Author Anne Rice has kicked the cyber hornet’s nest with her comments about “quitting” Christianity. Anne and I don’t have a lot in common. She has millions of readers. I have tens of readers. Her books are best sellers. My second book apparently is harder to find than a popular Congressperson. But we share one big thing in common. I also thought about “quitting” the organized version of Christianity that we call church. I SERIOUSLY considered doing a home study on Sundays instead of dragging myself to the local assembly. I was convinced that Starbucks was a much more spiritual environment than a church. My spiritual crisis would not have made any headlines. Having had that personal journey through the desert I am now inclined to pray that Anne Rice will find a community of believers who will walk with her in grace and truth and not condemn her.
My friend Ed Underwood has a problem with stating his mind. He recently wrote about the Anne Rice comments in his wonderful Jesus Movement blog. First he quoted Rice’s statement.
“My faith in Christ is central to my life. But following Christ is infinitely more important than following his followers.”
And then he timidly responded.
If you take the time to read what she actually said and you’re a devoted follower of Christ, you’ll see that she’s not giving up on Jesus. She’s tired of the opinionated, I’m against everything, shame-messaged, cloistered in the white suburbs, take me back to the fifties Leave it To Beaver-but let me keep my money and comfort version of so-called evangelical Christianity that wore me out a long time ago.
I’m too old, too tired, and too sick to keep doing stuff that doesn’t matter. I’m through with the silliness, the meanness, the fear, and the pettiness of the religious wardens.
Come on Ed. Have an opinion for heaven’s sake!
My crisis of faith was my inability to separate Christ from Christians. Of course there are those in the church who are angry, wounded, mean, hypocritical, dishonest and fake. You may not have noticed but there is not a screening process to keep those people out. And they are pretty good at looking presentable when they come in the door. My family reunion would look a whole lot better if it was by invitation only. But when you get all of my relatives together you get some rough characters and a couple of great squirrel recipes. The body of Christ can not be anything but dysfunctional because it is a group of sinners in various stages of maturity in Christ or perhaps in no process of maturity at all.
But all I could see in my faith crisis were the hypocrites. The wounders. The gossipers. If I could have met Jesus at Starbucks I would have asked Him how he could love these jerks. I imagined it might go something like this. I am pretty sure that Jesus would order an extra shot Americano but I can’t prove that from the text.
Jesus: So I have noticed that you are struggling a bit. We don’t talk much anymore.
Me: Yeah. Your followers are making me crazy.
Jesus: Sometimes they make my heart ache too. For example, right now one of my children is missing all of the grace I want him to experience. He is missing the joy and freedom that I purchased for him. He is angry and proud and blind to his own sin. But I suffered the Cross for him. And I love him very much.
Me: (smirking) I bet he goes to my church.
Jesus: As a matter of fact he does. It’s you.
That was my epiphany. I couldn’t do it anymore. I needed Jesus. Following Christ is better than following His followers. But the truth is that I need that community as well. Trust me, I don’t need all of them. But there is a sweet spot in the chaos that is called the room of grace. In that room are people who are tired of the self-efforting path to righteousness. There are people who look at your mess and are not repulsed. In fact they grab a towel and clean up the worst of it and promise to walk with you through the rest. They love you more instead of less as you share your junk. And you find yourself being drawn more to Christ and being effused with energy by their loving acceptance. That place does exist. I pray that Anne Rice finds it. I pray that you will find it too. Finding that room of grace saved me from quitting. I am so grateful that I found it. I give Paul the last word today…
Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory. We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. (Romans 5, NLT)