1. I do not consider myself (nor do I feel like I am) a "pagan." I mean, really? A pagan? Not sure I like "unchurched" or "irreligious" either, though it's a step up. Ideally, how about John, or Mark, or Sandra? In other words, my name.
2. I honestly don't mind it when you invite me to your church, or talk to me about God. Just keep it, I don't know, natural. Like when we talk about sports or movies. I hate feeling like a project. Let's keep it a conversation between friends, and as friends. I could see doing that.
3. Please don't be threatened by my questions. They really are my questions, and I've had them for a long time. I would hope that if Christianity is true, it would stand up under any amount of intellectual scrutiny. Anyway, I would feel a lot better if you were less threatened when I raise them. I'm not trying to be a jerk by raising them, I'm just trying to sort it all out. And that means asking you about all kinds of things. I know sometimes it seems combative, or aggressive, but God questions aren't exactly tame - much less safe. And for me, the answers are everything.
4. Don't forget that a lot of my junk is emotional, not just intellectual. And it took a lot for me to say that. I almost don't know how to get into this, but I've been burned, disillusioned, hurt…you may win some of our verbal contests, but it doesn't usually move me forward. It still leaves me feeling cold, mostly because some of the time the intellectual stuff is just a smokescreen for what I'm really battling. Here's the last five percent: It's not just whether I can buy into this intellectually, but whether I can buy into it relationally. In other words, are you and your community really safe?
5. I would like to belong before I believe. What I mean is that I'd like to experience this a bit before signing on. Is that legal? I hope so. I think that if I could "test the waters" a bit it would be helpful.
6. There's a lot I don't know, and I know it. Don't make me feel stupid about it, like not knowing much about the Bible or Jesus or whatever. If you could start at the beginning and explain it all to me, that would be great. Like starting with Genesis and moving forward.
7. Can we agree that there's a lot of weird stuff attached to Christianity and the Bible? Okay, it might be true, or real, or whatever, but can we just agree that some of it is a bit...bizarre? For some strange reason, it would make me feel better to hear you acknowledge how it all looks - and sounds - to someone from the outside.
8. What's up with all the scandals? I'm sympathetic to screwing up - I do it all the time - but what makes me want to puke is how they're screwing up while they are telling everybody they don't, or that nobody should, or…you get my point. It just makes the whole thing seem like a joke. Just own that you have screwed up (that'd be fine with me, really, I do it all the time), or just shut up about not doing it. But this parading and posturing and then being exposed…it just turns me off. It makes me feel like the spiritual one because at least I don't pretend to be something I'm not!
9. I like it when you help people - care for the poor, house the homeless, tend to the widow, protect the orphan, work for justice against the sex-trafficked - that gets my attention and feels authentic. It's also convicting, because I'm not doing much in those areas. I agree with it, and write a check now and then, but I'm not on the front lines. When you are, it makes me have to listen to what you have to say, whether I like it or not.
10. I'm really open to it all. More than I let on. In fact, I want to feel good about myself spiritually. But I don't think I could ever measure up. When I really think about God, all I feel is guilt and shame, so I stay away. It would be nice if there was something in all of this that would make me feel like I could…I don't know….come home?
James Emery White
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About Dr. James Emery White
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.
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