Tuesday, June 23, 2009


I’m not sure how I feel about what just happened.
Across the country at Adventist summer camps Fridays are basically the same: shorter activities during the day, preparation and cleaning for Sabbath, agape meal, down time before sundown, crucifixion play, talk to campers in small groups about dedicating their life to Jesus, and ask if they want to get baptized.
I’ve experienced this, witnessed this, and now participated in this for what feels like the thousandth time. I know that is an exaggeration, but really can you count how many times you’ve seen an actor portray Jesus dying on a cross?
As I sat among the seven year-old campers I thought, This is kinda weird. What if a non-Christian walked in the room right now?
I think they’d call the cops. I might. I realize most people understand the symbol of a man on a cross, but do little kids? Should they?
I think Christians might over do the cross symbol and crucifixion scene. I realize that this act is the climax of the entire Christian experience. I get that. But I wonder if because we’ve seen it so many times in plays, in The Passion of the Christ movie, in Christian music videos, torture devices (the cross) hanging around the necks of Christians, that it has lost its impact. Christians can focus so much on the blood and the pain, I think a lot of people are grossed out, confused, and weirded out about how grotesque Christians can be.
As if we need more sexual abuse by a Catholic bishop, another sandwich board-touting screamer on the sidewalk claiming everyone is going to hell. As if we need another play about the end of time and Christians getting shot in the head because they go to church on Saturday. These devices are fear driven and I don’t want anything to do with them. This is what has kept me from even wanting to claim Christianity. But as my own research shows, I am probably an agnostic Christian on a journey, but even still I cringe at taking that title.
The whole idea of “witnessing” or “sharing the gospel” with little kids makes me uneasy. They are too young to really understand what’s going on. I was too. I was singing Jesus Loves Me before I knew who Jesus was. I’m still trying to figure out who he is. So by the time I was 20 and sitting alone in Cambodia I realized I had not the slightest idea, and after 20 years in the church it seemed too late to go asking questions.
During Blind camp last week I had to pray at evening worship with my campers and it just didn’t feel right. This week, Cub camp, I did not have a cabin, so I helped wherever I could; in the kitchen, at the horse barn, or organizing dodge ball games. And next week is Junior camp. I am supposed to be some sort of spiritual example. I am supposed to be the one who “leads them to Jesus” or “encourages them to commit their lives to Christ” and honestly, it feels like brainwashing. They have no idea what they’re doing any more than I did at their age.
I realize that we can’t just hold out on all of life’s decisions until kids turn 21, but I suppose I am flabbergasted by how religion works sometimes. I have a hard enough time with the lingo, it’s exclusive. It doesn’t really make sense unless someone is “in the know” and once they are, they might just say it to sound like they know what they are talking about. But most people don’t.
“Sins as scarlet.” (like the Clue character?)
“Your blood covers me.” (gross)
“Our God reigns from heaven above…” (I always pictured a person chopped up in tiny pieces, like cremation, falling from the sky)
“We dwell in your righteousness and grace.” (“Righteousness” I still don’t fully understand that word.)
Or how about, “We want to make manifest your spirit within us”? (What does “manifest” mean and exactly what is coming inside of me? Is it something I eat? Or something I rub on my skin?)
“We wanna see Jesus lifted high!” (What, like on a ferris wheel or are we talking gallows?)
“We are soldiers in the army. We have to fight, although we have to die. We have to hold on to the blood stained banner, we have to hold it up until we die.” (no comment)
“You’re Emmanuel. You’re the Great I Am. You’re the Prince of Peace, who is the Lamb. You’re the Living God. You’re my saving Grace. You will reign forever. You are ancient of days. You are Alpha Omega, Beginning and End. You’re my Savior, Messiah, Redeemer, and Friend…” (I need a dictionary. I don’t even know what I’m singing/supposedly praying)
What if Christians stopped hiding behind confusing words and cliché phrases so that everyone could understand what they were saying?
What if people didn’t force religion on kids, but merely lived a life that exemplifies healthy spirituality and answered honestly any questions along the way?
What if Christianity was a safe place to ask questions and talk about doubts so that people actually knew what they believed in? Because after 20 years “in the church” I’m still trying to figure that out. Can you tell me the 28 fundamental beliefs?
I don’t have an answer to the religion + children predicament. I don’t have answers to a lot of things. But I know that something about religion hits a nerve with me. This is nothing new. This is an old conversation that crazy people like me have been having for years. But until I find a solution or an answer that makes sense to me, I’ll continue asking the questions that make some people uncomfortable.
I know how to fake it. I know how to look Christian. But I’m asking questions and seeking truth. The only thing I fear is not finding the answers and pretending that I have.


Katie said...

by the end of my stint at camp, i was starting to feel the things you are expressing, even if i couldn't say them yet.

i muddled through the post-campfire talks by moving the conversation straight from jesus and his death to love. because christians claim to believe that jesus is the most complete embodiment of love that humans can know, right? so it seemed good to me to talk about love. i would talk to them about how what jesus did was out of love, and that giving of yourself is quite possibly the best way to love someone. and then i'd ask them how they love (action verb) the people around them. what ways are they good at giving of themselves in order to love others?

i found that steering the conversation in that or a similar direction let me be true to my own beliefs while also upholding the church's. and it was something the kids could "get"--you know, it was about them, not about some abstract event that happened to a guy they've never met, 2000 years ago.

i like your mind, heather. lots. :) p.s. i'm going to get to stay with your parents next weekend! i'm excited about that.

Carley Brown said...

Wow... this was amazing. Man, I just loved reading that right now because your so right. I wish people would be more open and honest about doubts and be a little more approachable sometimes instead of covered in this cloak of self righteousness. I liked how you commented on all the songs we sing, I never even thought about them that much until now. Anyways, I love reading what you write, it always spurs my mind for sure. Hope your loving camp still :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Heather,
Sometimes I read your blog, and today what I read made me want to comment. :)
*Maybe because I just read somewhere else that Jesus acted with clarity--speaking in simple words people could understand, in practical lessons instead of cliches, in stories with a deeper meaning, in his example of how to treat others. (Kids definitely get that.) And it's cool because the Spirit can bring those simple words to our minds when we need them.
*Maybe because it's true that our world needs practical Christianity, which sometimes, I think, is as hard to find as a needle in a haystack...
*Maybe because you remind me that God's people are radical, nonconformist, loving people, and I need that reminder. I like what Katie said--that Jesus translates as love. His love and power to save us from hurtful, self-centered lives is more than a one-time event at the cross: it's a daily conversation with this crazy awesome guide who is into the smallest details--what we pack, our footwear, whether we should cross that stream or climb that boulder, how we can help that completely obnoxious hiker along the way, how to make the journey joyful--so that the conversation totally translates into what we say and do. Jesus showed us how to do it when he let God be his guide in everything (coincidentally, it was totally the opposite of what "Christians" were doing at that time, right?) :)
So, anyway, it's a forever-learning process, and it's awesome to be honest with people. Don't pretend. Take a deep breath and let yourself be who you are, where you are.
Thanks for sharing. Keep asking and seeking!