Why Do I Practice Christianity (Even When the Church Makes it Difficult)?
I’ve broken the religion and politics rule quite a bit through this blog. This post may be pushing it too far. Let’s be clear, nobody is asking me the title question. Nobody, but me. And though I think about it often, I rarely articulate an answer. Until now. Maybe. It does seem an especially appropriate question to explore as a Catholic during holy week and just after the election of a new pope. So here goes…
Just as we each have unique experiences, I believe we also have unique paradigms through which we make sense of those experiences and by which we live our lives. Religion is an important paradigm in my life. It helps me connect the dots and see a world that is much bigger than what’s directly in front of me. Whether labeled as a religion or simply as a set of values and beliefs, I don’t think it’s one size fits all. Different paradigms work for different people. The paradigm of Christianity works for me.
At the center of Christianity is this very human being, Jesus Christ, who 2,013 years ago gave his life because he believed so wholly and preached so ardently one revolutionary, overriding virtue: love. He challenged the existing paradigms; the worldviews that guided the way people lived their lives and acted towards one another. He gave special attention to those on the fringes of society; the sick, the poor, the criminals, the forgotten. He called out the glaring inequalities among the human race. For that, he was crucified.
At every chance he had to escape such a brutal death, he chose not to. because he would not sell out on humanity. As if that weren’t enough – as if a fellow human being nailed to a cross for preaching radical love wasn’t momentous enough of an event in history from which we could create a role model, we are told that this human being in particular is God’s only son. Pause.
What does this say about the paradigm of Christianity? Think about it: rather than go Liam Neeson on everyone and just obliterate every person who persecuted His son (along with all of humanity for allowing it to happen), this God allows his son to be tortured and horrifically nailed to a cross. What sort of supreme being (father) would allow such a thing to happen?
Personally, I turn to the image of God that Archbishop Desmond Tutu so beautifully paints with this story he often references: “One day a man was traveling through the countryside and he came upon a farmer who was surveying his fields of lush corn swaying in the breeze. And the traveler stopped by the farmer and he said, “Gee, man. What a super job you and God have done. I mean, just look at this wonderful field.” And the farmer kept quiet for a little while, and then after puffing on his pipe, he said, “You should have seen what it looked like when God had it all to himself.”
God has a dream, says Archbishop Tutu. He isn’t up there pulling strings, controlling everything. He gave us free will. And although he wants us to do good, although he wants us to love one another, he isn’t forcing that on us. He sent us a model human being. It’s up to us to follow.
A God with that level of faith in us is a God that I want to have faith in.
Yet, even though we have that model of a loving and inclusive Jesus Christ, it feels like the Church that’s been built up from that faith so often gets it wrong. Today, the Catholic church denies the love that two men or two women hold for each other. It holds half the human race as less-than, by not allowing them to serve as priests. It says that sometimes killing other people can be just. None of this is guided by the radical, absolute love that Jesus taught.
While the Church wants to be a rigid structure bound by tradition, what really makes up this religion, like any other, is an ever transforming body of people. Visit a few different churches of the same denomination and it becomes apparent that despite their similarities, communities come together and practice their religion differently. Just as citizens create the culture that defines their nation, so too do believers create their religion.
We can create better. We’ve yet to totally follow Jesus teachings. We’ve yet to even come close – I can certainly speak for myself. But I practice Christianity because it provides the support from which I can grow and the ideal towards which I can aspire. The best I can do, personally, is keep practicing that model we’re supposed to follow, even when I feel like it differs from the Church’s definition. And practice I shall.