Come As You Are

For us, the believers, the Jesus-people, the bible is not a book of history and rules. Our God is not a God of hate.

I am a Christian.

It’s hard for me to say that in a public forum, just those four words. Usually, if it comes up in conversation, I push out a dozen or more words in a rush: I’m a Christian, but I’m a peace and justice Christian, a love everyone Christian, and if you want to know about my faith I’d love to tell you, but if you don’t want to to talk about it, that’s cool too.

Here is the one of the saddest things I have ever heard after I reveal that I follow Jesus: Wow, I never would have guessed you were a Christian. You seem so nice.

How’s that for a punch in the guts?

I’m not actually that nice. I have a terrible temper, a tendency toward resentment, and a penchant for blue language that’s well documented here on my blog. I’ve done drugs, drunk alcohol to excess, stolen, gossiped, hurt people, taken more than my share, cheated, lied, and been, in general, a deeply flawed human being.

Flawed like Paul, who wrote in Romans 7:15, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Broken, screwed up, sinful. Human.

What’s “nice” about me is, I know I’m not better than anyone. (Actually, sometimes I think I’m better than someone, and sometimes I feel inferior. This humility thing is a challenge.) That’s what people experience as niceness from Christians: if we don’t start beating them over the head with our big, leather-bound, gold-embossed bibles and telling them how utterly screwed they are, how messed up, evil, and doomed, they experience us as nice.

Folks, something’s wrong when people hear the word Christian and their first instinct is to duck.

Some Christians are dominating the media with the message that our faith is all about following a moral script, and that most of the items on that script have to do with what we do with our genitals, and when, and with whom. How sad, to reduce our collective story to one of penises and pregnancies. Our story began when Abraham went on a journey and continues now, a story of extravagant love, the tale of a God who pursues us, in all our brokenness, throughout history. God is not waiting for us to get better, or to get perfect. God is not waiting for anything.

For us, the believers, the Jesus-people, the bible is not a book of history and rules. Our God is not a God of hate. We’re living in a story that began with the people in the bible and continues now. The bible is alive, our faith is alive, and we are privileged to participate, not as servants but as the sons and daughters of God. We are Deborah, David, Abraham, Mary, Paul, James, Rebekah, Abigail. Flawed, and beloved of the divine.

We don’t have all the answers. We don’t even know most of the questions. That’s OK, because Jesus never said, Go forth and be perfect in every way, and then force all the other people to be perfect in the ways that you deem right, making certain nobody ever does anything with their genitals that seems icky to you!

Not in my bible. Jesus said, First, love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and next, love each other. (I paraphrased that from Matthew 22.)

Love. A big party, a festival of love, and everyone is invited. Everyone. Pull up a chair and sit down. This is the ultimate come-as-you-are.

Do you know you’re a bitch?

The Bible is the ancient holy book of my tradition. It’s not a simple book of history and rules. It isn’t dead words on a page. It is a living book, an ongoing story, and as a believer, who am I to limit it? As God said to Job, “Who do you think you are, puny human? I set the universe spinning, and you want to tell me what’s what? Pfffffft.”

During the summer of 1992, when my boyfriend (the one I later married, had two children with, and then divorced) and I had our annual I-hate-you-we’re-breaking-up-forever fight, I started going to a Bible study. I had a very rough relationship with faith in my late teens and early twenties. I grew up in an Evangelical Protestant church and while I believed in God, I struggled with the dogma in that religion, but I couldn’t walk away from it. I wanted faith, but I didn’t know where to find people who wouldn’t hit me in the head with a Bible.

So I dabbled here and there, and I went to a Bible study for young adults that was hosted by a large, non-denominational church, and it seemed OK and I got a little bit comfortable, and as so often happens in these circumstances, someone brought up the topic of abortion, and someone said that women should practice self-control, and someone said it’s baby murder, and you know how it goes. Even if you were never at a Bible study with a group of people between the ages of 18 and 25 who think they know everything and believe they have an ancient, divinely-inspired text that backs them up, you know how it goes, and everyone was oh-so-right and oh-so-indignantly-angry at the loose women with their unwanted fetuses and I didn’t get up and go to my little silver Toyota and drive home like I should have done.

When there was a pause in the self-righteousness, I said, “It’s not so simple.”

Every head swiveled on its stalk of neck, every pair of eyes stared at me, slow up, slow down (Is she a slut? How did we not notice?), and then a female voice rose, a voice trained for a lifetime for exactly this moment, “It is simple. It’s a baby. You can’t kill a baby.”

“I don’t agree,” I said, wading in a little further, still not turning the key on the door of the Toyota, still not entering that safe womb of stale cigarette smoke and discarded diet Coke cans. “Women have abortions for complex reasons, and you can’t just let them die from unsafe abortions. It’s not like…”

The female voice again, this time louder, shouting me down, and joined by others, “Legal abortion just makes murder easy for women!”

More voices, a confusion of anger, and I found my way to my legs, my left hand wrapped around the handle of my purse, and I worked toward the door. Amid the choruses of, “We’ll pray for you!” and “Read Jeremiah 1:5!” and “You’re no Christian!” I heard that female voice above the others.

She asked, “Do you know you’re a bitch?”

I didn’t answer her, not even a raised middle-finger as I finally managed to slip through the door, partly because I couldn’t wait to enter the warm dark of my car, and partly because I was stunned to hear the word bitch in that context. If ever there were people who wouldn’t say shit if they had a mouthful, it was the Evangelical Protestants of my youth. Maybe these were a different breed, or maybe I was a spectacularly terrible specimen of sin: the abortion apologist in the Bible study. Whatever the reason, it’s an interesting question.

On every topic, someone, somewhere, is bound to believe that I have taken the bitch stance. I have taken the part of the bitches. I am a bitch.

Misogynist implications of the word bitch aside, I can live with it because worse would be if someone could describe me as milquetoast, boring, or (shudder) sweet. I care about things. I stand for something. I hope I am open to learning, to hearing new perspectives, and to engaging in civil debate.

I don’t ever want to be a person who knows what’s right. I want to be a person who wrestles with the truth. I hold rightness loosely, prepared for new information and new experiences that might shift my understanding.

The Bible is the ancient holy book of my tradition. It’s not a simple book of history and rules. It isn’t dead words on a page. It is a living book, an ongoing story, and as a believer, who am I to limit such a book? As God said to Job, “Who do you think you are, puny human? I set the universe spinning, and you want to tell me what’s what? Pfffffft.”

Rightness is tempting. A good/bad, either/or universe is easier to live in than one that requires careful thought, big mistakes, and the uneasy state of I don’t know. I’m sure it feels great, being in with the in-crowd, knowing all the right answers, and being so very very right about all the things. Imagine the scene in that Bible study after I left: they probably joined hands and spoke prayers out for awhile, in the Christian key of just, as in, “Lord, just protect Adrienne, and Lord, we just ask that you guide her and show her the error of her ways. Father, we just ask that you help us to love her in spite of her sin.” Then, perhaps a few praise hymns to get the world back into its straight lines: bad is bad, right is right, the ground below and heavens above.

What didn’t happen is, none of us listened. None of us learned. We didn’t struggle or connect. How sad, to lose such an opportunity. How much sadder, that we are missing those opportunities everyday.

Sadder still, many Christians seem to have missed the central message of our holy book: Love. Love God, love people, be loved. When love gets hard, love more. When love feels impossible, keep loving. When love is tiring, God will give you more energy for love. Love until someone hates you for it, and then keep loving.

Love on, bitches.