Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Without Hesitation or Equivocation

For several weeks I have been thinking and praying about what it would mean for me, as a young liberal Friend, to be able to stand up among a group of young Christians and say, “Jesus Christ is my personal Savior.” This is a phrase used by millions of young Christians without embarrassment or hesitation every day all over the country. Yet I was raised and lived for many years with a strong discomfort for this particular phrase. In the world I lived in and among the people I associated with both religious and secular, this particular phrase brought up images of Fundamentalist Christian brainwashing. Even my incredibly religious and Christian mother reacted with discomfort when a more fundamentalist Christian friend of hers asked if I had accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior, I was about ten at the time.

Ten was a little young for me to be making deep spiritual decisions, but now I wonder, what keeps me from using this language? What keeps me from proclaiming my faith in this way? I’m not embarrassed about being a Friend and neither am I embarrassed about being a Christian. As I get older and grow more and more into my faith it is my Christian roots, those roots that for me I cannot separate from being a Friend, that mean so much to me. I love reading the Bible, some parts of the Bible I read literally. I love the symbol of the Cross and how it links me across time to a long and rich history of spirituality and faith, but also links me across denominations to other believers in the word and spirit of Christ. I wear crosses a lot. I own five. Connecting with other Christians especially other Christian youth is extremely important for me. I really treasure the time I spend in fellowships with Methodists, Catholics, Baptists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Brethrens, Mennonites, Pentecostals. Again and again my fellow Christians teach me about faithfulness, and acting righteously within the world. To say “Jesus Christ is my personal Savior” is a link that connects many Christians together by a common belief and a common articulation of that belief.

What would it really mean for me to say, “Jesus Christ is my personal Savior”? Firstly the phrase denotes a belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. This is not a problem for me, I am a Christian, and I do believe that Jesus was God made flesh. This phase also denotes Jesus as Savior. For many years as a liberal I struggled with Jesus’ role as Savior. In my mind, and I’m sure many peoples, when you say ‘savior’ the immediate reaction is a God who saves some and damns others. This is not however necessarily true. Grace can, and I believe is, freely given to all. That does not mean however people cannot live in a state of Hell. In my theology hell is a state of being. To live in hell is to live in pain and unhappiness, to hurt others through our actions, to hurt ourselves, to hurt our world. I’ve been there; I’m assuming most of us have. In Hell the world is against you, and everyone in it out to get you, the world shrinks down to you pain and your unhappiness, and you lash out against it. This is what God saves you from. This is what God is there to save everyone from. In my case I think God saves me over and over again, when I was sixteen, when I was twenty. When God saves you not all your problems magically go away, and you don’t stop being in pain. Instead you are able to take a step back and say “yes I did that, that is my fault, but this is what I’m going to do to trying and make it better, to try and change.” To say Jesus Christ as Savoir also brings up images of the crucifixion. For a long time I rejected the crucifixion outright, it wasn’t important to my personal theology I didn’t want to deal with it, so I didn’t. Since then I have read about and explored several kinds of theology in which the crucifixion is extremely important and in which the crucifixion is depicted in what I find compelling ways. I’m still unsure how I feel about the crucifixion or what it’s meaning for me is, but I cannot at this point reject it outright anymore.

The last theological part that goes into the phrase “Jesus Christ is my personal Savoir” is the personal bit, in all sense. For me it is also the easiest part. Jesus Christ is my personal Savoir. God loves me personally, Jesus touched me, saved me, comforted me. I am worth that in God’s eyes, I am a beloved child or God, and when I am happy, living a good life, taking care of myself, taking care of my world and the people in it, living a righteous life, God is happy, and I know God made life possible.

You might be thinking at this point, that’s great Anna you go ahead and say “Jesus Christ is my personal Savoir”. You might be wondering what the point is. There are several points here. First there is connection, being able to truthfully use a common Christian language allows many Christian with different beliefs, different outlooks and different ways of expressing their faith to come together and have a conversation. More over it allows us to have a conversation that starts from a place of similarities rather then a place of division. This is important to me. It is important to me that we as Friends reach out to other Christians. It is important that I be able to say “look despite our differences there are some things we can agree on.” Being able to say, “Jesus Christ is my personal Savoir” allows me to begin to have a conversation with a young evangelical fundamentalist Christian that starts from a place of mutual understanding instead of mistrust. I want to have those conversations; I think all Friends should want to.

Being able to say Jesus Christ is my personal Savoir is also important on a personal spiritual level. It is a declaration of faith. When you say it, you are declaring your love for God, your faithfulness to God, your love and faithfulness to Christianity and the Christian tradition. This is also very important to me. As a liberal Christian I cannot spend me enter life apologizing for believing in Christ as the Son of God, or believing the Quakerism is a Christian faith. For me being a Christian, being a believer in Christ a Friend to Christ is an act of joy, an act of love, not an act of betrayal. I am always searching for ways to express that joy and that love without denying my Quaker tradition of the rejection of outward signs. There is also another meaning to me saying this particular statement of faith and that is acknowledging to all, openly my personal relationship with God. As a young politically and social liberal person, as a Queer identified person, it caries special weight to stand up and say God loves me personally, God has saved me, Go is in a relationship with me, just like God is in a relationship with you.

Jesus Christ is my personal Savior. I accepted Jesus into my heart for the first time when I was sixteen years old, and all the world seemed to be nothing but fear and pain. God saved me from myself, from myself hatred and self-abuse. I try to live my life in the image of Christ. I am like every other twenty-two year old, devout Christian across America. I read the Bible, I pray everyday, I attend my church, and I seek fellowship with other believers. I wonder how I am going to live a good Christian life in a world that too often does not seem to share my beliefs about what makes a good and just life. I struggle conduct my relationships with integrity. I wonder what God has in store for me. I am also member of the Democratic Party, I believe in a woman’s right to choose, I am against the death penalty, against war or violence of any kind, against discrimination for any reason. I believe in global warming, and evolution. I identify queer, I believe we do not choose our sexuality, I believe the sex we were born with does not have to dictate the way we understand out gender. I am a member of the Religious Society of Friends. I know many, many other Christians believe in all of these things too. I also know many, many other do not. That’s ok though, I know the table is big enough for all of us to sit at.