I don't call myself a Christian. In casual conversation, I tell people I am a Quaker, because this at least is true. If pressed, I will say that I am a pluralistic but still Christocentric Hicksite Quaker, and if that's not specific enough we have a long talk coming.
But I'm not sure where the truth in all this lies, or whether I have the right of it. My dearest friend is a Christian, in the Jesus Saves sort of way. I don't mean that badly at all: he lives out his faith with more love than I have ever witnessed before. We have long discussions about faith, and one of the points that it often comes down to is this: he doesn't believe that I am Christian.
Here is what I say about myself: I attempt to center my life around my faith. I don't believe in an all-knowing, all-powerful, Creator-God, but I believe in Something. I believe in a very certain Something. I believe that there are many ways to get at Something (I'm getting a little tired of the 'many roads to the top of the mountain' metaphor, but it gets the point across), but I also believe that spiritual dabbling will not work for me, or just about anyone, likely. I am going to choose one path and stick to it with all my heart.
I was raised Catholic, in that altar-server, I-want-to-be-a-nun sort of way. I've more or less always believed in a God of some sort or another. The metaphors and teachings of Christianity resonate very powerfully with me. I don't believe that they're universally true. I don't believe my atheist friends are going to hell. I don't believe that Jesus the man was the literal son of God. I do believe in Christ. I believe in Christ as the light that illuminates every man's soul. Christ as a state of being. Christ as a metaphor. I read the letters of Paul and am powerfully moved by his exhortations to us to become more, companions in Christ, to circumcise our hearts. I am constantly struggling to circumcise my heart. I am struggling to let go of my own will and be subsumed by God's (unfortunately, I get in the way far too often). If it wasn't so bloody creepy to say, "Christ is the center of my life!" I might do it.
But is this Christian?
My friend argues otherwise. He points out that a Christian is a follower of Christ, and that description does not fit me. I ignore plenty of things that Jesus said, like the bits about no man coming to the Father except through him, and the bits about Scripture being the word of God, and the bits about listen to the people I send (I like Paul's letters, but I throw his misogyny out the window). And I most assuredly do not subscribe to the 'Jesus is my personal Savior' bit. I don't even believe in Jesus as God. Christ, not Jesus. He says this is like kind of obeying the speed limit, or mostly not going over the double yellow lines in the road, or being a little pregnant. Either you are, or you aren't. Only 100% obedience counts.
On the other hand, isn't making oneself a living oblation 100% obedience? And why should it have to be 100% to begin with? And who came up with these rules? And why do I get so upset over it all? I don't even call myself a Christian.
And that brings me to the third hand. Even if the shoe fits, how could I bear to put it on? I want nothing less than to be associated with the sort of bigotry that seems to predominate among public Christians in this country, and maybe everywhere. I more than enthusiastically support the queer community in their struggle for equality. I subscribe to the Hilary Clinton school of thought when it comes to abortion- let's keep it safe, legal, and rare. I am an evolutionary biologist. I think school-sanctioned prayer in public schools is wrong. I am firmly in favor of the separation of church and state. Perhaps, though, this is exactly why I should embrace the label. Religion should be co-opted no more. (Did anyone else read the August Harper's?)
Then again . . . I have nothing but respect for the sort of Christian who practices what they preach. I know a number of rather fundamentalist Christians, and if I called them at two in the morning because my car was broken down fifty miles away, they would come pick me up in a heartbeart. And they have told me very firmly that it is offensive to the Real Christians (capitals mine) for someone like me, a poser, if you will, to call themselves such. And I wish to respect this.
How many hands are we on now? Five? Then again, I don't think they have a handle on the truth.
I've run this track around in my mind too many times to count. What it tends to come down to is this: I know what I believe. I am quite clear about these basic outlines, though the details are constantly being shifted and changed by the Light. Is the name so important? Perhaps I shall let my friends and companions argue over why I am or am not a Christian, and go my quiet way in peace.
I hope that's not a cop-out. I wish the way was clear.