The thing is: I don’t know if I’m technically a Christian anymore. I’ve been silently debating this question for a decade now and have finally deduced that although I still mentally identify myself as a Christian, I am not.
I was raised as a Methodist by a Christian mother and an atheist father. The first big blow to my religious upbringing came at 16. It was love; not for my high school sweetheart, Matt, but for Shirley MacLaine, or more precisely her book Out on A Limb, which discusses Shirley’s spiritual journey investigating soul mates, reincarnation, and self-realization. It was a major publishing Pleap (Pink leap of faith) in 1983. Reading that book brought me to tears; it felt so true that my heart almost sang in the knowing of it. I had been content with Christianity for 11 years, but I became fully connected to the Divine through the concept of reincarnation. Yes, one book can change your life.
As the years passed I bumped up against other complications with the Christian doctrine. I don’t believe in a God of fear and punishment in any way, which led me to question eternal hell. Do I believe we can experience a place that FEELS like hell for a time? Yes. But I believe all paths, even the long dark ones, wind back to the Almighty. Yes, I feel that even a soul such as Hitler’s will eventually find its way back into the Light.
I also have trouble accepting the concept of original sin. It’s very uncomfortable for me to follow along as a minister leads the congregation in a prayer asking God to show his mercy on us sinners. I always feel compelled to peek into the pews behind me to search out this “sinner” in the crowd. My soul just doesn’t feel that…filthy. I meditate on a regular basis and have yet to feel a moment of taint. Instead, I feel a pureness of light and love that is MUCH, MUCH greater than I will ever fully grasp. I’m aware of the struggle within me between the wisdom of my soul and the needs of ego but I have never felt anything inherit to feel ashamed or guilty of. I see people as doing the best they can with what they know. Struggling? Yes, but each of them possessing the very spirit of God within. I see more “holy” in the human form than that of “sinner”.
Of course, this would lead to a conflict with the idea of Christian salvation. How can I ask Christ to “save” me from a sinful taint I do not comprehend? That’s sort of like calling in the fire department without a fire.
The clincher for my “Christian question” came when I fully admitted that I don’t believe Jesus is the ONLY path to the Higher Power. I just don’t see God as that limiting. Knowing the wide spectrum of the human experience and our human nature, I believe He has created many pathways, encompassing THE ALL; the greatest of these being the connection in our own hearts. Jesus was an amazing, enlightened soul who lived a life of deep love and Godly connection. He is a gift to the human race, but I’m not sure the makings of his soul were any different than mine, or yours, or the Muslim bowing to the East. Jesus was fully connected to the Light within, yet, I can’t emphatically claim he’s the only one to have accomplished such a feat.
I’m a woman who believes in reincarnation, has disqualified hell, original sin, and Jesus as my only hope of salvation. I’m a complex spiritual puzzle who would be a challenge for any pastor. It’s taken awhile; it’s a difficult matter to step away from the religion you were brought up in, but I’ve accepted that I am no longer a member of the Christian faith.
So this is Christmas; what does it offer me now? I string the lights, hang an angel on the front porch, humming Silent Night and Oh Bethlehem, and ask, “Why am I participating in this holy-day?” Is it an act of political correctness? Is it family tradition? Is it cultural pressure? Is it the only religious celebration I’ve got? Am I performing a sacrilegious act having the nativity scene under my Christmas tree? Should I even have a tree? Am I being authentic to my self and honoring my personal faith? And why do I suspect if I were to take away all the decoration and cancel our annual Christmas party our neighbors would be more upset by my “Bah Hum Bug” attitude rather than my lack of religious conviction? Is it worse to carry out these traditions without conscious consideration, much less conviction, for the beliefs behind them or to carry on with them, year after year, knowing you feel no connection to the Holy Night? How many of us are personally celebrating the “reason for the season”?
Before the prayer groups converge on my door step to save me from the pits of eternal damnation, let me mention…I possess a deep, unshakable relationship with God. For me, Jesus was a figure I tried to connect to each Sunday morning, but it was God I embraced Sunday night (and every other night of the week). I may be religiously skeptical but I’ve been spiritually sound for a good portion of my life.
Can’t I celebrate the spiritual lessons of Christ beyond salvation? Why throw out the baby with the holy water? Jesus has provided a lighted path to millions--a pretty good reason to hang some lights and cue the choir. Christmas celebrates the power and mystery of spirit. If a deep love, full of promise and hope, can spark in the most unlikely of places and circumstances imagine what it could do in my comfortable life? Christmas celebrates extraordinary faith. If Mary and Joseph could throw everything behind a voice and a vision, trusting that God would carry them through troubles larger than themselves, where would absolute faith take me? Christmas celebrates humanity. Caesar Augustus, the innkeeper, the wise men, the shepherds, Mary and Joseph--do I approach every circumstance and soul as if God has breathed the very life into it?
I understand that the church wants its followers to accept the Bible as a whole, they’re not a “pick the verses you can live with” type of organization. Unfortunately, for many of us, it’s more of a “what about the verses I can’t live with” situation. Ultimately, our relationship with a higher source is just that--a relationship, not an organization. If our hearts are seriously troubled by parts of the doctrine, do we begin to feel more spiritually confidant outside the chapel? Could this be one of the reasons why only 18 percent of the American population is attending church on a regular basis?
I honor and celebrate the birth of Jesus because I believe in the Devine, because his life is the model of unconditional love and undying faith, because the nativity story emphasizes how the Universe always, always has our back.
As the season of love, hope, joy and peace falls upon us, is it possible for all of us--avid Christian, skeptical Christian, former Christian, even a non-Christian--to find meaning in the birth of Christ? Have you asked yourself WHY you’re stringing lights across your gutters? Do you have a problem with others celebrating Christmas for spiritual reasons other than the birth of Christ? What about those who celebrate the holiday but fine absolutely no spiritual or religious significance in it?
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