In other words, my interests in Christianity are incidental, and focused on the historical and cultural. When I travel, I am always drawn to the churches and the architecture; when I read, I find the histories of the early church, the papacy, and the various sects and orders fascinating; when I mingle with those immersed in the faith, I feel as if I am visiting a different culture altogether. And as a good visitor to any foreign land does, I try to behave myself, and respect the customs and rituals of those around me.
You might think that I have failed spectacularly here, given the tone and tenor of my recent posts, and these are the occasion for the present apology. In these posts, which I often paste up as quickly as they come across my desktop, it might seem as if I have an indiscriminate hostility to all things Christian. And I know that of late these posts have been appearing more and more frequently, which I worry you might mistake for a growing disrespect for you, and what you believe in.
It is important to me that you know this is not the case. In these posts I mean to militate against a virulent distortion of what I understand Christianity to be, which over the past several months has loudly wounded our body politic. What I do not mean to do is paint with an overly broad brush, and stain the whole of your faith with this rancid bile that, from my admittedly outsider’s perspective, does nothing but diminish the message of your Christ. But unfortunately, at times I have done just that; too frequently, I have not taken care to distinguish between the heavy-handed fundamentalism that is once again sweeping over the land, and the more complicated but affirmative Christianity that you have taken into your lives. And it is for this that I beg your forgiveness, for you are the last people I would want to offend.
What might not be apparent from my posts is that I have been surrounded by Christians since my earliest days in Detroit, over and beyond my teaching post at a Catholic university. We settled into a neighborhood populated with a number of former Jesuit volunteers, who welcomed us warmly, and my Catholic wife found a well-established and wonderful parish just around the corner. From these initial contacts we were drawn into a sprawling network of Christian communities, each doing Christ’s work in this most distressed of cities, without fire or fanfare. A pastor here, a volunteer there, dinners and shelter for the homeless, a playground for a neighborhood’s children, mission work in Haiti, ice cream socials and block parties, the blessing of new children, and, speaking in the broadest sense, the cultivating of a community of love—the rarest of all commodities in our barren, atomized, egoistic culture.
And it was without hesitation that you took this agnostic into your community, inviting me to dinner and other gatherings, where I have broken bread and shared prayers with you, while observing you with an anthropologist’s eye. Here I see no ego, experience no moral superiority, hear no unearned certitudes about the truths of your divinity. Rather, I see those for whom faith is demanding, requiring a never-ending reaffirmation in a world of never-ceasing travails, struggles with occasional doubts, and vigorous but extremely thoughtful discussions of doctrinal matters, because, after all, for you this faith matters, and matters deeply. But all of this is bound together by an unconditional love for all of creation, a simple attempt to live out the love of your Christ in every waking hour of your day, a quiet and unassuming love that is directed equally towards saints and sinners, Christians and non-Christians alike.
How much harder, how much more demanding it must be, to be a Christian of love, as opposed to a Christian of judgment and condemnation, a Christian who would forcibly bend the knees of others for the sake of their obedience. And how much more authentically Christian.
I dedicate this to you, my loving Christian companions, in the spirit of thanks, on the day of the rising of your Lord.