Arthur C. Clark once said, “Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” There is a common trope in pop-culture, it is the fish out of water archetype. Again and again, we see stories of aliens, ghosts, supernatural beings, or other cryptozoological creatures learning to be human. It is an often overlooked approach to talking about the human condition by observing it from the outside. The funny thing is, I don’t think we understand what it means to be human as humans ourselves. I think what Clark was getting at is either we are stuck with ourselves or we are not, and we can’t figure out how to be with ourselves anyway. That is terrifying. Either we are going to injure ourselves, or someone else is going to do it for us.
This last week “The Liturgists” put out an episode of their podcast where they have a conversation with Rob Bell. This entire hour was a deeply moving one for me. While listening to this conversation, and cooking dinner for my family, I was brought to tears by a few things that were said. The one incredible piece that I will hold with me is when Rob Bell was talking about the 10 Commandments. He was speaking about his new book, and how Christians haven’t been reading the Bible correctly. He was talking about reading the passages within the context of the time it was written. He brought up the commandments and said about them that they were being given to these people who were just slaves to someone else. These weren’t meant to enslave them again, instead, they were to free them. They were to teach them how to be human again.
After a traumatic event, I think most of us go through this period where we forget how to be ourselves. Maybe we didn’t know who that person was, to begin with. Maybe we didn’t know how to be human all along. Our whole life was a fish out of water story, and this event just reinforces that we didn’t know all along.
I used to feel out of place. I used to feel like I didn’t belong anywhere I went. Even within the church, I felt like I was the outsider coming in to not a welcome at all. That happens a lot, not just with youth ministers, but with visitors, and even those who are a part of the congregation for a long time. There is this concept that churches are meant for the holy and divine among us. That the people there are set apart, and therefore cannot be broken. Yet, time and again I encountered a lot of ass-holiness. Even from me. I admit it. I had a bad habit of treating people like I was smarter than them. I sometimes still do. I get lost in my own ass-holiness sometimes. All the while I think that is what so many of us want from that community or any community at all. We want a place where we don’t have to hide anymore. Where we are allowed to be human, and as much as we struggle to do so we are told that it doesn’t belong here. Today marks the fourth year since our first miscarriage. That seems like a heavy burden to wear around most days. It still feels like a punch in the gut every time I remember that day. I feel like I can’t share that with people because they might not understand. I remember the Sunday following that day. I remember how we did have a Church family, who understood and wept with us. This is something I still search for in a community. I have yet to find a place that is like that again. It took a while for that place to care for us like they did. We were there for 3 years at that point. I think about that now with how rare that is to find. Have we lost how to be human in our communities?
I still feel this way a lot. I feel like I don’t belong anywhere. I know this is a very “extended adolescent” way to feel. I think maybe my whole generation feels this way. We are still seen as children, though we are now adults, maybe buying houses, maybe having kids of our own, and trying to find our way in the world. It is almost as if an entire generation is stuck in this fish out of water story. You have a generation of people who have gone through massively traumatic events and have been told to “Suck it up, Buttercup!” A generation who has no idea what it is like to be human because we do not see anything but division and derision from those who have gone ahead of us. If ever there was a generation that could relate more to the teachings in scriptures (not just Christian ones) it’s this one. A generation that is lost and looking to stories to save them. Stories to teach them what it means to be a good human. Who do you think the largest consumer of media is, especially books? (source)
Millennials are desperately seeking connection. The biggest problem though, our connections are happening outside the church. We connect over the stories that have become most relevant to us. Game of Thrones, Doctor Who, Supernatural, Sherlock, Marvel Movies, Harry Potter, and so on (honestly the list could go on forever) have all started to teach us how to be a good human being through complex political struggles, time lords, cryptid hunting, anti-social geniuses, superheroes, and wizards. The funny thing is, this is how human beings have learned for centuries. That is all the Christian Bible is. It is a collection of stories meant to portray truths about a Divine being that wants nothing more from us than to be human. The writers used slang, stories, and language from their day to convey images and ideas that the readers would be familiar with. Now that we are close to 2000 years removed from those events, we’ve lost a lot in translation.
One of the reasons I love, and also dislike, (I know it’s complicated, okay) St. Paul is that he was a master at this. He was able to take the modern vernacular and use it in the context of Jesus. That is why he was so successful in his ministry. He was able to convey the truths about the Divine in language that the people he was going to would understand. This is why Jesus’ parables were so incredible, they were packed full of imagery and symbolism that the Jewish people at the culmination of the ages would understand. Yet, now we like to dress things up in pretty words and use the exact wording that we read out of an English translation (and probably not that good of one) of the Bible. How many times have you heard phrases like “ask Jesus into your heart”, “Sacrifice your life to God”, “He was made a sacrifice for us”, or “Knock and the door will be open to you”? What do those even mean? Seriously, when was the last time that you knocked on the door of someone you didn’t even know and that door was opened to you? I have a panic attack when the pizza guy knocks on my door. We don’t understand sacrifices. We as human beings haven’t done that for millennia. Ask Jesus into my heart? I’m sorry, but the only thing that should be in there is blood and muscle. If you are talking about metaphorical heart, well I don’t know the guy from all of the other stuff you’ve been saying.
I realized something when I was listening to the podcast this weekend. I realized I’m not alone. I’m not the first one who has made this transition out of the church. I’m not the only one who realizes that most of this stuff is getting to be so much fluff. I realized my ministry now is not just to learn how to be human myself, but to tell others that they are not alone in this transition either. My mantra is one that I want to share with others. I want to tell people, “You are not alone, you matter” until they see the Divine not just in me, but that it never left them either. In an effort to do so, I’ve decided to launch a new digital community. I know I might be spreading myself a little thin with my projects, really there is just the main three at the moment (Honest Faith [Blog, podcast, and writing], Honest Interfaith Community [The in-person community], and the one I’m about to announce). This community is for your stories. I am wanting to build an online place where you can feel free to share your stories of being a Post-Church Christian. What happened in your transition? How are you learning to be human? How do you need help discovering that you are not alone, and you matter? The link will be below, just click on the picture.
I don’t want Arthur C. Clark’s statement to be a reality. I don’t want it to be terrifying in either sense. I want for us to learn how to be okay if we are alone. But I seriously want for us to discover that we are not alone. I believe we are not alone, or maybe I want to believe. But over all, I want for us to learn how to be good humans. No longer fish out of water, but human. After all, We are not alone, we matter.