Monday, August 23, 2010

I Don’t Belong: The Anne Rice Syndrome

There’s a joke that goes something like this: One Christian tells another Christian that he loves his church because the people there accept him, warts and all. “They love me for who I am, they accept me, and they don’t judge me.” The other Christian replies, “That’s not a church, that’s a bar.”

When I read last month that author Anne Rice declared, “I quit being a Christian” on her Facebook page, this joke came to mind. Not that Rice’s announcement or predicament is funny.

Her complaint? She still follows Christ, she says, but she wants nothing to do with Christians. It became “impossible” for her “to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider.” Two key words there: “belong” and “outsider.”

I became a Christian as a teenager during the Jesus People movement of the 1970s, much of which was about being the outsider. Not that our Christianity wasn’t genuine, but truth be told, in our worst moments and in the foolishness of our youth, we fancied ourselves a cut above the average Christian.

We thought we cut to the core of what it meant to be Christian. We were more like the apostolic church, and we weren’t weighed down by social and political nonsense, especially if it came from the Right. We didn’t care for hymns, we liked contemporary music. We reached out to what academics call the “marginalized.” We were different. Outsiders in the Body of Christ. Yay us.

Don’t misunderstand me. I firmly believe the Jesus People movement was a movement of the Holy Spirit. But many teenagers who became Christians at that time had a decided lack of humility when it came to their fellow Christians. This probably had almost as much to do with being a teenager as it did with the movement itself.

But I’m not a teenager anymore and neither is Anne Rice. Yet she stomps her feet like one. She declares that for ten years she tried and failed to belong. Failed how? What did she want? What would have been her measure of success? How do you follow Christ but fail to belong to the wildly diverse, wounded and wonderful entity we call the Body of Christ?

I can’t get past the suspicion that Rice never had any intention of belonging, that she kept her announcement locked away in her heart as a “Get Out of Jail Free” card so she’d never really have to be one of those people.

As C.S. Lewis noted, the Body of Christ “is not a human society of people united by their natural affinities.” The fact is the members of the Body are members (better translated “organs,” as Lewis said) because they are different. The Lord has no use for a Body full of heads or a Body full of hearts. We’re only called to unity on the essentials of the faith, what Bible teacher Beth Moore calls the “spine” issues.

Many young people in the Jesus People movement felt they didn’t belong around their more traditional fellow Christians. We often felt out of place, and we took a perverse delight in that, believing ourselves at the forefront of a new movement, with the old way of thinking crumbling into history.

We were wrong. We belonged. We were part of a Body that stretches back two thousand years and includes Orthodox and Catholic, Presbyterian and Baptist. If we felt uncomfortable around traditional Christians, that was as much our fault as theirs. If we felt unwelcome, it was partly because we cultivated that feeling and thought it a badge of honor. We never asked ourselves if our fellow members of the Body felt they belonged around us.

We wanted a church that would allow us to walk in as we were and walk out just the same. No meat replacing milk, no iron sharpening iron. It doesn’t, and shouldn’t, work that way. Of course a church must allow you to walk in as you are, but you must walk out a different person, eventually. If not, you’ve merely been bending your elbow at a bar.

You can choose to acknowledge your membership in the Body of Christ, with all its mad flaws, or you can choose to play the lonely rebel, refusing to even take on the name “Christian,” like a child who won’t acknowledge her last name because someone might know her embarrassing parents. The role of outsider may feel more comfortable, for a time, but it is an unhumble place to be.



Vicki said...

This is a beautiful post on the Body of Christ and the historic connection to all Christians today.

I am sorry that Anne Rice, who was always a little off the beaten path with her writing (pornographic fairy tales, seductive vampires), cannot see that her unique part of the Body is important and always accepted by Christ himself, even if she rejects or is embarrassed by the other parts of the Body. We are one in the spirit, I believe, was one of the mantras of the 70s.

Cynthia Bruner said...

This post has me thinking about how I view other members of my church, and other churches within my community. The idea of different "organs" is a good reminder of how elaborate and diverse God's plan really is.

Amy said...

Lovely. Sad to hear about Rice's declaration, though.

Anne Rice said...

Thanks for your article and your observations. I appreciate what you wrote. If you want more info on my initial statements, they are on my website, along with several interviews that gave me an opportunity to explain further.
With all due respect, I don't think foot stomping had much to do with this. It was a personal tragedy in many respects. But it was also a matter of conscience. As a believer in Christ, I felt I had to walk away from organized religion --- that the various abstracted and intellectualized Christs of the churches --- were not the Christ whom I had encountered, and to whom I'd dedicated my life. My walk with Him required that I step away from His followers. I put myself in His hands. Again I thank you for giving this your attention. Anne Rice, Rancho Mirage, California.

Karin Kaufman said...

Vicki, you take me back decades with “we are one in the spirit.” It’s been a long time since I thought of that song. I used to gather with other Christians in this big house in Cleveland--dozens of us packed into one room, on the floor, of course--and that was our closing song. Wonderfully put--“her unique part of the Body is important and always accepted by Christ himself”--and true for all of us. (Why does it take so long to figure that out?)

Amy, thank you for you comment. You may want to check out Anne Rice’s website for her additional comments on her decision (scroll about half way down to “Media interviews”).

Karin Kaufman said...

Cynthia, I love C.S. Lewis’s remarks in one of his letters about a hypothetical “charwoman” (think it was) in the next pew who loved hymns (he hated them) and wore squeaky rubber boots--and was probably a better Christian than he was. We really have to check ourselves on this--how we view other Christians. I think every generation has its own snobbery about what real Christians look and sound like. But God is infinitely creative and, yes, elaborate! One day we’ll be amazed.

Karin Kaufman said...

Anne, thank you for your response and for directing me to the interviews on your website. I hadn’t seen/read several of them until now. I do believe it was a struggle for you to come to your decision. It must have been heartbreaking. But I disagree with your reasoning. Leaving a church, I understand. It’s disassociating yourself from Christians I don’t.

I believe our relationship with Christ is both highly personal (as if we were the only person in the world) and corporate, and that both aspects are important to Him. He cherishes our unity--not in social/political opinion but in love for Him--and at the very least that means associating with fellow Christians in name. I don’t think “Body of Christ” is just an airy metaphor. I believe in the communion of saints--here as well as in heaven. I believe that when we stand up and say, “I’m called by His name, and these others are my brothers and sisters” it gives Him pleasure. I wish you well in your walk with Christ.

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