A few years ago, when we moved to the city we are currently living in, my family and I went church shopping. We tried several new churches, trying to find the perfect one. (Ha!) We weren’t just looking because we moved though.
We had been looking for a new church since we left our old one in 2012. We left in disillusionment over the fact that church and God didn’t fix our marriage or personalities. But we were told that God could fix anything! We must be super broken or you (the church) and God failed! (Ha! I didn’t really think that, but close.)
Well, church can’t change you. Only God can. And only if you let him.
Dying to yourself. Letting God take over. Bearing his image. Letting go of who you used to be? Well, THAT didn’t happen. So we left explosively. Which is the only way we know how to do anything. With dynamite.
They say, “You have a dynamite personality!” Yeah, well, in my case? They mean something completely different. I’m a hothead. Volatile, passionate, idealistic, stubborn, unwavering, impulsive, shortsighted, temperamental, demanding, exacting, ridiculous, unapologetic. But enough about my good qualities.
My husband is also all these things. So when our egos meet on the battlefield of love, it can get pretty dicey. The last one standing gets all the glory. We were both actors in community theatre when we met. We both suffer from mild to severe anxiety and are made up entirely of hot buttons and triggers. Makes for a fun Friday night usually. This should be all you need to know about why we are the Bickersons. BUT! we love each other with just as much vigor. The kind of love that can break you. And it does. Over and over. And sometimes, most times, in a good way.
So. We left church. The church I thought I would die in. Be mourned in. Live life until the wheels fell off in. Change who I fundamentally am in. But that didn’t happen. We blew up our life in the church. Because we were the same old people who refused to die. Die to myself? Die to the idea of myself?
Giving up drama, anxiety, depression, hurt, anger? No. Those are my old friends. You can’t make me. I don’t know who I am without them. I don’t want to be happy. And mainly, I don’t want to be happy with you (leaders and congregation). My main beef with our church was that we poured our lives into the church so much that we neglected our own family and created stress for ourselves and we were getting nothing back. We exhausted ourselves and we did not receive payment or consideration. Boo-hoo.
But we were waiting to get paid. Maybe not in money, but. In counseling. Or accolades. Or so many pats on the back. Or fellowship. Unending, deep, invested fellowship. The kind where people pick you up and dust you off. True love and friendship. Well, THAT didn’t happen. But we also didn’t let it happen. Maybe.
Whatever the reasons we left, I was destined to crash with heart failure just one month later. So our path was chosen, regardless. We were never going to die in that church. To ourselves or to the world.
C’est la vie. We were selfish, they were clouded, we were greedy, they were negligent. We were wrong and right and so were they. Whatever! Doesn’t matter. Lessons learned. Move on. Shake the dust. We got what we needed. God had another path in mind all along.
So. New church. Trying it out. No offense, but it had Baptist in the name, so. Kinda leery. We came from a contemporary church that played rock ‘n’ roll on Sunday and talked about masturbation and porn in sermon. We found Christ in that church. We found the real Christ that broke bread with real people. We found the true meaning of Christ. The grace-filled inheritance of unearnable salvation. So we weren’t sure if we would find Christ at a shining temple in a gleaming suburb with traditional hymns.
I was raised Baptist and my husband went to a Baptist church when he was 14. We both had PBI. Post-Baptist indigestion. I never understood grace and I was baptized at 6. How could I not hear of Christ’s grace until I was 35 years old? How is that possible?
I have my theory: because evangelical teaching from the 80s did not include grace.
Evangelical doctrine (I also attended Assembly of God, tell me the difference between Southern Baptist and A of G?) included compliance by intimidation. It included religious tracts and consequences. It included anxiety-producing, fear-mongering eternal condemnation and Lake-of-Hellfire death to all teenagers for even thinking about sex, rock ‘n’ roll or secular trappings of Satan.
I went to a Christian youth camp when I was 12. (I remember this particular time, but attended many camps with the same outcome.) The guest speaker vividly described what Hell would be like. “Do you know where you will go tonight?” the pastor asked. “Do you want to live an eternity in Hell? Do you feel the flames on your feet tonight?”
Thank you for traumatizing my super-sensitive, empathic teen mind, Pastor Jerry. Now I love Jesus even more?
Girls were openly weeping. Boys ran down to the altar call. Kids were praying, crying and gnashing their teeth. That was Hell. Bodies huddled together. Fear pulsing through the hearts of children. Living in fear, unable to reconcile desire and consequence.
And this was America. And this was Christian. And this was consensual.
And this was Baptist. My husband has the same stories.
Thankfully, when we visited the Baptist church in our new town, they had a guest speaker from New York. Cool. He was old-school Baptist, but with a contemporary, urban spin. Duck Dynasty meets Portlandia. (*fist pump* Yes, please!)
He had a whole presentation. I call it a one-act, one-man show because it was the best bit of preachin’ I’d ever seen a young man perform. Yes, perform. He didn’t have media, but he had action, vigor, pause, persuasion, enticement, highlights, low whispers, call-down-from-the-rafters biblical teaching that washed my bad-taste-Baptist palette clean. He impressed me, as an actor, how entirely he crushed the message for young and old alike. He told the truth so sweetly as to not offend an angel’s ear. And so firmly, enough to pierce the cynical heart of man. A delicate thread to tread, no doubt.
I never understood why evangelicals wanted so many kids. This guy had a bunch of kids. I thought it was just because they didn’t use birth control. But he explained “image bearer” for the first time. That resonated with me.
The whole point in having kids was not to enjoy sex and suffer the consequences for all time, but to create another life that reflects and bears the image of Christ for the world. This made my job as a parent clear.
I had an inkling of this as a mom already, but this sermon was the mind-expanding drug of clarity. My job wasn’t to get my daughter into Harvard or ensure her success in the world. It was to ensure the success of the world God created by doing my darnedest to replicate a little Jesus Christ. A caretaker, a miracle worker, a lover of man. A deeply compassionate, mercy-having world-changer. A rebel WITH a cause.
My job was to create a human being capable of great love, great forgiveness and great humility. A person willing to die for the world to save it. My job is to make the world a better place by contributing my child to it. Not the opposite–the world giving to my child.
My child isn’t my savings account. My child is the whole economy on which we trust, operate and predict the future.
Having kids, the purpose, was to make another image of Christ on the planet. A living reflection of ethics, morals and teachings of Jesus. I’m not convinced that evangelicals are truly replicating Christ in their kids, but I see alot of good ones. But are they simply bearing an image? Do they feel it in their hearts? Are they bearing an image or baring an image? Are they bearing the weight and consequence of their parents’ image management or are they “baring” or revealing the true face of Christ?
I’m worried. Only for the simple fact that I lived 35 years and didn’t understand grace. The true nature of Christ is grace. Sin-cancelling, life-changing grace. You give it to get it. You can’t truly live without it. You deny grace, you die by the sword of unforgivable intolerance. You blaspheme the name of God by denying grace. Grace is God. Grace is His way, His nature, His will. Will these image bearers know this? Will they be taught this?
Have I shown my daughter this? Have I given to the world before taking from it?
Have I bared the image? Has she seen it?
Will we bear the image of Christ for the world and, not just bear our own children, but replicate Christ for the forgotten children of the world? Will we be their image-bearers? Teach and show them the face of Christ? Not the Anglo-Saxon, blue-eyed Christ, but the one, true Son of God who had mercy on the ENTIRE planet–Jew and Gentile, black and white, Muslim and Christian, everyone.
We don’t need to appropriate them. We need to love them.
We don’t need to change them. We need to love them.
We don’t need to tell them. We need to show them through sacrifice, grace and humility.
We propagate and multiply injustice by ignoring sin. We must face our children, engage and not shame them for being human. God loved/loves man. So much that he saved us. And how depraved are we?
Grace and respect are the images to bear. Do unto others. Especially kids. Especially the world. You can’t call yourself a Christian without the love and mercy of Christ.