I’m on campus. One of my classmates has just been telling me how she was raised Protestant, the non-denominational variety. She’d sat through flannelgraph Jesus stories in elementary school and purity pledges in high school. And after graduating she attended a Christian college where R rated movies and spaghetti straps were strictly banned. That’s when she decided the whole business wasn’t for her, transferred schools, and gave up on the whole stupid thing.
“Maybe you just haven’t found the right church yet,” she said encouragingly when she learned I’m not a part of any official congregation. She suggested a few churches some friends of hers liked, where the attendees were “hipper” and the music more “contemporary.” She figured I was just bored and needed a little help finding the right church. Oddly enough, the people who don’t identify with my faith at all or have rejected it completely often try to help me “do” my religion right.
I’m on the bus making small talk with a conservative woman who has been telling me about her church since she first sat down. “Do you go to church?” she asks. I reply that I have in the past but currently don’t. “Oh,” she looks worried. “Well, then you should come to my church!” she announces. I smile and try to avoid the offer by asking her what denomination her church is. She doesn’t know. I ask a few theological questions out of curiosity, trying to be chatty and nonthreatening.
“I don’t really know what my church believes,” she confesses after a pause. She continues telling me about her church’s event calendar as if that’s what I’d asked about. She’s friendly and I can tell my lack of a church worries her; she thinks educating me a bit might help. I listen politely and don’t let on that I know much more about her religion, theology, and church history than she does.
I’m sitting at a bus stop. I strike up a conversation with the man sitting next to me. He tells me he was brought up Catholic and threw in the towel a couple of years ago. A friend of his (somewhat) jokingly now calls him a “pagan” and “backslidden,” but it obviously hurts him. I said I could relate with being labeled a “bad Christian” due to my lack of a congregation. He seemed pleasantly surprised to find I could relate. He commented how we didn’t need all that god business, assuming I’d given up on all that god stuff, too. But I haven’t.
The self-identified Christians assume I’m “backslidden” or that I don’t understand what Christianity really is; all they see is the difference between us, how I don’t call a church building home. And those who have rejected Christianity only see the similarities in the fact that neither of us are warming a pew on Sunday mornings; they don’t see the difference, how dear my spirituality still is to me. Neither me nor my faith neatly fit into either box, which means the labels and assumptions are always wrong because, sadly, no one seems to have a mental box for the devoted churchless Christian. Well, not yet anyway …