that.

But the good news is that I am constantly amazed at the life and message of Jesus, even if I am unsure of many who would claim to represent him.

Keep up the blogging!

Dw3t-Hthr said...

My ex-boyfriend B commented more than once that he considered taking up wearing a cross so that people would see him as a Christian, rather than let the concept of Christianity get ruled by the Dobsons of the world.

Anonymous said...

Hello sister--good blog. You know how I feel on the matter.
Love you :)