Monday, October 13, 2008

Entitled to Bitterness?

I was called out recently. I posted on an internet forum and referenced “right wing blowhards” in a confrontational rant about my beliefs about how Christians should act. A response I received was a bit of a wakeup call.

“Guys, please don’t call people names just because they disagree with your stance. There’s nothing Christian about calling conservatives ‘crazy’ or ‘blowhards’. Someone said that in their experience, leftists tend to be more mean-spirited than those on the right. An honest perusal of the posts so far bears this out.”

This got me started thinking about how I feel about the church and how I feel about religious leaders with viewpoints different than my own. I realized I was angry. I was angry and bitter. And worse, I felt entitled to my bitterness. After years of religious indoctrination and institutionalization, I felt deep betrayal and hurt after I finally broke away and formed my own ideas and beliefs about Jesus and His teaching. I was angry because I felt I was always attacked from every side. Not only am I attacked by the secular left for believing in God, but I am attacked by the religious right for dining with the enemy. I’m told no true Christian would vote for this person or hang out with that person or do any number of things on a never ending laundry list.

I’ve been reading several books on religion and Christianity as part of my quest to find my place in today’s church. One of the books is Chris Hedges’ collection of articles based on the Ten Commandments, entitled “Losing Moses on the Freeway.” In his section on the Sabbath, he begins with a story of his time spend in a boarding school, and speaks of tyrannical teachers and regimented life. He writes of the schools formal adherence to religious ritual and doctrine:

“Religion, like learning, was part of the effort to bend us into dutiful and compliant young men. It was meant to curb and thoughts of rebellion, of self expression, of liberation.”

While I had never attended a boarding school, having been at church at least three times a week for twenty-odd years, I understood the feeling of being institutionalized and controlled. While most of the time I didn’t detest it, church was never simply an option for me. While I lived under my father’s roof, I would obey his rules, or so he said.

Chris goes on to talk about one act of rebellion by the boys at the boarding school. The headmaster and teachers instructed all the boys to walk up a hill, collecting rocks so the mowers would not hit them. In a spontaneous act of defiance, the boys began throwing the rocks up at the hastily retreating teachers.

“The prophets spent their days raging against corruption and abuse of power by those in the royal palaces and courts, the mistreatment of the poor, of widows and orphans, in short the hard and difficult struggle of the oppressed to achieve freedom and dignity. They were angry, indignant over the minor infractions. The prophets, I understood years later, would have been standing on the bottom of the hill with us, not at the top with the school officials who ruled us. But the message of the prophets, like all messages passed on to us, was twisted to pressure us to conform.”

I, too, had been throwing rocks of my own, verbal rocks, at religious leaders. After all, am I not entitled to my bitterness? I was like a person in an abusive relationship; I knew it was hurting me but I kept going back. I was dependant on my church. I felt I needed approval from my church. But every time I went back I would hear something that conflicted with my beliefs, and again anger would swell up inside of me. After I severed all ties, I still longed for my old flame, and the approval that I lacked.

During this time I was also reading “Blue Like Jazz” by Donald Miller. I was very moved by his path to Christian spirituality, how he found his place in the church, and I felt as though he was talking to me and understood my situation. I came to a chapter titled “Church. How I go without getting angry.” “Ooh, that is me.” I thought, as read the words with great interest. Don lays out several issues that he has with the church, and says:

“I told [the pastor] it was hard for me to go to church without getting angry, and I think he took that personally. I tried to explain how I felt, but I was speaking a different language. I felt stupid, too, like some bitter idiot all wet and wanting everybody to cater to me, to my ideas about who Jesus is and was and the way He wants us to live.”

Don talks about finding a church where he fits in, and goes on to talk about how he had to let go of any bad attitude.

“I had to tell my heart to love the people from the churches I used to go to, the people who were different than me. This was entirely freeing because when I told my heart to do this, my heart did it, and now I think very fondly of those wacko Republican fundamentalists, and I know that they love me, too, and I know that we will eat together, we will break bread together in heaven, and we will love each other so purely it will hurt because we are a family in Christ.

Don’t hold grudges against any other churches. God love those churches almost as much as He loves yours.”

As I read this, I finally understood how to relate to my former church. I knew my bitterness was only hurting me, hurting my relationship with God, and hurting any efforts to find common ground and understanding with those of different views. What I needed was to love my previous church, and the religious leaders I disagree with, because without love and forgiveness there is no way I could ever have civil discussion or interaction with them again. I prayed for God to take away my bitterness and anger, and now I feel a great deal more peace. Now I can face people of my past with love and understanding. In fact, over the next few weeks I plan on hanging out with several old friends and acquaintances of my former church and hope to have good conversation about faith and sense of place in the church. Bridges are not burnt and I pray they never will be.

On the internet forum, I wrote a reply showing respect for different views and laid out my thoughts in a non-confrontational way. This time I received a better reaction:

“I applaud your chosen way to present your points in the later posts. This is how Christians should discuss differences with one another. Thanks.”

An addendum: Looking back over some of my older posts, I almost don't agree with some of the ways I argued things. I don't want to delete them, though, but understand that this blog is a personal journey of spiritual growth. Views, emotions, and positions may not be permanent.

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