There are lots of biases and assumptions about who Christians are and what we believe out there. Many of those biases are founded in real–life experience. Unfortunately, it’s true that many Christians have done our share of damage when it comes to tarnishing the image of the Church.
But it’s also true that many people tend to understand Christianity as if it’s a monolithic group that can be described in simple (often negative) terms.
But it just ain’t so! Generally, the news media tend to portray only one way of understanding Christian faith, but in fact there are many different approaches to it. While many disagree with the way I understand Christianity, it is nevertheless another way shared by many. The beauty of such disagreement is that it allows us to be more open to dialogue so we can learn from each other.
In my own life, and in these columns, I have tried to present that different vision. Many others have been grateful. They approach me on the street or in the mall with delight, saying, “I didn’t know you could think about it that way!”
So here are some of the things I think are true of Christian faith … the “Top 4”. At least for now.
1. Christianity is not about getting to heaven; it has to do with how we live in this life.
One of the earliest names for Christians were “people of the way.” They were people who walked in the way of Jesus. The point of Christian faith is not “to get to heaven”. The point is to learn to live in this world in a compassionate, just and loving way.
Christianity is about so much more than what happens after you die. Jesus was much more concerned about how we live in this world than about what happens after we die. Jesus is not a quick fix or a way to hedge our bets for eternity, just in case.
So let’s take heaven or hell off the table. Let’s just get on with being loving and compassionate people.
2. If you don’t feel comfortable praying to something or someone, then just pray on or about something.
I don’t conceive of God as some “heavenly father–figure in the sky”. Nor do I believe that God needs or requires me to pray to him or her. Prayer is a practice in which I learn to be attentive to God’s presence in life, the presence of goodness and love as I walk in the world. Prayer is about paying attention to walking well in my journey through life. By praying, I engage with life in a fuller way.
As I pray, I seek to identify with those who are hurting. On the other side of it, in prayer I try to celebrate the goodness that one can find in life if one simply looks.
Understood this way, prayer can take many different forms. My practice of prayer is to find a time or a space to sit, be still, reflect on life, engage with life in all its forms, and even listen without any expectation of some magical voice having to answer me in order for me to be doing it right.
3. You don’t need to go to church to be a Christian, but doing it alone is much more difficult.
I understand that some people (many?) resist going to church. But becoming part of a community helps us to go deeper with our faith practices. A community holds us accountable so that our words and our deeds can match. A community can encourage us or help us. Also, I believe we see “the face of God” in other people … which is precisely what a community is. Like it or not, we need each other.
4. Just being a “good person” or “not hurting anyone else” isn’t enough.
Sometimes I hear people say that they don’t see the need to be a Christian because they already have it more or less figured out. Basically—don’t be a jerk, try not to hurt others, and be kind.
These are all fine, but they are also the same values that kindergarten taught me. And contrary to the book, I did not learn everything I needed to know in kindergarten. I have grown in my knowledge and in my need to be stretched beyond those very simple things.
We need to be stretched that way. Christian faith is more than being nice. People of faith are called to live in ways that make the world better for other people, and indeed for all of creation.
There’s a start for a different way of understand Christian living. The challenge for me, and others like me, is to go out and live it.