While in some ways all of what I have written on these pages is autobiographical I have not, for the most part, told my personal story on this blog. But, the other day I ran into an acquaintance who indicated that I looked happy, happier than she remembered me ever looking. (I know her because we went to the same fellowship once upon a time). Her comment got me to wondering why I might look happier–to her.
My life has changed some in the last few years. I came as close to drowning as I care to come about a year ago. Earlier this month I had a gallbladder related health scare that feels like it flipped my life upside down. I am nearly done with a BFA program in art but have the most difficult year ahead of me. And, my marriage has seen some white water rapids the last year and a half. Yet, none of that can account for me looking happier.
I do not put a lot of stock in the concept of happy if by the word people mean always smiling or only saying nice things. I’m not even sure I can go along with the ideas of “feeling” all warm and fuzzy or always seeing life as a glass half full to overflowing. I know too many people who spend a lot of time hiding their sadness and anger behind smiles and whose self talk is anything but “nice”. I personally rarely feel warm and fuzzy and struggle to remind myself that I decide if my life cup is half full or verging on empty. So when I compare “seeming happier than I’ve ever been” to some sort of mask or positive thinking technique I’m a little leery.
As I indicated earlier I knew this woman when I attended the same fellowship and I haven’t seen much of her sense I left. In that time I believe the biggest change that has occurred is a sort of reclaiming of my life from the grips of an oppressive religious system. I realize that all sounds a bit melodramatic or over stated but given the energy I feel surge in me whenever I encounter evidence of the oppression I once felt targeting specific groups or trying to assert its will on someone else I know I am NOT overstating my point. Digging out from under religious oppression takes work. And, time. Six years after I first left the building I still feel myself needing to pull free from the tendrils that would pull me back.
I miss fellowship. I miss corporate worship. I miss feeling useful. I miss having a built in opportunity to encourage those who need a little encouragement. Obviously some good attributes of Building-Based Christianity exist. Yet, ultimately it is a system of oppression and as such is unsafe, at least for me. The more corporate the fellowship becomes the more some will be marginalized, ignored, or avoided. The more organized the fellowship is with senior pastors and associate pastors and youth pastors and worship leaders and greeter teams and…the more hoops people need to jump through in order to reach the inner circle and the less likely the inner circle will be to even notice those living on the fringe.
Our religious systems are contrary to the walk of Jesus. Jesus did not organize his disciples into leadership groups the way we have. Jesus failed to distinguish between eating with the Pharisees and eating with tax collectors or prostitutes. We on the other hand, know better than to associate with “sinners” if we want the approval of the “saints” at the top of the ladder.
In Luke 4 after Jesus read from the scripture scroll (Isaiah 61)”The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor…to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, [and] to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” He told those listening that the scripture had been fulfilled. In that moment He gave us a blueprint to His purpose, a purpose we reject today as much as the religious did in His own day. Why, because the religious need laws. They need score cards. They need some way to keep track of how well they’re doing compared to everyone else. They can’t comprehend the idea that someone could possibly love them when they can’t even love themselves. Forget that that Someone is an all powerful all knowing God. They can’t wrap their heads around the idea that they don’t need to earn the love that has already been given to them no strings attached. So, they just keep on trying to earn it, trying–wanting–to prove they deserve it.
So, the “happy” my friend saw? I happen to think it’s got a lot to do with leaving a place of religion and moving to a place of faith. I believe in a God who loves me even when I think I’m unlovable. I believe in a God who fulfilled His purpose, who doesn’t need me to earn my way in because He already opened the doors. I believe in a God who doesn’t even need me to understand who He is or what He’s done before I’m showered with His presence. Yes, even filled with the passions and anger I wrestle with every day I am happier than I ever remember being as an adult because I have faith in a God who sets the captives free.