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Am I a Christian? A fresh look at what might define a Christian.

good shepherd jesus and sheep

I like peeling back the onion of religion and theology, although I know the subject makes some folks squirm.  I think it's beneficial to us personally, and to society on the whole if it's done with respect and humility.  I even completed a masters degree in the subject just to explore it more deeply, but I can understand if that's not your cup of tea.  And don't worry, I won’t pressure you to take a stance on heady theological subjects like substitutionary-atonement, supra-lapsarianism, or premillennial-dispensationalism.  We'll just have a bit of fun and use terms with less than 20 letters...

So here's what I believe:

1) At some points in our lives we all naturally deal with self-centeredness, and we sometimes think (at least subconsciously) that the world revolves around us, and tend to take ourselves way too seriously.  But Jesus said to put others first.  He said if we want to know love, we must give love to others as we would expect to be loved.  He said if we want to find ourselves, we must first lose ourselves...  That all resonates with me.

2) At some points in our lives we all naturally feel anger, resentment, or lack of forgiveness for past events.   But Jesus said to let go of anger, forgive everyone, and if someone slaps us on one cheek to turn and give them the other.  He said to let go of past hurts, and instead to look forward with peace and joy...  That all resonates with me.

3) At some points in our lives we all naturally feel jealousy, envy, and greed.  But Jesus said to give of ourselves and our possessions generously, and with cheer.  He said our hearts would be with that which we treasure, and that doing for others is more important than our own social status and the size of our storehouses...  That all resonates with me

4) At some points in our lives we all naturally feel unnecessary anxiety, fear, and insecurity.  But Jesus reminded us not to worry, or be troubled, or afraid; as those negative emotions won't add a single minute to our lives; and instead to exhibit courage and live with a noble purpose.  That all resonates with me.
5) At some points in our lives we all naturally chase power and status  But Jesus says that those things sought out of context are a huge drain of lifecycles, and that we should instead focus our time and energy on humbly and meekly building others up with respect, positive virtues, consolation, and encouragement... without seeking recognition for our good works.  That all resonates with me.
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When I was young and trying to find my way, these teachings of Jesus, which are contrary to many of our natural instincts, were a light unto my path, and they still are today.  One could even say that thanks to Jesus I was "saved" (to use evangelical terms) or "enlightened" to use broad spiritual terminology.
With that said however, I realize that people have had similar experiences without Christianity, and that's great too.  You see, I needed something to find me where I was.  Having been raised Christian, and surrounded by other Christians most of my life, that was the community that helped me explore these things at that time.  After subsequent exploration and research on Christianity I identified aspects of modern mainstream Christianity which I could not subscribe to or have any degree of certainty about.  For instance, I don’t literally believe stories like Adam & Eve, Noah’s Ark, Jonah, Job, or others like them... at least not literally, and in many cases not even figuratively.   I think many of these stories limit our spiritual growth and were mostly tribal attempts to harmonize a good God with a challenging (pre-scientific) world.

I also don’t believe that God sent his people on divine missions to slaughter everyone in the lands that he wanted them to inherit; or that he rained down fire and brimstone on certain cities as consequences of their sin; or that he sent a death angel over a town to kill hoards of Egyptian babies.  I think those were stories born of theocracies trying to rationalize their conquests.  And I believe there are people alive today who take that warrior God motif too literally and use it to support some warped views.
I also don’t believe the Bible is inerrant or infallible.  In fact, I don’t see anywhere in the Bible where it claims to be, and I'm not sure why so many people are so passionate that it is.  I would love it if we had a perfect owners manual directly designed to navigate life by our creator, but we don't, at least not in my opinion.

I do “believe” Jesus existed, and I follow many of his teachings.  I “believe” in "God," although I cannot in any way try to define God or ascribe limited human attributes to God (such as a white beard).  So I choose to "believe" that some undefinable God does exist, but I understand if you don't.  I “believe” that aforementioned undefinable and uncategorizable God has some good purpose with existence, but in this wild and crazy world I can’t articulate that point much further.  I don’t “believe” Jesus was born of a literal virgin, and I'm pretty confident that Jesus didn't believe that either; and if Paul, Peter, or James believed it they would have likely mentioned it somewhere in their writings.  I do “believe” Jesus is the son of God, just like I am the son of God, or you are the son / daughter of God (for whatever that may mean), for in the most famous Lord’s Prayer, Jesus prayed to “our Father,” which shows that in his opinion we are all sons and daughters of God.  I “believe” Jesus died for our sins, in the sense that he understood our sins and was willing to go all the way to death to try to turn us from them.  The Bible says there's no greater love than to lay down one's life for another, and in that sense, you might also say that the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King died for our sins.  I still go to church as it’s one of the only positive places on earth to be in community with other seekers and be reminded to slow down, take time to reflect, and serve others on a regular basis... although I do have to tune out some most of the doctrine.  I do “believe” in prayer, because at the very least it’s therapeutic for us personally, and it brings people together - and if we believe in an afterlife there's no reason we can't pray to Jesus or anyone else for that matter.  Oh, and lastly, I believe the word “believe” plays much too large a role in today’s spiritual conversation, because something either is, or it isn’t, and "belief" doesn't make it more real or unreal, although our actions in response to it might.  So after this post I don't believe I will use the word believe so much.

Some interesting feedback received on this post:

Marcus said:  Great post Eric! Let me weigh in with my 2 cents worth...All the things that resonate with you, also resonate with me.Arguably Jesus' greatest 2 commandments were "Love the Lord Thy God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself."What's interesting is that many major religions agree on these 2 points. Eastern religion, such as Hinduism, teaches "sat-chit-ananda". That God is ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new bliss. We are a spark of God, made in His image, so our true nature is also ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new bliss. THAT RESONATES WITH ME!They also teach that by quieting the mind, you can tune in with God and the perfect image of God that is your soul. "Be still and know that I am God." "when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly." THAT RESONATES WITH ME!

Norm said:  That is quite possibly the most elegant, thoughtful and thorough distillation of what it means to be a Christian I have ever had the pleasure to read.  I have not attended church services (Christian or Jewish) since becoming non-theist in my beliefs. Your words, I think, have given me pause to reconsider.  The thing I enjoyed most about attending a Christian Church or Jewish Synagogue was the camaraderie of tackling difficult human tragedy and struggle collectively. It is where I felt most profoundly a part of the Community.

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