“We have met the enemy…”

It was tempting to head this one, “I find your lack of faith disturbing” – but I hope that I have more in common with Walt Kelly than Darth Vader.  Even today, as on the rampage as I have felt.

Good old Walt Kelly. I am getting a little lesson in Pogo today. Walt Kelly died the year I was born, so he was not on my cultural radar screen. Too bad. I was missing out.

He’s on my radar now, because I was trying to find attribution for that famous line, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” It seems to be the theme for the week. For the past couple weeks. The “We… us” I have been thinking about is Christians, and no one knows how to turn people away from Christ and the church quite like Christians do.

We have been reading Home and Jesus Land in Ethics, and that has a lot to do with the whole “Christians are their own worst enemy” living meme. The fictional Jack (in Home) and the real life Julia (in Jesus Land) are exemplars of people who received the bad news of their unlovableness (and of the unloving impulses of Christians) loud and clear. As Dr. Hall succinctly put it -we don’t have to worry about the atheists, folks – it’s ourselves we have to worry about.

And then there was the matter of my friend, Will, who was writing a sermon and having trouble finding a commentary that allowed for the possibility that Jesus might actually have walked on water. And Jodi, writing on the class discussion board about how we fail in Christian education, because we don’t let our children and teenagers ask questions. And given all of that, it seems to me that I could easily rephrase Pogo to “We have met the atheist, and he is us.”

I have a lot more to write on this than time allows, but it has been troubling me for some time that Christians of all stripes are so – SCARED. The fundamentalists among us too often don’t want to let anyone question anything, because if one verse does not hold up, if one thread of an idea is broken, their entire faith is likely to unravel.  God will cease to exist! The scripture has become an idol because God is not sufficiently real. And the liberals among us are quick to concede that, of course, this or that or any one of 50 things is impossible, because their reason is more real than God.  God has ceased to exist!

A God who is more powerful than reason, more powerful than scripture?  Do we REALLY KNOW God is real?  I do.   Most days I know it in my bones.  True enough, I have my atheist times, when I become convinced that I have been duped by my pattern-loving brain, and I am a fool, and what the heck are we all wasting our time on Sunday mornings for?  In the same way that as a child, I was afraid when the sun hid behind a cloud that it would be dark forever, that the sun would never be so intense again.  But, as the sun always returned when I was a child, the light of God is simply a fact in my life (praise God!), and the full force of God’s reality always returns, and God is so real that even though I have known the pain of doubting God’s existence, I do not fear losing God, or God being somehow diminished by God’s own creation.

I have to admit, I am starting to lose patience with the atheists in Christian clothing misleading others as to the character of Christ, more even than I have lost patience with the new atheists and their evangelical certainty of the non-existence of God, as if it were possible to have evidence of absence – irrationalists in rational clothing. Give me an honest agnostic any day. Give me the questions of a child and the sincere and open Christian friend admitting to their atheist days, weeks, and tendencies.

And as for those who are unaware that their lack of faith in God, and the ways in which they use their “faith” as a weapon against those who are truly seeking God – I want to assure you that GOD LOVES YOU!  God loves each and every one of us so much that you could not be in better hands.  It will be okay – you can shine that Jesus light in even your darkest, cobwebbiest, most dis-believing corner, and you will be okay.  In fact – if you let Jesus into those places you are too ashamed to risk revealing in front of your Sunday school class, you will be BETTER!  Praise Jesus, my impatience with you is not the last word – God’s love, greater than I or anyone else could ever love you – greater than any creature could ever love any other creature – promises to have the last word.

PastorX is now ex-pastor

Who is PastorX?

That would be me.  I went through a brief stint, early in my stay-at-home Mom career, of visiting places on the internet where atheists were hanging out (mainly columns on atheist subjects in webzines and online newspapers) and injecting myself into the conversational mix as the (often lone) reasonable, educated, patient Christian type.  I was starved for an intellectual and an evangelistic challenge, and engaging both young atheists and their angry fundamentalist detractors in dialogue (tri-alogue?) provided me with both – all conveniently available in the home I was confined to for 2 – 2+hour baby naps per day!

And when I went online for these purposes, I went by the handle “PastorX.”

Why?  I was looking for a handle that right away identified me as a professional interpreter of Christianity, so – Pastor.  In math, we use the letter X to refer to an unknown quantity.  And I wanted to remain unknown – especially as to gender.  Frankly, a lot of brainy young men seem to think that you have to be a man to be brainy.  (Let’s be clear – I am talking about chauvinist beliefs as lived in practice, not as espoused explicitly.)  And atheists actively arguing on the internet are disproportionately brainy young men.  I wanted to keep the focus on what I was saying, not what organs I was or was not born with.  So – PastorX was born.

But the X grew on me for many more reasons.  Again in math, X is meaningless, unknowable on its own.  X is known only in relationship to others.  X is the name of my generation – an at once jaded and hopeful generation that is liberal politically, but holds tightly to the value espoused by conservatives – personal responsibility – a generation that believes in community, in egalitarian relationships – a generation that still can’t quite believe that we really are the grownups now.

It also occurred to me that X might signify a rejection of a slave name.  Malcolm X changed his last name to X from Little to signify that his true name was unknown – that Little was not an African name, but a name inherited from white slaveholders.  Similarly, as a woman, changing a name in marriage recalls a transfer of property between two men – the true holders of the name.  To go by “X” could be a feminist assertion that my true name is unknown – I have only the surnames of men to chose from in recorded history.   But it could also be taking on the name of Christ, whose name begins in the Greek with the letter Chi, printed “X” – I am no longer a slave to sin and death, but have been given a name and a heritage.  Taking up my X could signify that I now in fact do know my true name – it is X – I am marked as a member of Christ’s family.

I gave the X a lot of thought, but I took the title “Pastor” for granted.

At the 2008 General Conference of the United Methodist Church, certain changes were made regarding the relationship between family leave and the ordination process.  And as a result, it became impossible to imagine that I could complete the ordination requirements in the new allotted time.  So this past June, my petition to be discontinued as a Probationary Elder was accepted by the Virginia Annual Conference.

This summer, I received a note from my District Superintendent.  As an ex-pastor, I was required to return not only my license for local ministry, but also the certificate I received when I was commissioned a probationary elder.  Turns out it is not so much like a diploma, and more like a license.

It was not until a few weeks ago that I was finally ready to climb the stairs to my work space, take the frame off the wall, pry open the back, and remove the certificates.  Today I will put them in the envelope and finally send them back to the District Office.

Now, I am pure X – the traditional mark made by an individual who does not know how to sign her or his own name.  I think that it is starting to grow on me.