I don’t identify as a Christian anymore, but this is what I do believe

Trigger warning: This post contains references to Christianity and Evangelicalism. That can be a tender and sore subject, depending on your life’s experience and your heart space. If you have further questions or something to add to this conversation, you already have my contact info and can get in touch directly.

I don’t identify as a Christian anymore. And that feels honest.

Faith is not the clinging to a shrine but an endless pilgrimage of the heart. Audacious longing, burning songs, daring thoughts, an impulse overwhelming the heart, usurping the mind–these are all a drive towards serving [the Divine] who rings our hearts like a bell. It is as if [the Divine] were waiting to enter our empty, perishing lives.

Rabbi Abraham Heschel

My main reason is that I feel Christianity in North America has been co-opted by white supremacy and colonialism. And I yes, I do have a conflicted relationship with this. My friend and I blogged about this before here.

I do believe that Spirit has liberated and sustained oppressed peoples in the United States through Christian churches. I believe that Spirit has fortified black, brown, and migrant communities. I believe there are ways that the Christian church has and continues to be a safe space for recent migrants and communities who have been devastated by addiction, abuse, and health disparities.

But I can’t associate myself with dominant culture’s expression of Evangelicalism or Bible belt institutions anymore — North American evangelicalism has too many limits for the ways I feel called to grow and serve right now: things like ignoring racial equity, homophobia, spirituality that suppresses the body and sensory experience, not to mention Christianity’s history of stripping indigenous communities of their culture.

This is where it gets complicated — do I love me some good old fashioned praise and worship? Do I feel good when I hear trusted collaborators and family members preach? Do I value public prayer, altar calls, ceremony?

And to these questions I give a wholehearted and resounding YES. It has been an important part of my spiritual formation and always will be.

I love Krista Tippett’s question: “What is in your spiritual soil?”

I would identify as Anacostal, or Anabaptist/Pentecostal. I would identify as a mystic, interfaith ally, interdenominational. More spiritual than Christian. Continuing to experience formation and fellowship beyond the confines of the evangelical/protestant world.

The story I heard for the formative years of my life was that spiritual truth was more black and white — one way was the right way, the only way, and the others were all wrong and in need of “saving” — and I believe this idea comes from a fundamentalist, colonial, patriarchal view. I mostly experienced spaces like this during college and shortly after, around the ages of 18-22.

I don’t think anyone has to necessarily believe that everything is equally true and valid, in fact I believe that respectful dialogue across differences is healthy and generative. Our worldviews and spiritual traditions have always existed in the same sphere and I believe the proof of what is “right” is in the ways our sense of humility, compassion, justice, and love shows up in the world. Towards ourselves. Towards our communities. Towards strangers. And I believe this is a reflection of how the Divine wants us to be.

I believe that wisdom and fingerprints of the Divine can be found all over the world, whether or not you decide what is ultimately true for you.

My deepest seeded roots are Pentecostal which I love for its mysticism and charismatic expression. But now I see charismatic expression in social dance, in cyphers, in spaces where bodies of all sizes and genders rejoice. I have a lot of curiosity and experience a lot of resonance when I learn about ancestral spiritual practices, none of which I have found to be contradictory to what I believe the Jesus way was meant to be in its essence.

Before our indigenous communities were colonized, I believe we had the tools and technology to resolve conflict, live in sustainable and abundant relationship with the land, and cultivate healthy families. I believe humans are made in the image of God and therefore have the Divine embedded in us. Check out more in this article: Christians of Color Are Rejecting “Colonial Christianity” and Reclaiming Ancestral Spiritualities

I don’t claim Christian as a primary identifier anymore, I’m not Evangelical, but I do feel well equipped for a lifelong spiritual journey and well nourished in my spiritual soil. I am committed to giving and receiving love from the Divine, social justice, humility and compassion, cultivating community wherever I am that looks like a tangible expression of the sacred, abundance, and love.

And yes, I do still long for, pursue, and participate in community. The past 4 years in Philly have shown me that I’m not alone in my questions and longings for spiritual expression in our world. I believe that people are hungry for divinity. But I have to be honest and say that I can’t be held to who I was when I was 18 and younger, or even 25 and younger.

I believe that community continues to exist in the mix of these experiences. And that Creator still brings us together to be nourished, healed, mobilized for transformation.

Pilgrimage is about longing, consciousness and intentionality. Pilgrimage is about noticing where we have been and where we have been broken, beaten and bruised.  Pilgrimage is about acknowledging that part of us is perishing and that we’re seeking new life. Pilgrimage is about looking for hope, healing, beauty and truth.

Christena Cleveland

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