For the majority of my adult life, I’ve been inside the walls of the Christian church. My faith has remained steady while the beliefs I carry shift, and this is one of my favorite parts of life: Growth.
One part of growth in my faith is coming to find a third way through the noise. This current season made it very clear that dichotomous thinking is not the way forward for anyone. And yet, as a writer in the realm of faith and growth, I cannot seem to find many authors who distinctly write about a third way of thinking. Rather, we are consistently inundated with an onslaught of faith-based bloggers railing against the ideas of self-confidence, self-efficacy, or valuing the work we produce.
I recently read a few pieces on the internet about the section of scripture in which Paul exhorts believers to celebrate their weaknesses. It would be helpful to believe the heart of the author is always reminding people of their value, encouraging others to seek God’s heart for their lives. Believing that God has brought us into arenas where we are not fully prepared means that when we triumph, we can boast in His kindness to carry us through this circumstance. So then why does each one of these articles talk about what self-centered, obnoxious people we are if we like ourselves? Every time I read these online missives of evangelism, I am struck by the dismissive tone of what is right and what is not.
As a writer, it is always a narrow road. I have a specific audience, and I know the majority of others will dismiss my work. That’s expected and reasonable. But the ability to put our work on the internet and create an immediate, global audience should change the way we present ourselves and our messaging. However, rather than embracing and creating community, we’ve decided to declare war.
In order to bolster our own perspective, we have become a tribe of writers who dismiss and destroy another’s way of life and use scriptures to defend our actions. Whether we have personal experience in the area of our critique or not, we are quick to create “others” and even quicker to point out all their shortcomings.
Is division the way forward? Is this what Jesus actually speaks of? I’m tired of authors who pick key verses and create new denominations. That’s all we’re doing as writers. Creating an atmosphere where our followers can praise and proselytize our message of exclusivity and wisdom. Yes; I recognize the irony of this piece and how it could feel like a method of the same behavior. I don’t want to dismiss these works I’ve read as meaningless; I want to critically examine the work we ingest and start asking ourselves if it serves the higher purpose of our stories, or if it just serves our ego. I’m not in relationship with these authors and do not intend this article to be a “clapback.” My intention is to wrestle with my own response to works like these and to avoid repeating the same behaviors.
Recently, I was unnamed but publicly criticized for supporting a group of women. This particular group of women believes in the power of story, personal testimony, and self-confidence as virtues. In the days following one woman’s story of feeling proud and grateful for her growth, the rumblings of dissent and dismissal began. Although I only stumbled upon the criticism, it was clearly directed toward condemning a cherry-picked sentence from what was spoken.
That’s the problem with demonizing the camps around you. When you sling fiery arrows toward your enemies intending purification, the only thing we notice is the fact that you were willing to create war to be right. Now with a humble heart, we can turn those arrows into bonfires for warmth. Which we do, by the way. Join us anytime and bring your friends. But just because we can reconcile the criticisms with truth does not release you from the responsibility to be kind, integrous, and loving humans.
The problem I find with this online evangelism is the lack of heart behind it. I used to write some of my own intense work in the past with the same vein. As much as I tried to keep the reflections internal, there were occasional times that I crossed the very line I’m describing. This is what it looks like to be on the other side of that understanding.
When scriptures extoll us to “correct fellow believers,” the intention is that you would be in fellowship with those few. That you carry similar beliefs, and know that you have similar thoughts about your faith because again: You’re actively living life with those few and in consistent fellowship.
Fellowships are small, intentional, and highly regarded groups cultivated with a single purpose. Those in membership discuss their ideas, findings, and often generate academic or public discourse in response to their work. But those pieces produced, when aimed outwardly as accusations, are easily dismissed as incomplete. The purpose of academic writings such as these are to expand upon the findings of the group and make conclusions that move the needle for the fellows. Rarely have I seen a faith based fellowship declare a personal revelation through expository writing that does not also include an outright dismissal of another perspective. Perhaps it is that the Christian authors I’m reading do not trust their audiences to make their own conclusions.
Does your fellowship rely on discussion of the “others” to feel good about itself? What is the atmosphere you create in your gatherings? Is it one of excitement and expectation or one of dour disgust and frustration with how little the “others” understand? I’ve spent time in both camps, and I finally know which land I would like to inhabit.
Let’s create a fellowship of faith based believers that can elevate and promote our work without relying on the destruction of one another. In my role as a grief coach, I write affirmations for my clients to recall when the waves of loss are crashing down. Do affirmations negate confidence in God? Only if you are carrying a binary understanding of God and the world. If you are among the many who hold an understanding of God that is complex, non-dualistic, and in all things, then an affirmation is simply another piece of literature used to express and experience God through our story.
I want to be clear that when I say God is in all things, I do not mean all things happen for a reason. Let’s not extract one line from this work to define its or my totality of belief.
When you create, I do not expect you to be all things to all people. Your work will resonate with some, and repel others. But if our greatest intention as faith based writers is to elevate the name of God to the benefit of others, then perhaps it would behoove our creative hearts to embrace others first, despite our aversions to their story. Jesus at all times embraced those in positions of humility, no matter their preconceived notions of faith or life. If your role in the world is predicated on negating the conclusions of others, your work may benefit from a humble review.
This is not to turn all faith based authors into apologists – far from it. My heart is to see a community of faith based authors beginning to rise as the loving, invitational manifestations of Christ on earth. We’ve gone so far to one side, embracing the angry, table flipping version of Jesus that justifies our rage. We even go so far as to call that moment proof of God’s “tough love.” Let’s see if we can refrain from justifying our stories through scripture and instead, allow the entirety of creation to be the justification for our love to breech the dam walls and overflow onto dry lands.