Celebrating 25 Years of Christianity

25 Years of ChristianityA brief recount of the last 25 years of my Christian life.

My mother told me I accepted Jesus into my heart when I was 3.  I can’t remember this incipient moment of faith – so I’ll just imagine that it was marked by the sound of trumpets in heaven.  Since those first wobbling days of faith I’ve been able to participate in so much of what is part of the evangelical subculture of the last 25 years in America.  VBS (Vacation Bible School), Missionettes (the Pentecostal’s version of Girl Scouts), Youth Groups, Missions Trips, listening to DC Talk and other Christian bands, Purity Vows, Christian Summer camp, Church hopping, the Emergent movement, Christian college, having a faith crisis… and the list goes on.

My own relationship (with Jesus, with Christianity) has gone through at least 3 distinct eras – each had unique traits, and although there was no cut and dried transition.

Music and Memorization:

My first days of faith were spent in memorizing scripture, at home, at private school, and at church.  Sunday School mornings I did crafts such as glue rocks together to mimic the cairns placed by the Israelites on the floor of the Red Sea.  I sang praise choruses and serenaded the stars above my front porch with my own renditions of “Jesus loves me” and the hymn “There is power in the blood.”

Christian Identity, Group Participation

By the time I was a sophomore in high school I had attended five different churches, half a dozen youth group retreats, committed and recommitted to reading the Bible daily and been part of several awkward “See you at the Pole” attempts.  My historical understanding of Christianity was excellent (if I do say so myself).  As a teenager, I was constantly wrestling with questions of identity like What am I good at? How can I fit in? What makes me unique?  Because of this, my Christian life at this point involved a lot of clinging to verses about being loved and accepted.  I also needed the security of other Christians, such as youth groups and Bible study to bolster me.  I read the Bible on my own, and attended church, and had also begun to make the first few steps toward interpreting my own faith, rather than accepting others interpretations.

Knowledge and Interpretation.

Attending a Christian college was my first introduction to different modes of thinking about and wrestling with Christianity – my first introduction to ways of attempting to intersect the Bible and Jesus with literally everything there is in the world.  My first introduction to the quote “All truth is God’s truth” and the myriad of arguments for and against that statement, and al the qualifiers that go along with it. My first introductions to Christian feminists, Social Justice Advocates, Theistic Evolutionists and more.  There were years of questioning What is Truth?, and listening to others answer the same question.

Post college I began reading Christian books other than the Bible because I chose to, not because they had been assigned. A huge turning point for me, and Richard Foster’s “Celebration of Discipline” and “Simplicity,” the late Dallas Willard’s “Renovation of the Heart” and NT Wrights “Surprised by Hope” have all been fairly groundbreaking for me, increasing both my knowledge and love of God.  I also began thinking of my faith as belonging to a larger community – and also the necessity of participation.

My faith has informed my values and worldview – but at the same time my experiences and interests have needed to be interpreted in light of this faith as well.  These two things have worked together to make me the Christian that I am currently.

The next 25 years?

I am constantly reminded by other bloggers and books that life is a narrative and people re-frame our stories in light of our current self-conception and the zeitgeist of our era.  However, Christians are unique in that they have been grafted onto a centuries old story that starts with Creation.  Christian stories and narratives are part of something larger, much larger.

On a more practical level, sometimes we tell our stories in terms of our emotions, our friendships, our actions.  We’re the center of the story.  Sometimes we look to tell our story to see how certain themes run through them – I think in telling my story today, I was attempting to make sense of the unfolding cognitive realizations of Christianity.  The movement from simple songs to complex theological concepts.  In truth, if we call ourselves Christians, then we aren’t really the center of our story – Christ is.  As a friend of mine once said in regard to Christians: “Everyone should be able to write an autobiography where Jesus is the main character.”

How do you tell your life story? Your Christian journey?  What do you choose to emphasize each time?

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The Man on the Beach

I talked to a crazy man at the beach on Thursday at 9:15 in the morning.  Since everyone is a little crazy in their own way I’ll provide you with the operative definition I’m using for this particular man.

He disclosed too many personal details in the first three minutes of conversation.  He used horoscopes as a main anchor point for his worldview.  He made a joke about giving my son a cigarette as he lit one and started puffing away.

Normally, I try to extricate myself from these conversations rapidly since they make me uncomfortable.  They involve a lot of nodding and listening to inconsistent logic and highly suspect accounts of previous (morally questionable) doings.   However, Ethan and I were waiting for others to join us – I thought that would provide a natural cease-point to any conversation.  Unfortunately our friends were late.

So the conversation moved from dumpster diving, to Christianity, to Jesus and Muslims, to technology taking over the world, to the desire for a following, tingling in one’s spine, and trips on acid within the space of ten to fifteen minutes.

There is also, of course, something really fascinating about these types of crazy people because of their boldness too.

He told me that we were both on the quest for truth, but I was taking the long way through Jesus and he was taking the short way through trips on Ketamines where he could experience spiritual highs like the one he had last Wednesday.

Because there’s a little bit of truth in every statement I smiled at the realization that he was right.

It is true –  following Jesus is a long path.  I’m in it for the long haul, a lifetime and beyond of listening for His voice and doing His will.  And the process is the point, working out my salvation with fear and trembling, as Paul would say.

There are a lot of little phrases in life people have to remind them that the journey is what matters –  such as “Getting there is half the fun” and “Inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered.”

So get to it.

And don’t do drugs.  Seriously.

The Lenten Close on the Eve of Easter

Lent is a somber season occurring the forty days before Easter.  It is one of Christianity’s most secret seasons (that is, un-commercialized), and in a way, the most private, since it is a time of reflection and confession and sacrifice.  Lent has been a more recent addition to my own Christian life as not every denomination chooses to observe this season and my own childhood church was one of them.

Yet, though I heard of Lent nine years ago, I didn’t participate in a visual and visceral way until this year.  There are many practices during this season which one could incorporate, but I chose to forgo eating desserts and sweet things, and to create artwork depicting two scenes from the life of Jesus.

Not eating desserts was easy for the first five days, and then… it wasn’t.  Mostly because we ended up with a cake in our freezer then!  But by the end of the weeks I’ve found myself endowed with more self-control than I had, and a deeper ability to take my eyes off annoying things which are present in my life, but not necessarily positive or proper to focus on.  That is, there are times in life when it is necessary to endure “thorns” in the side, but they mustn’t be dwelt upon.

Although I appreciate art, enjoy galleries, and frequently cite the need to see art in the everyday, my own art-life halted around age 10.  That was the last time I took a class.  So, in order to heighten my own senses of both spirituality and aesthetics I created a collage, and a painting.

This is a scene of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemene.

Jesus Transfigured on the Mount

This is the scene of Jesus transfigured on the Mount.

I have been refreshed and reminded during the past forty days of Jesus life and death but, I am excited for Sunday when we will all shout a joyful “He is Risen!”