“Bart is not a Christian,” she said, “he is a follower of the Way.” Snarky comment or observation born of years of friendship?
I have tried to string together a list of modifiers to describe my faith journey—I am an atheistic, Presbyterian, Celtic Christian. Part snarky; but mostly accurate. Or is it?
Atheist? While I certainly don’t believe in an external, power-monger who chooses to intervene in human history whenever whim suggests; I do sense a mysterious presence in and around me. It is a nudging, not a forcing, presence. I like to talk about calling, as if that nudge had substance. But I am left with a sense of wonderment, a feeling of being drawn beyond myself. It is probably like falling in love—some strange mixture of hormones, DNA input, nurture, opportunity, and who knows what else. All I know is that I sense it; I feel it. The experience is real.
Presbyterian? By circumstance and experience, by nurture and training, I have been formed, in my adult years, as a Presbyterian. Is it the best way? Or the only way? Of course not, but it has been my way. I could probably be a UCCer, a Methodist, an Episcopalian, or some other clan; but I’m not. I’m a Presbyterian, sort of…
Celtic? I am drawn to the simplicity and genuineness of Celtic practice. The simple prayers and the aphorisms have a distinct appeal. There is a part of me that dreams of being a Celtic monastic at Iona or Lindisfarne. But not really! I really want to stay engaged with the complexities of my mind as it explores matters spiritual. I am torn between the simple and the complex; and the complex continues to take precedence.
Christian? Ah, there’s the rub. That term, quite frankly, has lost any integrity of meaning in today’s world. Since Constantine, Christian has been so easily confused with supporter of political, economic, and religious Empire. Witness the Crusades, Spanish Inquisition, and the church’s support of Hitler’s regime. Today Christian can mean the baker who is offended, and feels religiously persecuted, at having to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding. Or the alt-right protester who is offended that Blacks and Muslims are admitted to American society. Or the congressman who believes that women who are raped should just “get over it.” Of course, Christian also means the 102-year-old woman who still teaches a bible study class in her home, or the father and son who give up a week of their time to rebuild a school in Haiti. When Christian can mean anything, it becomes a term without substance, without meaning.
Follower of the Way? I am honored, and somewhat taken aback, that someone would actually describe me as a follower of the Way of Yeshua. I aspire to that identification, that connection. I want to describe myself that way. What I know, however, is that follower of the Way of Yeshua is not a descriptive label, it is a provocative proposition for me. It is a statement of desired behavior—still yet to come—stated as if it were a present reality. Yes, there are those delightful moments when my actions do line up on the path blazed by Yeshua. The harsh reality is that I also wander so far off the clear pathway that I get lost in the woods—unable to see the trees, for the forest. [Ironically, as I was typing “lost in the woods,” I actually typed “lost in the words.” I backspaced over “words” and re-typed “words” again, before being able to correct the entry.] Truth be known, words are my Achille’s heel. I do easily get caught up in words, being sidetracked from compassionate actions.
The key here is not the labels that I, or anyone else might use to describe my faith journey. Instead, the question for me is “Does my faith journey have integrity?” and “How does my faith journey connect with the people around me and the world within which I live?”
Time to take an inventory!