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Finishing School for Saving Souls

January 15, 2009

I grew up in a Christianity that was very concerned with numbers: how many people you got saved, how much money you gave to offering, how much alcohol you did not drink or how many days you went to summer Bible camp. Altar calls would bring forward herds of nervous-looking people to get baptized and we would clap and cheer, hoping that they might have a good influence on all their unsaved friends. Sitting in Sunday School as a little kid, with my quarters for offering burning a hole in my pocket, wiggling around in my itchy dress, I felt like I was in a finishing school for saving souls. My church taught me that the most important thing was to convince people we were right – if people did not know Jesus, then they were not to be befriended, they were to be brought to church and converted.

My family moved from Ohio to Michigan when I was 10 years old. At my new school, I became good friends with a girl in my fifth grade class. She came from a wealthy family that lived in a big house with intercoms and enormous TVs. Her family didn’t go to church except at Christmas, and her parents would stay out late and drink fancy drinks with slices of lime in them. Her mom let us watch R-rated movies while my mom wouldn’t even let me watch “Captain Planet.” She was so much cooler than me and I felt so special that she wanted to be my friend. I knew that I was supposed to make friends with other Christians, but I couldn’t help feeling important when she sat next to me at the lunch table and wanted to have sleepovers. She was the kind of girl who looked like a woman at the age of 11, while I was still scrawny and awkward. She knew about all kinds of things, like boys and sex, which I knew pretty much nothing about. She was my first friend to have a real boyfriend and we used to do things like sneak into the bathroom at school and put on lipstick. Everything with her tasted forbidden and was thrilling and different.

I was very involved in my church youth group at the same time and I always carried a sense of guilt with me when my church friends asked about my friends at school. One Sunday evening, after a particularly rigorous session about the importance of having Christian friends, I decided that this girl and I could no longer be friends. Later that week, I sat her down in the library and told her that because she didn’t love Jesus we couldn’t be friends anymore. She, of course, was angry and hurt and refused to speak to me from then on. I walked away feeling humiliated and ashamed. I couldn’t understand why Jesus didn’t want me to have a best friend.

I grew up with the understanding that Jesus was only nice to someone like Zacchaeus to achieve the end of Zacchaeus agreeing with him. Once the right words were said and the person was ‘saved,’ it was time to move on to the next person. As I sat in church, seeing my friend’s face flash through my mind, I was resentful that God only wanted me to be friends with the snotty girls in my youth group who didn’t like me. I had learned only of the exclusivity of Christ and had missed out entirely on the Jesus who ate dinner with prostitutes and hugged lepers. This Jesus wasn’t so concerned with numbers; He was more interested in people. They were more than Christians or non-Christians to Him, they were His beloved children, even when they spit in His face and nailed Him to a cross.

Mother Teresa once said, “We have not come into the world to be numbered; we have been created for a purpose; for great things: to love and be loved.” To this day, I still feel sick when I think of my friend, her heart broken by a false Jesus who didn’t like her. As the years have passed and my understanding of who Jesus is has grown, I still struggle with unlearning the reflex of putting people into columns. I believe with all my heart that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, but I refuse to let that be a weapon because He never used it like one. I have fallen in love with the resurrected Christ and I will gladly tell you how this homeless rabbi from Galilee has changed my entire life, but I can’t make you want to know. Jesus came to proclaim to the nations that they are more than a notch in His belt or a statistic for a church newsletter. He came to remind us that we are children of God, full of doubts and imperfections, yet with a purpose and a heart. Christianity needs to be rescued from this cage of bottom lines and be reminded that the tomb is empty and that a Savior who sees us as more than numbers has risen.

You are more than a notch in my belt or a soul to be saved and tucked neatly away in a file. You are a brother and a sister, with doubts and fears and questions and a heart and a purpose. I’m not interested in numbers, I’m interested in you.

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. Susi Spice permalink
    January 15, 2009 9:16 am

    hi there, I had a pastor once explain to me that exclusivity and christianity should not be synonymous but that inclusiveness is. I am going to write something that others may take the wrong way, I pray that it comes across how it was explained to me, but God wants those who have not yet come to know him more than those are already with him… in a similar sense like if you are healthy and well you dont need a doctor but if you are sick then you do need a doctor… kind of like that you know what i mean? It is not to say that God isnt interested in those who already believe in him, but that the responsibility of a believer is higher i(n that through deeper learning and through the Holy Spirit) to assist those who may seek God or need God to discover Him. I was always brought up to believe that we need to lead by example and not to be pushy to convert and certainly never to look down on those who are non-believers, if anything, we should be closer to non believers so they see God through us and thereby learn more about Him. I hope I made sense πŸ™‚ I have found this to be very affective.

  2. Caroline permalink*
    January 15, 2009 9:19 am

    Susi,

    That does make sense — we are told that God is closest to those who need Him the most. I think in our human understanding, we cannot understand that His love is unconditional to all and that He can be close to us all in different ways where closeness isn’t measured in a quantitative way or even a qualitative one. It’s hard to verbalize, but I think your doctor example is a good one.

    I appreciate your comment and want to say thanks for reading my blog. πŸ™‚

    Grace and peace,
    Caroline

  3. Victor permalink
    January 15, 2009 10:02 am

    I think a lot of us come from a similar background. It’s a long and difficult and satisfying journey away from that way of thinking.

    When I was studying Jewish Roots books and lectures I heard a Christian Hebrew scholar named Roy Blizzard say that ultimately each human is going to be judged on how he relates to his fellow humans rather than the particular religious views he may espouse.

    I heard that 3 years ago and it’s still working on me.

  4. Dave permalink
    January 15, 2009 10:03 am

    Susi is ON IT. Precisely what Jesus said when being bashed for hanging out with “sinners.”

    “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”

    When Jesus already “has” us, He is not as concerned about seeking us in the same way that He seeks those who are not follwoing Him. Nevertheless, He IS seeking the lost. Just not in a “notch on the belt way.” His passion is for each soul He created.

    This is why I think He endures with us in our wandering moments. He loves us, waits for us, even delights in us – but He sees that we are not complete until we have surrendered to Him.

    At the same time we walk this thin line between holiness and mission. We learn to be a “set apart” people, but not set apart in the isolation/monastery/cloister sense. Instead, set apart when it comes to our purpose, our life ethics, and our allegiance.

    The Church has wavered between the poles – so holy it has severed all ties with the dying world, or so relevant that the distinction and purity is lost. Jesus walked the line perfectly, so we keep our eye on Him.

  5. Caroline permalink*
    January 15, 2009 10:35 am

    Victor,

    That is an interesting thought. I have heard similar ideas — that the way of Jesus is not just knowing He was a real person but that living in the Way He did, even if you don’t know His name. I struggle with what happens to the “lost” that never even had a chance to know Him. Hmmm. So much to think about.

    I think we should get together for coffee or something sometime — I’m interested in your thoughts on things like this. Car rides are too short.

    Grace and peace, friend.

    Caroline

  6. Caroline permalink*
    January 15, 2009 10:37 am

    Uncle D,

    I liked what you said about the Church wavering between two poles — it’s an important distinction and one that I try to maintain. Like you said, all we can do is keep our eye on Him.

    I’m glad we can talk about things like this — I always am interested to hear your perspective. πŸ™‚

    My love to you and the family.

    Caroline

  7. James permalink
    January 15, 2009 12:37 pm

    Wow. Don’t know about that guy.

    Caroline, this post was beautiful.

    You could say I grew up in a family similar to your friend in 5th grade. Except our house wasn’t that big, my parents didn’t put slices of lime in fancy drinks, and I didn’t put lipstick on in the bathroom.

    BUT… my parents decided as I was growing up to not raise me as a certain religion. I am thankful for this in the sense that around when I was 16 I really started seeking myself. I read scriptures from every religion I could find. And I am still seeking today. And seeking is a good place to be.

    I later found as I grew older, their choice wasn’t a lazy one, but an actual decision to let me decide on my own. I think this has shaped much of my spiritual life, just as yours has shaped you.

    From my readings of the words of Jesus, they are very humble, meek, gentle, thought-provoking.

    It is for this gentleness that I love the words of Jesus, and I think you so beautifully reflect them in your own words and actions.

    I think you hit it perfectly when you say, “I do not know…” and “I cannot tell you…”, but then you can also say “I believe with all my heart…”.

    Wonderful.

    I would attend a church of yours any day =)

  8. Victor permalink
    January 15, 2009 3:15 pm

    Sure thing. Although it’s much harder for me to verbalize my thoughts than write them. I think it’s because I’m so scatter-brained and I can’t continue one thought without going to the next, which is why writing helps – it slows me down.

    Comments 7 & 8 are two reasons I hesitated coming back to WordPress for so long. I had a WordPress blog for a while that got 150 hits a day, mostly from people looking for info on Rob Bell & Mark Driscoll & the Emerging Church. You tend to learn a lot about people when you post on religious themes!

  9. Caroline permalink*
    January 15, 2009 5:33 pm

    James,

    I am so glad that you liked this post. Jesus was/is a pretty amazing guy — it’s amazing to look at His words and realize, in all truth, how revolutionary and radical they were. But in a good way — fighting for the justice and love of all. I think that was when I fell in love with Him…when I realized my heart looked like that too. Only He’s much better at loving and fighting.

    If you ever come visit me in GR for any reason, I would love to take you to my church. πŸ™‚

  10. Caroline permalink*
    January 15, 2009 5:35 pm

    Yeah, I deleted comments 7 & 8. I feel sad when people are that hateful and bitter towards something. All I can do is hope they can see the God that I love and then delete their comments. I don’t want that kind of stuff on here…so I can relate to that hesitation. Yet still…I feel like I must speak and write or explode.

  11. Victor permalink
    January 16, 2009 5:33 pm

    Sounds like a few different things I’ve heard about writing. One of my favorites is from Anna Nalick: “If I get it all down on paper it’s no longer inside of me, threatening the life it belongs to.” Such a catchy song.

  12. Glo permalink
    January 17, 2009 3:29 pm

    I just wanted to check in and tell you that I’m reading. As always, insightful and honest πŸ™‚

  13. this0side0of0the0truth permalink
    January 17, 2009 4:31 pm

    Wow, there was a time when you were flat-chested?

    I am shocked. I thought you were born with those babies.

    Im sorry I dont mean to be shallow when your entries are always so thoughtful. I am serious sometimes, I just really need you to remember that I love you more than anyone and I dont just love you for your chest.

    And if you didn’t like Jesus I would still love you just the same.

  14. Caroline permalink*
    January 18, 2009 7:57 pm

    Glo,

    I love having you as a reader! I appreciate you reading. πŸ™‚

    Noelle,

    Indeed there was a time when I was flat — I do not lie. I love you more than anything and will always love you no matter what. I love you when you are serious and silly. πŸ™‚ Basically, I love you.

  15. Debbie Jones permalink
    January 24, 2009 12:23 am

    What a great blog Caroline! I totally agree and I try to live my life as an example to others and hope they just might see a little of Christ in me. I don’t want to be the kind of person who shoves religion down someone’s throat. I have a brother who has done that for many years and unfortunately has turned some family members away from Christ. That saddens me. I think as Christians we are to be models for others to learn from. Our church’s mission statement is, “Transforming lives by the power of God’s unfailing grace in a way that Christ is seen in us so that others will be drawn to follow Him.” That too is my goal!

    God’s peace to you,

    Debbie

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