Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I can remember thinking (or at least feeling) how terribly boring it was to be a Christian. I could never quite understand how or why speakers and preachers were so excited talking about Jesus. I mean, there was only so much to say before you knew everything there was to know about how to get saved. And after that it was pretty dull; it didn’t take very long to memorize all the rules, and as long as you were obeying those rules then you were pretty much set. I guess I sometimes looked forward to going to heaven, but it was hard to get too excited about that because it was so far out in the future. Also because singing contemporary praise and worship songs in a golden concert venue forever didn’t sound like it would be that much fun.
But that’s what being a Christian was about, so I just had to smile and make the best of it. As you may have guessed, mine was not exactly a riveting existence. In fact, though I never would have admitted it at the time, being a Christian sucked. Some of the things that made it suck the most were:
1) Christian Culture
“I know the music isn’t the best, but if you just listen to the lyrics it’s really good.” If I had a nickel for every time I said those words, I could have bought the complete works of KJ-52. I don’t know when it happened, but apparently at some point in the 90s, evangelicals got together and decided two things: 1) All music not explicitly Christian was evil, and 2) Christian music should bear no resemblance to any pre-existing genre of quality music. As a result, many Christians were sucked into the catastrophic black hole of awfulness that is Contemporary Christian Music. I know that at some level this is a personal taste issue, but at another level it’s a fairly objective statement. It all sounds alike, and at some point the songwriters decided that artistic creativity in lyrical composition was entirely optional. But it was the only alternative to the devil’s music on the rest of the radio stations, so we had to listen to it and talk ourselves into believing that it was quality music. On top of Contemporary Christian Music, there were also Christian-produced movies and clothes and various other awful things that they sell at Mardel. And part of our evangelistic message was to convince non-believers that our stuff was just as cool as theirs. Which, of course, didn’t work. Ever. We were a lot like the nerdy kid who’s super into Dungeons and Dragons and constantly tries to convince the rest of the class that it’s totally as cool as sports.
In addition to our continual and pathetic attempts to be pop-culturally acceptable, there was also the political and philosophical world of Christianity. In this world, everything was black and white. Jesus was a Republican, and to stray away from the GOP was tantamount to heresy. Republican presidents were practically given Papal authority over American evangelicals—what they said was infallible, and to question conservatism was to question God himself. Approximately half of our mission to the world as Christians was to get Bush re-elected and attack all decisions made by all Democrats everywhere. Much the same, the philosophical mood within Christianity could generally be summed up in three words: Don’t ask questions. Science and philosophy were obviously wrong and probably evil, because everything you could possibly need to know was written, straightforwardly and unambiguously, in the Bible.
2) Going to Church
Every Saturday night, I got in bed hoping that one of two things would happen: that my parents would oversleep, or that they would forget to wake me up in time for church. Because waking up early on the weekend was the worst. And sitting up straight in nice clothes for an hour sucked. And it was boring because I was already saved and knew everything I needed to know (see intro). And all we were doing was listening to a speaker for an hour, so why couldn’t we just watch somebody preach on TV? Plus, I had to be super friendly with people that I didn’t know very well and only saw once a week, because apparently being friendly on Sunday mornings was something called “Christian community”. But I had to drag myself out of bed and go to church, because that was what Christians did.
3) Being a good kid
I think what sucked the most about being a Christian was that it kept me from doing the things I actually wanted to do. See, I was a good kid. I wasn’t cool enough to be a cool kid, and I didn’t care enough to be a smart kid; so my only real chance at maintaining an identity and avoiding social obscurity at my Christian school was to be one of the good kids. And there were certain things that good Christian kids just didn’t do if they wanted to stay good kids. So to stay a good kid, I had to follow the Three Commandments: Thou shalt not have sex, Thou shalt not drink, Thou shalt not curse. And, of course, the Fourth Commandment: Thou shalt pretend to enjoy not doing these things.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been a high school boy. But if you have, then you know that deep down, these were probably the three things in the world that I wanted to do most. But good Christian kids didn’t do them, so I had to abstain for the sake of my reputation. I pretended that I was proud and psyched to be a virgin; I pretended that being sober at parties was totally more fun than being drunk; and I held my tongue at baseball practice when what I wanted to do most was join in on making dirty jokes with the team. But being a good kid had its perks, I guess. Like…er…not getting in trouble. Yes, being a Christian was about following the rules and experiencing the immense blessing of…not getting in trouble. Of course, following all the rules was a complete buzzkill and really put a damper on my social life. But, it was well worth it to know that I could keep my reputation and that I wouldn’t go to hell.
So I did all of the lame things Christians were supposed to do, and I avoided all of the fun things that we weren’t supposed to enjoy. And it all got me…nowhere. The older I got, the less I wanted to have anything to do with Christian culture. The older I got, the more questions I had, and nobody seemed to have any answers. And most of the time I was just pissed that there were so many limits on how much fun I was allowed to have. So eventually, I just kind of…quit.
The story of what happened between then and now is long and involved and doesn’t belong in a blog. But it’s some years later, and I’m now on staff at a church and about to start seminary. And I am exceedingly excited about both of those things. Because, as it turns out, being a Christian doesn’t suck.