A week or so ago I woke up in my dorm room. I sat up and saw my beautiful view of the city from my window. And a thought came into my head.
“What if I’m not a Christian anymore?”
I have no idea where it came from. But it stuck with me the rest of the day. I couldn’t get the sentence out of my head. I began to wonder what that would even mean, what I would do with myself, and more importantly, if it was true.
I grew up being a Christian. It was the only identity that I was always sure of. Because no matter what aspects of my personality changed, my faith always stayed the same. I was the goodie-two-shoes. The sheltered homeschooler. In church, I was the girl who sang too loud for worship and danced too much. I took notes during sermons. I evangelized to strangers at subway stations, taking every opportunity to invite people to church. I made everything in my life about God. I read my bible every night. Prayed without ceasing. Memorized scripture at youth group. People looked up to me. I craved church and fellowship. I was one of those people who was so on fire for God and it inspired others. I cried listening to worship music and smiled when I mentioned my Savior. I had spiritual zeal.
Sure, I had doubts. But I knew I believed in God. I had experienced too much to deny that. There were too many coincidences in my life to be just chance.
That’s not me anymore.
Actually, I have no idea who that girl is. I don’t recognize her. In a lot of ways, its hard for me to see that person as someone I once was. We are so different from each other now.
I go to church as more of a skeptic with a religious past. Recently, I changed churches in order to accommodate this change in me. I wasn’t sure how the people I grew up with would take to seeing me like this. At school, I met up with a woman from the school Christian club in order to ask questions about theology. I wanted to see if they could handle a critic. If they could handle me. I don’t feel like an insider among believers. When I say “Christians” I feel like I’m talking to some group of people I have no connection to.
A lot of people hate me now. My friends were angry at me. Some got over it, and some didn’t. I lost people I love in my doubts. They decided they couldn’t love me during my struggle or pain. I can’t say I blame them either. They looked at my actions and concluded I must be a false prophet or a heretic or a poser.
I don’t look like a Christian anymore.
I was at a bar for my 21st birthday last week, drinking more than I should have. I don’t look like a Christian with the amount of times I say “fuck” on a daily basis. I don’t fit the Christian stereotype with my crop tops and short shorts, nor with my tongue ring or nose ring or belly button ring. I don’t lift up my hands during worship songs. I sit down and stare blankly at the words on the screen. I don’t sing at all anymore. I don’t look like a believer when the music I have on shuffle is Kendrick Lamar; every track labeled “explicit.” My bible has not been touched since I moved into college; and actually, even before that, it was unread. To be quite frank, I have not prayed in months. I don’t know how to do that anymore. The whole process makes no sense to me. I am appalled by Christian views on politics. I attend a very secular, liberal school that feels like home to me. I am so glad I never got a purity ring because the whole idea makes me sick to my stomach. I wrestle with theology and doubt. I scream at God right now in this time where we are surrounded by suffering. I scream because prayer seems to do nothing to alleviate pain. I have learned to be self sufficient because I’m not sure I can rely on anyone to fix me. I’m not sure I believe any of the teachings of my past at church because those ideas have not helped me in the real world.
And so, I stopped looking like a Christian.
There were people who did not like this change in me. Sometimes I don’t even like this change in me. I look at myself and wonder how I got here. So hurt and confused. So far from who I used to be. So sinful. I have made more mistakes than I could confess in a lifetime. Sometimes I wanted to self destruct because I hated who I was. People think I am unaware of my wrongs; but trust me, I am well aware. Those things keep me up at night. .
And today, as I stared out the window at a cotton candy sky, another thought came to me.
“I don’t look like a Christian. But I pray to God that I look like Christ.”
And I do.
Jesus of Nazareth, a man I have read about but sometimes feel like I have never know. He was a man who knew what it was to suffer. He came from a family who had nothing and were no one. He was a guy who hung out with whores and thieves. He flipped tables in church. He called religious leaders vipers. He was controversial and wasn’t afraid to rock the boat. He knew the politics of the world He lived in. People hated Him for it. Religious people wanted Him to be this hero; this king who was going to destroy all their enemies and fix things for them. An then He came and was this normal guy. But He was a man who knew how to love. He paid attention to kids and women who were treated as nothing by everyone else. He was a homeless guy who probably smelled like fish from all the fisherman He hung with. He wasn’t educated. He wasn’t a scholar. He was a carpenter.
Call me crazy, but I think that man was the Son of God. And I don’t even know how that works. I know my voice drips with lunacy when I say that. I know that makes no logical sense. I am still trying to figure it out.
But in any sense, I want to look like Him. If I shove away all the complex theology and doubts and fears; if I just forget everything else, I know I believe what that man taught. I hope I look like Him.
I do not look like Christians. I have not uttered a real prayer in months but I scream the lyrics to FEEL. straight to heaven because I feel like God listens to me when I am vulnerable. I am unafraid to rip my previously held beliefs to shreds because I know I could be wrong. I am comfortable with doubt. I long for something more. Christians have created a subculture that I am not associated with. Their weird lingo and unspoken, unbiblical views. Their politics. Their art. I can’t say I stand with that. But I love people. I love people no matter who they are or what they believe and when I offer my hand to help you I am not expecting you to owe me a conversion. I just want to love you the way you deserve to be loved. I advocate for social justice and social change because that’s what Jesus would do. I’m a feminist because women matter so much to me, and I see Jesus’ heart for those women who were abused, those women who were sex workers, those women who were nothing. I write stories because Jesus didn’t get caught up in spiritual dogma or discourse; He talked in ways people understood.
I know who Jesus was not because of some great spiritual awakening or vision. But I have had encounters with God. On the train when I couldn’t stop ugly crying, and a random woman came up to me and held my hand and told me I would get through it. In my best friend who cries at the suffering of the world as if that pain were her own. In my best friend who does not even believe in the existence of God but who has shown me more about faith than I ever saw in a sanctuary. In my mother, who has shown me that prayer can be screaming with tears down your face about how much you hurt. In my favorite band, whose secular music gives me a glimpse of what heaven must be like. In my little sister whose fierce passion melts me to my core. In Ronda Rousey who taught me how to stand after being knocked out. In the way the lake looks from my window and the sky at sundown. I see God in the way my professors teach. In those people who protest for human rights. In environmentalist. In the people who give money to the homeless. In those who choose to believe the best about humans. Those who volunteer their time and effort for those in need. In all the ways the world has come together to fight back against the tragedies and the pain. These are real examples of God. This is what Jesus meant when He prayed “Your kingdom come.”
I’m not trying to be that church bashing person who rejects Christianity to needlessly rebel. I am saying that God can be hard to find in a church where all people care about is rules and how many regular attendees they have. I know it can feel like Christians just want something for you, like a profession of faith. I know what it feels like to be an outsider. But I want you to know that my God is not about fake smiles and hypocrisy. My God does not support a political agenda. He does not play favorites among ethnicities or sexual orientation. My God is not for hate or holy wars.
I know He wants a better life for me than the one I’m living now. I think He has ways that are better than mine. I know I’m not the person He wants me to be yet. But then I think about all those messed up people in the bible and all the horrible things they did. All the mistakes and pain they caused. All the ways they fell short. All the misunderstanding and so many doubts and questions. All the times they didn’t know who God was or what He was doing. Those people in that book weren’t heroes. They were walking disasters. They were liars and cheaters and thieves and prostitutes. But they knew God when they saw Him.
I look at those people and I fit right in. It makes me think they maybe God has a place for me, even at my worst, in His narrative.