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[personal profile] levade
by Jefferson Bethke

It was that time of the year when you could feel a mixture of intense emotions in the air — the joy of the semester almost being done, along with the pressure of having to pass through final exams first. People were stressed. The campus was fairly quiet as students were trying to make up for all the studying they didn’t do the previous three and a half months.

I had come to expect a few breaks that included fun treats or programs during finals week that the student life department at my previous self-proclaimed Christian college make available. Sometimes there were free massages in the student lounge. Sometimes there was free food or candy.

Even though I had just transferred to a secular liberal arts university, I expected the same. While I was in my room studying — most likely Facebooking, but let’s not talk about that — I heard a knock at the door.

I answered it to be greeted by my lovely RA (resident assistant) who was holding a bucket of lollipops in one hand and a bucket of condoms in the other.

She cheerfully said, “Candies and condoms! Be safe and have a stress-free finals week!”

I remember thinking, Just what I needed to help me study for finals — high fructose corn syrup and latex birth control.

I definitely wasn’t at a Christian college anymore! Later that year they did something similar, where they taped “sex facts” and condoms to the walls of the dorm. I think they used to use staples, but as you can imagine, it wasn’t very effective.

Talk about a quick change. It didn’t take me more than a few hours to see the glaring difference between my strict Christian college in San Diego and my new liberal arts university in Portland. Whatever comes to mind when you think of Portland, that is exactly the essence of this school. It was the mecca of gay rights. They banned bottled water because it wasn’t environmentally friendly. Everyone had dreads, and none of the girls shaved their armpit hair. Well, that last one is not completely true. It was the type of university that had used books by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens as textbooks and dripped with a granola-liberal-progressive spirit. But I loved it. Really. I absolutely loved it. If I had to do it all over again, I would have gone there in the first place.

Now, what’s really funny is while I was at the Christian school, I wasn’t a Christian. But while I was at the secular school, I was a Christian.

You’d think I would have wanted to go back to the Christian school, right? It was the opposite.

I found the Christian school to be stuffy, hypocritical, and judgmental. I could no longer stand praying after baseball practice with thirty guys who wore crosses around their necks, knowing a few hours later they’d have a beer in one hand and a girl in the other (myself included). Weirdly, my new university felt accepting and loving. There was no guessing if someone was really a Christian or not. If you said you were a Christian at that school, it wasn’t to gain you any points — in fact, you probably lost some. There was something about that type of atmosphere that drew me in.

My senior year I was an RA — which pretty much means I was the dorm’s “dad.” I was the guy who would let you in if you locked yourself out, wrote you up if you broke the rules — there weren’t many — and would be there if you were having emotional or academic problems.

Dealing with students daily, I got a pulse on the common conceptions they held toward God, Jesus, religion, and Christians.

What constantly surprised me was the ignorance of most college students regarding Jesus. I heard things such as, “I could never follow Jesus; I still want to drink beer.” Or,

“Why would I like Jesus? He hates gays.” I remember thinking, Huh?

I still drink beer, and I don’t hate gays. My favorite was one of my baseball teammate’s responses after I asked him what he thought about Jesus: “Yeah, I love Jesus — and Buddha too. I’m a Christian Buddhist.” It took everything in me not to laugh. Christian Buddhist? That’s like saying you’re a lactose-intolerant cheese lover.

A college campus is an interesting place. Students have little to no responsibility, question everything they believe in, and live within one hundred feet of all their friends. There’s also a huge dark side to most colleges. As an RA I had a front row view of the pain in my generation. Colleges these days are breeding grounds for poor decisions, emotional brokenness, and sharp pain.

This is all behind the scenes, of course, because the girl who was raped freshman year and the guy who hates himself and struggles with depression don’t seem broken when sitting in a lecture hall debate.

People don’t flaunt their brokenness when trying to prove themselves. But in their dorm rooms in the middle of the night after another disaster or one-too-many shots, I got to see people become transparent over and over again. They’d continually admit their lives weren’t working. They were empty. Longing. Desiring. Searching.

One friend’s sister had just admitted she was gay to the family, and it was tearing them apart because their dad refused to “have a gay daughter.” Another friend admitted she hated herself for losing her virginity to her ex-boyfriend, whom she didn’t even speak to anymore. Another felt the immense pressure of balancing school and child care because she was caring for her little sister now that her dad had left and her mom had to work.

I saw some of my peers nearly drink themselves to death or try to kill themselves — and without the ambulances showing up so fast, they just might have.

I wondered, How am I any different? Just two years before, I had struggled with depression. I had struggled with suicidal thoughts. I had struggled with the guilt and shame that so often come with recreational dating. I had spent the first year of college shotgunning beers, messing around with girls, acting like the world existed to cater to my needs, and never taking a second to pull out the emotional, spiritual, and mental shrapnel that had been lodged in my soul by the “me” lifestyle. Inside I was just a scared little boy who had been deeply insecure his whole life and lived in hopes that others would tell me I was good enough.

Of course, none of us would admit it so plainly, and for nineteen years of my life, I wouldn’t have either, but isn’t it true? Why else do we do most of the things we do?

My generation is the most fatherless and insecure generation that’s ever lived, and we are willing to sacrifice everything if we just can be told we are loved.

If only we knew just how loved we really are.


So being a follower of Jesus now, and knowing just how gracious He had been to restore me, heal me, and pursue me, I longed so deeply to share His love with these students. Over and over again, though, I’d get the same response whenever I’d bring up Jesus. Literally, the overall essence of Jesus to these students had been boiled down to whether or not someone could say the F-word. Immediately, they’d bring up periphery issues that Jesus barely mentions as their biggest opposition to him. Ironically, the reasons they opposed Jesus were sometimes the reasons Jesus opposed the religious people of his day.

Half the time, they weren’t even rejecting Jesus; they were rejecting what He rejected!

I sat in bed one night and wondered, When on earth did “hates gays, can’t drink beer, and no tattoos” become the essence of Christianity?

It hit me that my friends weren’t the ones to blame for their confusion. They had gotten this idea from people they grew up with, churches they went to as kids, or preachers they saw on TV. It was the church’s fault that they thought this was what real Christianity was all about. As I’ve heard said, “Of 100 unsaved men, one might read the Bible, but the other 99 will read the Christian.”

Ouch.

I’m sure we’d have a very different Bible if it were written simply by observing modern-day Christians.

My peers couldn’t separate Jesus from religion because they weren’t reading the Bible to learn about Jesus; they were looking to the Christian religion to understand him. What they were rebelling against was religion.

People lamented that they had tried Christianity, and it didn’t work. But last time I checked, you don’t try Christianity; either your heart has been transformed by Jesus or it hasn’t.

But you can try religion.

You can try to follow the rules.

You can try to climb up to heaven.

But all you’ll do is white-knuckle your way to religious despair. It won’t work. It never does.

That’s when I started to notice an interesting trend: When I juxtaposed religion and Jesus in my conversations, they took a different turn. It allowed people to pull back a little and see him in a different light. They no longer were just brushing him off, but were actually pursuing, thinking, and investigating the man named Jesus. And that’s when I started to write the poem “Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus.”

Date: Nov. 29th, 2014 07:04 pm (UTC)
sparowe: (See)
From: [personal profile] sparowe
I really identify with this in a lot of ways. I was raised Christian, but it never took. The same kids that were being held up as virtuous role models for me on Sunday, were the same kids that were making my life miserable Monday-Friday every single week at school. I also lacked any identity of my own; I was my grandmother's granddaughter, and that stifled me, because anything I did/said/asked reflected on her, and I was acutely aware of that (although she never would've punished me for something like that). If anything, I ran from the church and turned to paganism, because they didn't have a concept of Hell, which I was convinced I was bound for. I had this idea that... if I could be something else, I'd die, and not go to Hell. (I still remember a particularly angry declaration to God that I wanted to tear asunder any connexion to Jesus, that I didn't care--something that still horrifies me to this day, and makes me terrified of those people who say once you reject Jesus, there's no going back.)

But even after I became a Christian in my own right, it wasn't easy. I followed a very legalistic dogma; I'd make a type, and be convinced that it was a sin, because I hadn't done my best before God. It didn't help that at the same time, I was dealing with way too many people that wanted to "help"; the woman who told me that I didn't write, it was God. (Rather than, God gave me the ability to write, which is what I currently believe.) There was also a woman who told me if I wasn't baptised by immersion, and didn't come up speaking in tongues, I wasn't saved. (Because of this I asked my then-pastor if he would do baptism by immersion, God bless him he did--but I didn't come up speaking in tongues, and to this day I've only ever had one person tell me that I ever did in an unrelated circumstance, but I didn't think I was.) Strangely enough, at that time, it was my pagan friends who were the most accepting and helpful with my newfound faith. There are still many, many things that I struggle with to this day, fears of questions I don't want to ask, things I'm not sure how to understand, or if I do, how to live with. I just trust in His forgiveness and love and keep trying, even if it means keeping falling too.

*The one thing I will disagree with is that you can't be a Buddhist Christian. I think it's in how you mean it. I am a Christian first and foremost, I don't believe in reincarnation and many Buddhist teachings... but at the same time, I think you can apply some of their wisdom to your daily life, so long as it doesn't contradict Scripture. It's actually been quite helpful for me in dealing with a pretty quick and terrible temper.

Thanks for sharing this. :)

Date: Dec. 6th, 2014 05:51 pm (UTC)
sparowe: (See)
From: [personal profile] sparowe
I read once an article that talked about... how the "unpardonable sin" is taken out of context, that as long as you were not actively rejecting Christ at the time of death, it could be forgiven if you sought for it. Can't find the article--and honestly, I need to stop looking, some of these are really, really stressing me out. :( It's one of those things where... I don't know, I'm an anxious person (as in literally diagnosed with an anxiety disorder), and for all that I try to be positive and see the silver lining in things, I'm also a pessimist when it comes to hope--hurt too many times. So while I want to believe and hope, there's just this fear that someone smarter than me is right, I'm wrong, and that's bad, because it does turn into... reacting out of fear, rather than love, and I don't like the kind of Christian I am when going through that. Very legalistic myself, and I really don't see that as being helpful to others.

Oh, no, I don't follow all the Buddhist teachings, and as far as I'm concerned, "the" Buddha was just a guy who had some good wisdom. I really think that wisdom can be found in all people, whether or not they're Christian--it's just how you take it and use it, you can't blindly follow. So for me, it's more like... okay, I can't find the quote I want, so this is off the cuff. Say I'm angry about something, I've prayed about it, but am still dealing with it. I might search for a Buddhist quote as well, because they are good at helping me reach calm. Of course, the one I come up with right now is more fact than useful, but as an example: "Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned." So that might get me thinking, and thinking can then turn to more prayer as I'm thinking. Stuff like that, not sure how well I'm explaining.

I firmly believe that God let me be hungry--not starving--those last months in TN, so that I would have a heart for the hungry. Everyone always seemed to have their mission or cause, but I didn't. Not until then. All things to the greater good, right there. I think... I got to notice one of my best friends being negative, because it made me realise how I sound, and want to change. Though now I can't recall what led me to bring that up. (Sorry, it's also that time of month and I am really worn out right now.)

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