About a year ago, I experienced a profound spiritual awakening. Prior to that time, I thought I knew what I believed. But all of that was shattered by two related events – the death of my girlfriend Christina in November of 2014, and a mysterious spiritual “visit” I got from her in September of 2015.
Over the last year, I have been searching for a church home – a place where I can continue to grow in my new, more personal faith. As I am feeling myself called back into a life of ministry, this is becoming more and more important to me.
But lately it seems like there’s no place in the church for someone like me – someone whose beliefs and experiences don’t fit very well into any one religion or denomination.
What’s my religion? It’s hard to say these days. I was raised Protestant, and still identify with some key Protestant concepts (salvation by grace, and the priesthood of all believers, for example).
But like a good Roman Catholic, I have also come to believe very strongly in purgatory, the physical presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and the communion of saints (both living and dead).
I do not, however, believe in such concepts as mortal sin, the necessity of confession to priests, or the infallibility of the Pope. I also find the RCC’s hierarchical structure deeply troubling, and cannot in good conscience abide by Catholic teachings about contraception or LGBT relationships.
I like the Eastern Orthodox emphasis on theosis (the process of becoming one with God), Christus Victor atonement (Jesus died to save us from the power of sin, not to take our punishment for it), and the idea that heaven and hell are simply two different ways of experiencing the same reality.
But I find Orthodoxy’s negative view of sexuality very off-putting (they actually believe that sexuality itself is a sign of the fall), and doubt there is much room in the Orthodox church for charismatic worship practices (speaking in tongues, faith healing, etc) which are very important to me.
Pentecostalism, on the other hand, is very receptive to this style of worship; and the emphasis on spiritual power for healing continues to speak to me.
But I cannot abide the legalistic (and largely external) understandings of holiness that are so central to this movement; nor do I have much use for the rigid way they typically understand gender, their tendency to demonize anything esoteric, or their view of hell as a place of literal, everlasting torture.
My preference for egalitarian leadership and silent “waiting” on the Spirit strongly inclines me toward the Quaker movement – as do my mystical experiences of the Christ within, my concern for social justice, and my personal commitment to pacifism.
I often wonder, though, is there any room in the Quaker world for concepts such as purgatory, or communion with the dead? And while the early Quakers were quite charismatic in their worship style, I don’t know how spiritual gifts such as tongues or faith healing would be received in the Quaker world today (though I have seen openness to such things in one Quaker group – the Friends of Jesus Fellowship).
Some of my beliefs and experiences don’t fit very well into Christianity at all. My own understanding of the afterlife, for example, is closer to that of Hinduism (cycles of reincarnation leading toward oneness in God); and other parts of my experience (such as communication with the dead, and my sense that everything, including animals and even plants, has a soul or spirit) find better reception among pagans than anywhere else.
But the teachings of Jesus remain central to my spiritual life – even if I sometimes interpret them in ways a lot of Christians find troubling; and I feel that I have come to know Jesus in a very personal way.
Jesus is much more to me than one of several great teachers or “ascended masters”; he is the one in whom I find salvation from sin and death, and a power to stay strong when the forces of pain, sickness, and doubt rage against me. There is indeed a power in the name of Jesus that I haven’t found anywhere else!
So where does this leave me? Where is my place in the body of Christ? I’m hoping it will be revealed soon.
(Coming Soon – “Who Do You Say I Am?”
Contemporary Christianity and the “Scandal of Particularity”)