Radically You

Column by Rev. Deshna Charron Shine on 2 May 2024 0 Comments

Today, I want to talk about one of my modern-day heroes, Alok V. Menon, known as ALOK. ALOK (they/them) is an internationally acclaimed poet, comedian, public speaker, and actor. I’ll add prophet. ALOK speaks brave truth to power and firmly holds themself in compassion and love.

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I feel very confused about letting go of what I believed: that I am a sinner, and unless I believe in a fundamentalist style religion, well... who knows what will happen? I stopped going to church quite some time ago and have always had a difficult time fitting into organized religion. However, now, because everything has become so confusing with progressives, fundamentalists, etc. I find having to just let go altogether doesn't sit right with me either.


I’d like to be helpful to you, Cheryle.  Let’s start with the basics.

Fundamentalists have been very vigorous and effective in marketing their religion.  As a result, they have defined Christianity in the minds of most Americans, whether they are Christian or not.  Fundamentalists have also defined the terms for religion in general.  For them, religion = belief.  That’s true for their version of Christianity.  But it isn’t accurate for religion in general.  Many religions are much more about spiritual practices than they are about defined, dogmatic beliefs.  And that is the case with progressive Christianity.

You don’t have to believe anything in order to follow Jesus’ way of compassion.  You don’t have to “believe in the Bible”, whatever that means.  You don’t have to repeat a list of dogmatic statements in order to be part of progressive Christian community.  Are you willing to try to do what Jesus did, and love even your enemies?  That’s plenty challenging, and it is all that progressive Christianity asks of you.

“God is love.”  That’s in the Bible, in the first letter of John.  Other different ideas about God’s nature can be found in the Bible, too.  But progressive Christianity chooses “God is love” as its beginning and ending point.  This statement has consequences.  Love isn’t in charge of the universe, doesn’t give orders, doesn’t command.  So God isn’t an all-mighty Guy in the Sky.  God is love that attracts rather than controls.  Love invites us and guides us to be kind and to do the right thing.

I think it might help you to understand that progressive Christianity is categorically different than evangelical or fundamentalist Christianity.  Progressive Christianity isn’t about you “being a Christian”.  It does not draw a circle around itself to define who is a Christian and who is not.  Progressive Christianity has no walls, but rather it has an attractive center point: the unconditional, divine love that Jesus practiced and preached.  We take the Bible seriously because we don’t take it literally: we employ its rich treasures of myth and poetry as a language to express our spiritual journeys.  We value the rituals and traditions of our faith as practices that nurture our ability to relate to the Universe and to other people with awe and compassion.

You say you have trouble “fitting into organized religion.”  No wonder, given your religion of origin.  Fundamentalist/evangelical churches do indeed expect people to “fit in”, and indoctrinate them toward that end.  But at their best, progressive churches don’t need you to “fit in.”  They are not asking you to park your brain before entering the sanctuary.  They are not asking you to assert ten unbelievable things before breakfast.  They are not expecting you to think like or be like everybody else in the congregation.  They are motley crews of people who will embrace your uniqueness.  Progressive Christianity is a lot less-organized religion.  So don’t even bother trying to “fit in” when you visit one of our churches!

I hope this helps at least a bit, Cheryle!  And I wish you very well on your spiritual journey.

~ Rev. Jim Burklo




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