I grew up completely unchurched in the heart of the bible belt. I did not attend any church until my late twenties when a series of miscarriages launched me on a spiritual journey. In my early years as a Christian, it was as if a whole new world opened up for me, a world of possibilities where God was alive, moving and shaping me. I was a hungry baby Christian gobbling up all things Christian, eager to live a Christ like life. In my experience that meant all things church.
I signed up for every bible study I could find. For more than ten years, my faith was lived largely through the acquisition of knowledge that I thought would one day bring me to a place of personal holiness. Sunday morning sermons, Christian music, couples small groups, womens bible studies; I was a total church junkie.
Then one day I met a homeless heroin addict who professed faith in Jesus but who continued to struggle with addiction. As I journeyed with her for the next three years, I realized all my well-rehearsed Christian platitudes, like “Let go and let God” and “Surrender your life to Jesus and he will set you free” were only empty words. I realized that I had no idea how to actually live my faith, I only knew how to talk about it. I had a solid theological grounding but no idea how to embody it in the world with those who so desperately needed to know the Jesus I claimed to represent.
This week, two young people reminded me that the desire to go where God ultimately took me was present in those first years of my spiritual journey. I simply took a ten year detour that they are not interested in taking.
Like me, Jessica grew up unchurched. This past year, Jessica has been on a spiritual journey. Every week for almost a year, she visited a different church, center, temple or mosque and wrote about the experience on her blog called, “52 Prayers.” Through her journey she came to faith in Christ. With her 52 Prayers project nearing completion, Jessica is preparing for a new journey; the journey of living her faith in the world. Jessica is not content to spend the next ten years in a Sunday school classroom studying. She is eager to live the faith she has discovered. She is praying about spending the next year of her life journeying with the homeless in our city and allowing God to teach her through that experience. I wish I would have been as bold and courageous as Jessica sixteen years ago!
My second teacher is Jack who this week shared that he too had a spiritual epiphany. Jack grew up in the church but as I shared in an earlier post titled, “Spiritual not Religious: Fact or Fiction?”, he has questions and doubts that are not welcome in the institutional church. The unanswered questions and doubts have left him disillusioned with Christianity. This week Jack shared “I know one thing for sure… you can count me in as far the “works” go. I’ve got to find a way to make some sort of impact locally. Not until last night did I grasp the SHEER IMPORTANCE that serving those less fortunate plays in the big picture. Who knew?” Like Jessica, Jack’s faith came alive this week in the thought of living it in practical ways in the world. He is not interested in theological debates but longs to experience Christ spirit working through him.
This advent season, I am reminded by these two young Christians that what makes Christianity unique is the incarnation. God became flesh and dwelt among us. When I first became a Jesus follower, like Jessica and Jack, I wanted to be the incarnate Christ in the world. I wanted a lived theology. However, the only options for growth that I found offered by the local church were intellectual exercises that fell short in preparing me to be Christ in the world.
I was willing to live a radical sold out life fully surrendered to whatever God would call me to, but no one encouraged me to venture outside the church walls. Our faith is not lived in sanctuaries, Sunday school classrooms, or small groups but in the streets with those who are suffering. Jessica and Jack both instinctively know this truth. I think we all know this truth but we have succumb to “churchianity”; thinking that church equals Christianity. Church attendance is not the end goal but is simply the vehicle through which God equips and empowers us for actually living as Christ body in the world.
My prayer this advent season is for Christ spirit to take on my flesh and become incarnate in me. I also pray for the church here in America. I pray we create expressions of Christ body that spark and nurture the faith of people like Jessica and Jack. It is time we all yearned for a lived theology. As we await the coming of the Christ child this advent season may we all prepare room in our own hearts for Christ spirit to live in and through us. Come Lord Jesus come!
This post is part of a Synchroblog, where a group of bloggers post on the same topic on the same day, so that people can surf from one to the other and get different views on the same basic topic. The topic for December is “Journey Through Advent” Learn more at Grace Rules.
other bloggers participating so far:
- steve taylor – journey through advent–am i traveling well?
- peter walker – my ignorance in advent
- bethany stedman – experiencing advent with a toddler
- christen hansel – advent-expecting and unexpecting
- annie bullock – limping along
- phil wyman – a series of advent posts here
- beth patterson – clear-eyed gaze of the stranger
- steve hayes – advent synchroblog
- george elerick – the weak ghosts of advent
- jeff goins – advent and christmas journeys and destinations
- kathy at carnival in my head – making room for the unexpected
- john o’keefe – the season of adventure
- alan knox – walking through advent today
- sonja andrews – road to nowhere
- peggy brown – wandering with a waiting abbess
- cathryn at love fiercely – advent prayer
- sonnie swenston-forbes – on advent–christmas will come
- liz dyer – advent – a journey of awakening
- andrew jones – God came near