Monday, August 23, 2010
I Don’t Belong: The Anne Rice Syndrome
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.
Posted by Karin Kaufman on Monday, August 23, 2010