Living — Not Just Performing — The Faith
I mentioned on Twitter the other day a conversation I overheard in which an older woman was telling her friend that she doesn’t understand her adult daughter’s relationship to her chosen religion. The daughter and her husband converted to Catholicism. Her mom asked if she goes to confession. The daughter told her mom no, that nobody in their parish goes to confession. The mom (not a Catholic) said to her friend, “I told her that if you’re going to be part of a religion, then really be a part of it.”
I thought of that just now when reading Tara Isabella Burton’s wonderful essay about how she got off the fence and started to think and live as an actual Christian, not just an aesthetic pretender. Excerpts:
Throughout my childhood, I kept an altar that was a fusion of Roman saints’ icons and Wiccan candles I purchased on the internet. I was a little bit Catholic, a little bit Episcopalian, a little bit Jewish, a little bit pagan. Then, in my late 20s, I discovered I was a Christian.
She learned that saying yes to Christ meant that she had to say no to many other things. More:
But for me, the most demanding part of embracing Christianity was sacrificing the safety of in-betweenness. I could no longer be a little bit pagan. Halloween parties that ironically-but-not-really celebrated witchcraft, say, or other staples of my at-times aggressively secular New York life were no longer simply curious parts of my spiritual eclecticism. I had to pick a side.
For the first time, I had to ask myself questions not just about what it all meant in an abstract way but what each decision—from posting on Instagram to choosing an outfit to drinking too much to hosting a party to committing to monogamy to planning a wedding—meant for me, as a Christian, in the framework of my Christianity. If God was real, if Christ really did come back from the dead, then nothing else mattered except insofar as it reflected that one hideous, impossible truth.
I had a similar realization — literally, a come-to-Jesus moment — in my twenties too. It was about sex. I finally quit lying to myself, and trying to convince myself that I could be fully Christian, except for that one area where I wanted to keep my options open. Not true. Either Jesus Christ is God, or he isn’t. If he is God, then that means he is the God of all my life, not just the parts I find easy to surrender to him. And despite what these liars (like the porn-supporting, lascivious Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber in the present day) say, Christianity has never blessed sex outside of marriage. It’s just a lie — a lie that a lot of young Christians (as I was then) are prone to believe, but a lie all the same.
I had to want God more than I wanted myself, for once. Only then did my Christianity start to become real: when it cost me something valuable. I say “start” to become real, because a Christian’s life is one long, arduous journey to make the faith more real by dying to ourselves so that we become like Christ. If living the life of faith doesn’t hurt, ever, and if it’s nothing more than an amusing, pleasant bricolage, you’re not doing it right. And as TIB says in her piece, if it doesn’t make you an alien, a stranger to this world, you’re not getting it.
UPDATE: A reader highlights a longer essay in which TIB talks about how she came to the Christian faith in more detail.