The Christian of the Future
"The Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist." (Karl Rahner)
When I was about 16, I went with other teens from our church on a mission trip to do home repairs in an impoverished neighborhood outside Roanoke. We were each assigned to different work sites and teams made up of kids from around the country.
On our breaks, our chaperones invited us to share about our faith journeys, and for me, it was the first real opportunity I’d ever had to share and hear others share about their struggles in life and with faith. Our team of teenagers was made up of closet cases like me, recovering alcoholics and drug abusers, self-harmers, bulimics, atheists, and soon-to-be young adults with real concerns about the state of our parents' world. In a lot of ways, I think we found ourselves mirrored in the lives and struggles of the people we were there to help, and so when we prayed with them there was a greater equality and earnestness to our prayers, a mutual and very tangible desire to be saved, and a solidarity brought out in holding the space for one another and working as the hands and voices of God on Earth in the meantime.
I later, somewhat embarrassingly and rather bluntly, contrasted the experience with what I termed 'Barbie Christianity' by which I meant the superficial, the born-into faith of many church-goers that arises from the coincidence of the religion one's family professes rather than any real struggle or rigorous journey one has undertaken.
It wasn't long after that before I began getting up and walking out of that church in the middle of its sermons. Anti-gay panic and paranoia over how the Bible should be interpreted divorced the church from any real relationship with God. It became a site of 'Barbie culture,' appropriating the language of Christianity as metaphor, but missing its Spirit by a country mile.
Over time, all of the struggles I encountered in Roanoke (and plenty others) became mine. At times I have been so hopeless, so angry, so bitter, cynical, and antagonistic. I have been nailed to my pain and the lasting trauma of our world’s failure to make good on the promises of Christian spirit. My home has been the alien dark and my company the incitements of demons. To learn stillness in those waters, to break through to the surface again despite a thousand tribulations in a thousand apocalypses, I believe is at the heart of Christianity's true message in the world. The mystic knows God in this way. She is not just a believer or a church-goer. Christ is her story. Reconciliation is her salvation.
Rahner’s quote here reminds me of the gap between these mystics and those whose faith makes its home in the shallow waters of contemporary Christian identity politics alone. I believe Christianity has been in the midst of a global culture war for at least as long as I’ve been living. But this is not a war over abortion or homosexuality, gender identity or the role of women. It’s a war over how deep Christianity will dive. Will the Church be a site of cultural hegemony, barricaded behind its border walls and patrolling its safe spaces for ideological conformity? Or will the Church be the fellowship of those who hear the call of God, whose answers are written along the scars of their bodies, who know God in the cries of their prayers, and who, with audacious faith, dare sing poetry of all the years they walked the wilderness, waiting, yearning, doubting, seeking?
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Pat Mosley (LMBT #16882) is a licensed massage therapist and life coach in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
His work is especially focused on creating permaculture in his community, which sometimes looks like providing bodywork, and other times looks like writing or designing gardens for people and bees.
Get connected with him via email to firstname.lastname@example.org