One of the most vivid memories I have of my first year as a Christian is the praise that my mentor offered me for being so enthusiastic about learning all the basics of (evangelical) Christianity. He’d been working with college students for a few years, and many of them were people who had grown up in a family that was steeped in evangelicalism, which meant that a lot of the stuff that was discussed in one-on-one mentoring sessions was often sort of remedial to them. Because I was coming from a family that hadn’t placed a high priority on religious engagement while I was growing up, everything about evangelicalism was new and interesting to me.
Another memory I have is a very brief conversation I had with an older guy at a Navigators retreat that I attended not too long after I graduated from college. I was in a workshop on some topic related to personal reflection and quiet times (incidentally, the practice of quiet time is one of the features of evangelicalism that I remember very fondly; I was never very good at it in long stretches, but I still have a great deal of admiration for the concept), and I was adamant that the only way to do quiet times was to have your Bible, your journal, and some time to yourself. In retrospect I realize I came across as very young and inexperienced to this other guy, who was more hesitant to be so prescriptive about a very personal experience. Of course, it was a function of my limited experience and knowledge; the one model was all I knew, and I naturally assumed that it was the best one for everyone. That was a very early, very gentle moment when my horizons about faith practice broadened.
That retreat was also where I encountered a guy who was perfectly comfortable having a conversation with me in the men’s room while using a urinal (“Oh my God, I’m trying to pee, what is this guy doing?” was my dominant train of thought while it was happening). This retreat was a very mixed experience.
The pattern of my religious education has been one of accidental expansion. At first I went really in depth with the subculture of the evangelical campus ministry I belonged to in my last year of college, and then accidental exposure to other perspectives within the larger evangelical subculture pushed me towards learning new things and finding some greater variety in how evangelical faith could be expressed. Eventually I stumbled across other perspectives about how Christianity outside of evangelicalism could function. These accidents and stumbles have varied from jarring to revelatory, but the common connections are always the realization that the world of faith is much richer than I previously knew and the fact that these epiphanies come about by listening to other people.
The last few years have been particularly challenging for my faith. It’s transformed significantly so that, like Rachael, I can’t call myself an evangelical anymore (I think I whiff on about three of the four points of the Bebbington Quadrilateral), and I don’t feel comfortable simply calling myself a Christian. I’ve learned that the label’s just too broad to be effectively descriptive. This transition has been accompanied by a pretty big dose of angst, because it’s always painful to realize you don’t belong with a community that you’ve been with for many years. Fortunately, the pain eventually eases, and I feel like it’s time to move on into something new.
I just don’t know what that is yet.
So, here’s the invitation bit: Rachael and I have taken some time to share our stories about how our religious identities have been shaped through our lives and where we stand at the moment. We want to hear from you about your experiences as well. We believe that part of building an identity is learning the meanings of different labels that can be applied, and that extends to religion as well.
So we want to hear from you about your identity and what that looks like, be it a form of faith or non-faith. Additionally, suggest a denomination or sect (Christian or otherwise) that you think we should explore. The ultimate hope is that we’ll be able to continue this series as a look at different perspectives while trying to refine our own faith identities. “I am a Christian” just isn’t cutting it anymore, and while no group is totally homogeneous, it would be nice to find more specific categories for ourselves.
A couple of extra points of information:
While we still broadly identify as Christians, many of our favorite people belong to other faiths, or to no faith at all. Therefore, we’d explicitly love to hear from anyone who identifies with one of these groups as well!
If you belong to a denomination you want us to check, and you’d be interested in letting us interview you for the series, please contact me via this form.
Finally, we recognize going into this project that no group is a monolith. Even within the same denomination, there will be as many approaches to the practice of faith as there are people. Therefore, we pledge to do our best to engage with this topic with respect and honesty.