I am not Catholic. I am firmly a Protestant Gypsy, a phrase coined by my parents. Meaning I am firmly protestant, but do not profess to be a “member” of a any specific denomination beyond that. Instead, following my parents example, I find churches that align with my beliefs. I pay attention to mission statements, where they spend their money, and how they care for the least of these. I have not found a specific denomination that always lines up with my beliefs. So, whenever I’ve moved or become disillusioned with a specific church, I move on in looks of a church that better matches my beliefs.
After too long of an explanation, I do have to say I love Pope Francis, though. I’ve said numerous times that he is almost enough to make me become Catholic. He is often described as being someone who can bring my generation and those generations younger than me back to Catholicism. I think it is even broader than that to where he helps people my age and younger have hope in the Church again (and when I say Church in this context, I’m referring to it as the joint group of followers of Christ, both Catholic and Protestant).
I have been dissatisfied and disillusioned by the church most of my life. It seems to be an exclusive club that extends membership and help to those who fit nicely and neatly into its image of itself, more concerned with self-preservation of its current members than anything else. This is part of why I admittedly have found church an optional part of my relationship with God. I don’t need a church, pastor, priest telling me how to pray, what to do, etc. I have my Bible and Jesus for that and that has always been enough. I have typically found the church inauthentic and hypocritical. To quote the Black Eyed Peas, Where is the love?
Pope Francis is a very public figure trying to break many people of their comfortable boundaries of sitting in pews talking to people who completely agree with them, live their lives like them, and give their money safely to church defined missions. Through example, he has shown that this is not enough. People need to stand up out of their pews, walk out of the church, and onto the streets. Christianity should be love in action. For too many of us, it is neither love as Jesus defines it nor action. We dutifully read our Bible, go to church on most Sundays and may even give some of our money to an organization, but where is the living it out loud?
How can we lament about the state of the world, the nature of sin, the poverty, the war, the disease, the lack of community in our cities…AND YET do nothing? I am not saying we all need to quit our jobs and go to the mission field. We each have different gifts and callings. However, are we using them to their fullest impact for God? Are we being honest with ourselves and God? Are we asking him to use us in ways that may make us uncomfortable? I am done with being a safe Christian. That serves no one. It doesn’t serve me or others and it most certainly does not serve God. I will continue to look for more opportunities to use the gifts God has given me in ways that push me and force me to rely on him because they are outside of my comfort zone.
In education, there is a theory about risk and learning. It is argued that no true learning happens in a comfort zone. In the classroom, students learn most when they are in (safely defined) risk zone. You have to push students to do a little more than they think they can. This is where learning takes place. I think the same is true for spiritual growth/learning. We cannot grow/learn staying in the same pattern throughout our lives. We learn and grow in God as He pushes us and we run with His opportunities to fully and truly surrender to His plan.
I am not saying the church cannot have a place in what I am trying to do. I am saying it has been difficult to find a church that is focused on this in a true way that doesn’t seem self-serving or self-gratifying. Pope Francis gives me hope that maybe there are more people out there than I realized who are willing to step up and out for God to serve in the way that Jesus commands and shows. Organized religion has been failing (I think failure may simply be part of its structure). The same thing I think I need as an individual (honest reflection and action based on Biblical callings) is desperately needed by churches. I think Christianity as a group has an opportunity to redefine itself. Will we continue to be a good, ol’ boys club- defining membership by ranking sins on our view of their acceptableness while we safely sing and give money? OR will it be a radical group of people pouring love on others? Giving everything to God and His people? Consistently pushing ourselves to become more like Him, pursue Him, and reflect on our motivations and action?
I have been a social activist at heart my entire life. I am trying to find new ways to take this to action. This is where God has placed my heart and where I feel like he is honing my gifts and abilities to be used. Where is God calling you? How is He asking you to trust Him and give?