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My Experience With Christianity:
I do not consider myself a "Christian" but rather a disciple (or student) of Jesus and Christianity. I do not believe that my faith in Jesus Christ excludes me from believing in other religions; in some ways my beliefs are quite contradictory to what many people think of as Christianity. Many people claim that I am not a "true" Christian.
I find the question of whether or not I or anyone "is" Christian irrelevant--it is one that I cannot answer, because different people have different ideas about what a Christian is. Even if there were such a thing as being a "Christian" vs. a "non-Christian", it would not be anyone's role except God and the person in question to make this distinction; people who are overly concerned with labeling others in this fashion are traveling down a bleak and dangerous spiritual road.
What Christianity means to me:
I have a deeply spiritual and rather non-mainstream experience with Christianity. I did not grow up in the church; my parents, from one pseudo-protestant and one pseudo-half-Jewish family raised me with a number of strong beliefs, values, traditions, which included some influences from both Judaism and Christianity.
I also have often had vivid dreams with strong spiritual feelings, and sometimes, even explicit religious messages. A number of years ago, I had a dream in which Jesus told me to study, embrace, and spread his teachings. This prompted me to read the Bible on my own to decide for myself what Jesus was all about. I arrived at a picture of Jesus that was quite different from that portrayed in both the modern and historical church. Jesus was a radical, a rule-breaker: he strove to overthrow corrupt and evil structures within the religious establishment, and he consistently pushed people to look past literal truths and convoluted logic to see the essence of religious truths. He was sent here by God and could not be shut down, in spite of the fact that the religious establishment did everything they could to do so, including eventually killing him. Rather than focusing on the theology of God's plan for salvation through belief in Jesus christ (which I think leads to an "us-them" mentality, focused on judging and excluding others), I see Jesus' death as a direct result of the evil forces which opposed what Jesus stood for, and I see Jesus' resurrection as a defiant act and a sign from God of the inability of evil to shut down good in the long run.
The apocalypse, meaning the revelation or revealing, is often seen as the "end of the world", at least as we know it. Christianity has strong roots in apocalyptic traditions--the prominent role of John the Baptist, many of the teachings of Jesus, and the book of revelations all point in this direction. The apocalyptic element of Christianity has often been derided by critics both within and outside of the church, and over time, has ceased to be an integral part of the Christian worldview in mainstream churches. Today, most talk of the apocalypse is limited to fundamentalist churches and strange fringe groups which usually have a simplistic worldview and are not exactly rooted in reality. This is a shame; I believe that the apocalypse is an integral part of Christianity; I also believe that we are actually living in the middle of the apocalypse, that it has been happening for quite some time, and thus is important for us to understand.
It may shock people to know that someone such as myself believes in the "apocalypse". But what does this mean? Does this mean that God is going to come down with some supernatural force and burn everything up and judge people? Of course not. It means that there is going to be a radical change, a transformation, a revealing of something new--the kingdom of heaven will come to earth, and our world as we know it will cease to exist. This will be a good thing, since our world is pretty messed up right now. (This page on world population growth is a strong convincer that we will soon meet an important turning point in human history.)
It is important to think about the apocalypse so that we can know what we should be doing with our lives in light of what is going on around us. I once saw a bumper sticker that read: "Jesus is coming...look busy!" This simple sticker sums up the fact that most of us have no clue what to do in light of the apocalypse--we are just going about our normal lives without understanding, questioning, and sadly, without doing what is right and what we need to do. Radical change is happening around us: parts of the natural environment are being irreversibly destroyed, America, the most powerful nation in the world is falling into a state of economic ruin while changing from a promoter of freedom to a destroyer of freedom, and many parts of the world are faced with widespread military and civil strife. Our social structures are self-destructing as we are unable to do even the most basic things such as educating our children and preserving the integrity of our urban neighborhoods. Ideologically, there is just as much of a crisis, with fanatical fundamentalism on the rise, and no real alternative to take its place. (See the page on secular society) On the other hand, structures are emerging out of the ruins of these old social structures: people integrating sustainability into business, the free software movement and its accompanying ideologies of free speech, new, radical ways of thinking about economic systems. There is a battle playing out before our very eyes, and many of us are completely oblivious. Understanding that the apocalypse is real, that it has been happening for quite some time, and that we are right smack in the middle of it is the first step towards knowing what to do.
So what are Jesus' teachings?
With all this discussion of crazy topics, it's important to emphasize Jesus' actual teachings.
- Jesus taught us to love all people, including our neighbors as well as our enemies, emphasizing that we are all human, and judging others gets us nowhere in the long run. While these teachings were nothing new at the time, the enthusiasm and cohesiveness with which Jesus communicated these ideals was particularly moving. It's important to note that no matter what period of history you're in, this attitude is often rejected by many: Jesus presented these beliefs, but also gave a broad framework for understanding them, and demonstrated the difficulties one would encounter when embracing these ideals.
- Jesus taught us to look past the "letter of the law" and embrace the "spirit of the law". This teaching is extremely important: it often points us to the prime way in which people commit hypocrisy. The concept of searching for, and embracing the spirit behind a rule or law is a very useful concept that can help shape our beliefs, and that can also be useful in creating or revising legislation, rules, or policies, and also making fair rulings in a judicial system.
- Jesus taught us to embrace our beliefs wholeheartedly, abandoning our career and even our family if these structures would hold us back from doing what is right. Jesus taught us to integrate our religious beliefs into every aspect of our life.
- On the other hand, Jesus strongly valued community and family bonds, encouraging people to eat and drink together, helping lead people to form friendships with each other, and speaking out against divorce.
Jesus was a dynamic leader, patiently encouraging people to understand difficult truths, and promoting a complex and sophisticated view of reality that nevertheless had a clear sense of good and evil, right and wrong. This picture of Jesus is crystal clear when you read the gospels. I would encourage everyone who has not done so (especially people who identify as Christians) to get a Bible and go right to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (I find Mark is easiest to read first), and draw your own conclusions. If you have an open mind, you will find a very different picture of Jesus than the one that is presented by much of modern Christianity.
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