Growing up in an evangelical missionary community, it was central to the formation of our Christian identity to integrate a keen sense of outreach. “People need the Lord ~~” we’d sing passionately in chapel, and dynamic speakers were brought in to compel us with a sense of urgency to go out and reach the world for Jesus.
It was a rescue mission. The theological impetus is a world of people lost to eternal damnation unless we save them with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
After years of faith shifting, unable to reconcile a loving God with One who would subject millions of people who don’t ascribe to the evangelical brand of faith to eternal conscious torment, I am no longer compelled by that calling.
But the girl on fire for world missions is still on fire. When I began to critique and challenge the orthodoxies of my childhood faith, my sense of adventure drove me beyond the boundaries of institutional Christianity, where I frolicked with wild abandon. When I was no longer tied to the guilt of service and liberated to love without agenda, I saw the world with fresh eyes. I spent time with those raised outside of Christianity who exhibit genuine kindness, generosity, and joy. The people who needed the Lord turned out to be mighty decent folks.
I began to be converted again. I decided that I had perhaps done enough rescuing and that the one who needed rescuing was myself. I sought to be evangelized, curious about the reverence others had for their gods and inspired by causes foreign to my own Christian background. I am in awe of activists of all stripes, finding those who are passionate for their values a beautiful, resilient testament to humanity. I love those on the outside so much and I am hungry, still, for them to feed an insatiable desire to be more fully human. I want what gives other people meaning to complete my own.
I don’t know how long I lived like this before realizing how far this posture has distanced me from the evangelical faith. I looked back and saw the fear that kept me inside the Christian bubble still held many in bondage. They stood digging their heels in and kept building more walls to keep people out, and I realized with sadness that I had become one of those they’d like to keep at arm’s length. Their messaging was so effective that it traveled into my ears and took root in my heart. I believed that a Christian identity necessitates that at some point I hold my moral ground and there are lines that cannot be crossed. My refusal to do this means I had to surrender my Christian card, and at times, I have been tempted to do just that.
But what I am learning is how steeped I still am in the paradigm of the Christian bubble. As long as I continue to think of the Christian identity as demarcating borders, I am inclined to believe I can stray from it. It’s time for me to pop that metaphorical Christian bubble. What marks my Christian identity isn’t a bubble that keeps me in or out, they are signposts that show me the way I should go. There is no wall, no bubble, no barrier—there is only a light shining the path ahead.
Samir Selmanovic, in his chapter of Faith Forward entitled, “God Moves Sideways,” says it another way, “The boundaries of our identities do not have to be obstacles; they can be connections.” It used to be that cities were made strong by building sturdy walls, but today the strongest cities are the ones that are most well connected via highways, internet, and airports, he points out.
Today, our Christian identity not only permits us to connect with those beyond Christian institutions, it requires it. We are made strong by how connected we are with people of other faiths, theologies, ethnicities and nations.
In connecting deeply with those beyond Christian orthodoxy, I am not watering down my faith, I am watering the roots of my Christian identity that it may continue to deepen and grow and spread. Because the wisdom of other traditions reveal blind spots in my own and add nuance to our commonalities. Because learning from others is a sacred recognition of the divine that exists in them—in their mythologies, their passions, their rituals.
What makes my identity Christian isn’t how my worldview differs from others, but how it draws me to them. To respect the other is the most Christian thing I can do.
I had falsely believed I was straying when I veered outward to learn beyond Christian borders.
Now I know that I am simply heading home.