Dear Lord I plan each day,
the things I will not do or say.
But I’m driven by a passion,
is it only there to tame?
It fills my heart and it calls my name.
This world that you made for us
I know, I know is dangerous
so I ride a lot of horses
and I never even swear
sorta like praying I’m just not there
Teen for God – Dar Williams
Everything is dangerous when you’re an evangelical Christian. The entire world is made up of things that are sinful and wicked and that are threatening to drag you down. This is not the point, of course. The thing you’re supposed to be focusing on is that God has saved you from this really dangerous and terrible world. You are now free. Free to serve God, free to be loved by God, free to follow his will. It’s a strange sort of freedom but that is definitely what you are meant to be focused on. And I will tell you, in the spirit of fairness, that I have met Christians that I believe are focused on this and that I believe truly trust this and feel this. Christians who feel stronger and better and freer because of their faith. I think that’s wonderful. I think whatever makes you more yourself, more free and loving and happy, is a wonderful thing for you. But for me, it never really felt like that.
I believed pretty much without question in the idea of a wicked and fallen world. I believed in the idea of people who were naturally sinful and evil and who only God could save. And it never made me feel free. It made me feel frightened and cornered, it made me feel constantly on edge. I was always fighting with how far was too far, pushing the boundaries. I was restless and constantly feeling anxious and unfulfilled, constantly pushing my way forward and not finding what I was looking for. I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for. I mean, people kept telling me but it wasn’t working out the way they told me it should. Mostly I just kept finding more things to be afraid of. There are so many things to be afraid of.
Sex is, of course, almost always the biggest one. Of course again, this is not the line. It’s not about being afraid of sex or thinking sex is bad, it’s about it being in the right context. Sex is like fire – if it’s out of control, it’s bad. But it is good and beautiful and warm if it’s in a fireplace. The fireplace was so narrow though. It only included this exact definition and you just never knew when you were starting a fire and no one wanted to talk about the fire too much because just talking about it could be enough to start it right up. What I wore could be a problem, what I said could be a problem. I could cause a guy to stumble right into sin without even knowing it, just by having breasts. There’s so much to be afraid of. There’s a lot more though.
The church can’t even agree on all the things to be afraid of. Alcohol, for example. Some churches say it’s right out. (My favorites are the churches who insist that Jesus turning water into wine was totally in reality just grape juice. Apparently the people at the wedding were just super excited about that really good grape juice.) For others, just getting drunk is the line. For others, even that seems blurry. How do you know when you are supposed to start getting afraid? Drugs, of course, are generally considered right out. One of the major points in my life was when I was 14 and fell in love with a boy who used drugs, came to really care about all his friends who used drugs. I was supposed to be afraid but I wasn’t afraid and I didn’t know what to do with that. It turned out they were just people and I cared about them and, even more disturbing, I actually felt like some of them cared about me in a more real way than most of the people I knew from church. That was a key moment for me, actually. What happens when you’re confronted with irreconcilable things? Do you reject reality or decide things aren’t what you were told?
Swearing is another really contentious one. You should always be careful to provide a good witness and Jesus would definitely never have sworn. We know this because… well, we’re not sure how we know this but we are 143% positive about it. If people swear around you as a Christian, it probably means they don’t respect you and your witness has been blown. I remember being about 12 or 13 and we were at a high school game for some reason. This group of kids was behind us, swearing and acting generally like kids. My mother was quite annoyed. And a girl walked up and talked to them and after she left my mother turned to us and said “Did you see how their behavior changed around her? They didn’t swear once! They must have really respected her.” I remember thinking it must suck to have people be so uncomfortable around you that they changed their entire way of speaking, and would Jesus have really wanted that? But I didn’t pick the fight that day.
Movies, music, books. Pop culture is full of things to be afraid of. I don’t know if you know this but all pop culture hates Christians and also it’s completely full of all the other things we’re supposed to be afraid of. If we’re not careful, those things will climb right into our brains and suck Jesus right out. Now, of course I say this but my parents might claim that actually happened to me. After all, my philosophy in life now is actually a lot more in line with Joss Whedon’s, who I spent so much time adoring, than it is with what they taught me. I think there are other reasons for that but there are alternate points of view.
The point is that it’s a world full of monsters and actual, literal demons and it’s kind-of a scary place to live. Without the grace of God (that, frankly, is a bit hard to understand at times) the entire world would fall into chaos and everyone would commence with the pillaging and murdering and raping of each other. When I remember that, and it wasn’t even that long ago, the hiding behind your walls mentality of most Christians actually does make sense. It’s dangerous out there. People don’t really want to be martyrs for the most part and much of the American evangelical church has actually whipped themselves into enough of a frenzy that they might believe that’s a possibility. It’s both funny and sad to me to remember what I told my dad during one of our last conversations. It’s something I believe now more than ever. “Look. I don’t believe you lied to us, I think you were genuinely honest when you told us that we needed to be afraid. I think you really believed it. But the thing is that you don’t know any non-Christians who aren’t my friends. You haven’t spent any actual time in the real world in years. I just want to try to tell you that I’ve been hanging out there and… it’s not what you think it is. People are kind-of wonderful. They love each other and care about each other and they are not actually out to get you as a Christian or the church as a whole. None of those things you told us are true. In fact, they’re way more frightened of you than you are of them. And I hate to tell you this, but I think they have a reason to be.”