By Joy A. Kennelly
Man, I must really be in an introspective, sharing mood because I feel like writing about something personal again because it's on my heart.
My friend and I often joke there's a real epidemic of the "Christian Ghetto" which is very prevalent in Christian circles. I'm all for "fellowship" (Christianese for hanging out together either at church, Bible Study, fun activities, or whatever) and enjoy it on occasion myself as it's Biblical. We're encouraged to spend time together to build each other up.
But when that's the only people you spend time with, I can't do it.
Did it growing up, and now...
I grew up with a strict Christian father who believed in us attending church 5x a week - three times on Sunday, Bible Study on Wednesday and a social activity with Christian church friends on Friday. Christian Missionary Alliance and Baptist background too, so you fully grasp the religious foundation my life was built upon through my early years.
I see right and wrong very clearly as a result. Life was black and white and being grey is still something I seek to achieve. As a result of my upbringing, when I left for a year of Bible school I admit, I felt guilty at first when I skipped Sunday evening services, but also free of the religiosity of it once and for all.
Ironically, it was also in Bible school where I had my first drink of wine, and witnessed my first affair. I was so sheltered growing up I felt completely inequipped for the real world for many years after and made lots of mistakes. Everyone does, but when you're naive and so sheltered, it's not good.
I feel my dating a non-Christian, pot smoking, alcoholic boyfriend for three years after that time was simply the rebellious acting out other people experience in high school.
My adolescent rebellion was just delayed.:)
That said, I know I was also protected from a lot of mistakes I saw friends make because of my sheltered background. I've never fought alcoholism, drug abuse, porn addiction or any of the things that are visible as societal ills. My issues are more covert and common place. Doesn't mean I'm perfect though. Far from it!
I try to work on myself every day through scripture reading, prayer and discussions with Christian friends. Doesn't mean I always get it right, but I'm getting better at it slowly, but surely.
Progress not perfection, right?:)
That's why when I see so many Christians out here spending all their time with only other supposed Christians and only doing Christian activities, I don't have much in common and wonder if they even know there's verses in the Bible that state:
1 Corinthians 9:19-23, especially in the paraphrased version of the Bible, coming from The Message, "Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized-whoever.
I didn't take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ-but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I've become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn't just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!"
Romans 12:2 also says "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God."
There's such a thing as choking on Christian fellowship when we're called to be "fishers of men" (more Christianese, I know. Weird, right? It's in the Bible though: Matt. 4:19 "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men.")
However, my favorite verses are these:
Matthew 5:13-16 13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. 14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."
The irony of Christianity in CA, one of the most liberal states ever, is that those who attend church really believe in it and want to live a better life. It's not because all their friends are doing it, it's a social good time, or it's easy to be Christian out there. It's hard.
According to statistics, only 18% of people profess Christianity in CA vs. 48% here in GA.
Living a Christian life in CA is as counter-culture as you can be. It's not sexy, fun or cool like it can be out here in GA. It's a life-defining relationship that requires devotion, discipline and constant effort to live a blameless life because you're surrounded by so much heathenism it's easy to succumb.
I know. I've succumbed.:)
But I've also repented and gotten out of it with great effort and support of other Christians to pursue a more Godly life too.
You really do know Christians by their walk. You can't hide it. You either are a Christian, or you're not.
Out here in GA, it's a little easier to hide since everyone goes to church and then lives however they want. There's no societal pressure to live to a higher standard because as long as you're hearing Andy Stanley's sermons and participating in Christian activities, everyone assumes you're pursuing a Godly life.
There's basically no difference between being Christian and not. No accountability unless people actively seek it out which happens rarely, if ever.
This kind of religious lifestyle has its good points and its bad. It's like the old saying though, standing in the garage doesn't make you a car. Or the verse that says, "So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth."
Christian living is living a life that's different even if it means not sleeping with your boy/girlfriend though it feels so good. It means not getting drunk even though that also feels good. It also means not gossiping about other people because it's a fun, social activity everyone's doing and if you don't, you're kinda out of the loop.
M. Scott Peck has written two books I highly recommend reading. For those of you not familiar with who he is, Peck "was an American psychiatrist and best-selling author, best known for his first book, The Road Less Traveled, published in 1978."
I've always been an avid reader since a child. I even won a reading contest in elementary school for reading the most books in my grade. I tested at the 17th grade reading level in the 3rd grade and received 40 out of 40 in a comprehension test then too. Also as a child, I memorized the most Bible verses in order to win a trip in a bi-plane.
Can you tell I'm competitive and like winning?:)
When I attended college I was able to get out of taking a class because I'd already read the 20 books assigned on the topic. I choose a topic or author and then read everything until I'm bored. Then I move on.
Thus, I read M. Scott Peck's first book, The Road Less Traveled, after high school which I related to and enjoyed. It deeply impacted my life, as have all the books I read. There's a saying, what you read today will be who you are five years from now. It's also been shown millionaires read an average of one book a month.
Just thought you'd like to know.:)
Here, according to Wikipedia, are the basic tenets of Peck's first book:
"In The Road Less Traveled, Peck talked of the importance of discipline. He described four aspects of discipline:
- Delaying gratification: Sacrificing present comfort for future gains.
- Acceptance of responsibility: Accepting responsibility for one's own decisions.
- Dedication to truth: Honesty, both in word and deed.
- Balancing: Handling conflicting requirements. Scott Peck talks of an important skill to prioritize between different requirements -- bracketing."
I just had to read his next book, after the deep perspectives I found in this book on spirituality and psychiatry. The concepts I read have carried with me throughout my life.
Here's the description of People of the Lie: The Hope For Healing Human Evil
"With his classic best-selling book, The Road Less Traveled, Dr. M. Scott Peck has introduced over three million readers to an integration of the deepest insights of psychiatry with those of religion.
In People of the Lie, an absorbing and equally inspiring companion volume, Dr. Peck utilizes the same approach to probe brilliantly the essence of human evil. People who are evil attack others instead of facing their own failures. Peck demonstrates the havoc these People of the Lie work in the lives of those around them.
He presents, from cases encountered in his psychiatric practice, unforgettably vivid incidents of evil in everyday life. This disturbing, fascinating book offers a strikingly original approach to the age-old problem of human evil."
Now the part of the book I related to the most was his description of spiritual development based on his practice and knowledge of human nature which is copied below:
"The Four Stages of Spiritual Development
Peck postulates that there are four stages of human spiritual development:
- Stage I is chaotic, disordered, and reckless. Very young children are in Stage I. They tend to defy and disobey, and are unwilling to accept a will greater than their own. They are extremely egoistic and lack empathy for others. Many criminals are people who have never grown out of Stage I.
- Stage II is the stage at which a person has blind faith in authority figures and sees the world as divided simply into good and evil, right and wrong, us and them. Once children learn to obey their parents and other authority figures, often out of fear or shame, they reach Stage II. Many so-called religious people are essentially Stage II people, in the sense that they have blind faith in God, and do not question His existence. With blind faith comes humility and a willingness to obey and serve. The majority of good, law-abiding citizens never move out of Stage II.
- Stage III is the stage of scientific skepticism and questioning. A Stage III person does not accept things on faith but only accepts them if convinced logically. Many people working in scientific and technological research are in Stage III. They often reject the existence of spiritual or supernatural forces since these are difficult to measure or prove scientifically. Those who do retain their spiritual beliefs move away from the simple, official doctrines of fundamentalism.
- Stage IV is the stage where an individual starts enjoying the mystery and beauty of nature and existence. While retaining skepticism, he starts perceiving grand patterns in nature and develops a deeper understanding of good and evil, forgiveness and mercy, compassion and love. His religiousness and spirituality differ significantly from that of a Stage II person, in the sense that he does not accept things through blind faith or out of fear, but does so because of genuine belief, and he does not judge people harshly or seek to inflict punishment on them for their transgressions. This is the stage of loving others as yourself, losing your attachment to your ego, and forgiving your enemies. Stage IV people are labeled as Mystics."
When I read it back in college, I was still in Stage 2, but now feel like I've continued to evolve in my faith to a different level. I don't "need" Christians to know my faith. It's part of who I am and I've studied it, tested it, and lived it. My dependence on God is complete and full. I don't need to prove anything to anybody because I know who I am in my faith.
I do enjoy hanging out with Christians, don't get me wrong. I just can't handle hanging out only with them! LOL
I love all kinds of people and artists especially. That includes filmmakers, musicians, fine artists, graffiti artists, fashion designers, models, actors, and anyone who expresses themselves creatively. They see the world through different eyes and reflect it back to us in ways we may not have considered.
If I had to give up hanging out with all the quirky, funky unusual people you find in a creative environment, I would die. I love them!:)
That's why I may not always be found in Christian circles, part of Christian groups on Facebook, or disecting my faith online with other Christians. Been there, done that. It's not who I am, nor who I want to be any more.
I remember the admonition Ann Landers quoted by Eleanor Roosevelt in one column oh, so long ago: "Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people."
So, if you care to engage me a discussion of politics, ideas or anything other than who's dating who, who's saying what about whoever, what the Bible says about men and women's roles, then I'm all ears.
I may even hang out with you or your group more.
But if not, not really interested. I've got too many other interesting people I want to get to know and learn from who are open-minded, truth seekers, and growth-oriented.
And with that, I'm off to Passion City Church to learn from spiritual people I admire and respect. Next week I'll be with other kinds of people and looking forward to it!:)