Every December when it comes time to put up the Christmas decorations I have one job that is harder than the rest. This job makes me feel frustrated and a bit annoyed. The job of disentangling the outdoor lights is no easy task. It requires an engineering degree, patience, and a keen spatial sense. None of which I have. Yet, I persevere and press on toward the goal of disentangling the lights.
When I do, the results are magic! That moment when they come on and the house glows with the warm soft light from the twinkle lights just looks like Christmas. It makes me smile. But, to get to the beauty I had to go through the pain of disentangling.
In the United States of America the Christian faith has become entangled with a myriad of things. When Christian bookstores were everywhere you could go in and see the entanglement with your own two eyes. From Testamints to Christian self-help books to t-shirts to leadership books to Bibles in every flavor imaginable. Yes, this radical faith that subverted the Roman Empire and changed the world has become entangled with an American culture that demands uniformity, convenience, and ease.
More insidious than the entanglement with consumerism is that it has become entangled into a quest for power.
The power to dominate its enemies. The power to control culture. The power to control the government. The power to control religious communities.
For many, the Christian faith in America has become so entangled with one political party that they are almost interchangeable terms.
In recent years many of us have begun to see the ramifications of such an entanglement and have begun the process of disentangling our faith from American-ism. As you pull on the string that seems to be dangling for each of us at different places you begin to see how deep the entanglement goes.
It's like the Christmas lights. Just when you think you have it disentangled, there is a little bit more. One more knot. One more tangle. You have to keep going until the job is finished.
When we begin this process of disentangling our faith there is a temptation to say that there's no right place to end up. That's just not true. The right place to end up is that place that Jesus talked about with the Samaritan woman at the well. The goal is to worship God in spirit and truth. It's not about figuring out which mountain is “right.” No, it's about getting to know this God for whom God is, apart from all that entangles.
As we begin the journey of disentangling what will inevitably happen is that those for whom the entanglement has become their identity will get very angry. Whether their identity is in being “Evangelical,” “Progressive,” “Republican,” “Democrat,” “Pro-life,” “Pro-Choice,” “American,” or any other adjective you can think of, when you begin to disentangle from these secondary identities those for whom they matter more than knowing Christ will feel threatened and may become very upset. This can lead to broken relationships and significant heartache.
Disentangling our faith from secondary identities is not easy, it's not a fad, and it's not new. The story of the Christian faith is the story of disentangling from secondary identities to living in the way of Christ. The story repeats itself over and over and over again. As each new secondary identity raises up, the story starts anew.
This is going to be the first in a series of posts about disentangling our faith from secondary identities in the hopes of moving towards a clearer understanding of what it means to follow in the way of Christ.
My organizing principle can be summarized in Philippians 3:10-11 where Paul of Tarsus wrote, “I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it.”
I hope you will come along with me. Over the last twelve years or so, I have seen the good that comes through the painful process of disentangling my faith from “that inferior stuff.” It has opened me up to a deeper love of God and others than I ever thought possible. The pain, the discomfort, the frustration, has all been worth it.
I resonate deeply with what Paul who wrote right after our organizing principle:
“I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.
So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it.”
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