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I remember when I first realized I lived in the “Christian Bubble”—that insular, sterile place where everyone was just like me. I was already in my thirties, and a friend had recommended I read Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz; I did, and my first thought, after reading it, was (this is embarrassing), “Goodness gracious, one can be a Democrat and still love Jesus!” Please understand this was over ten years ago; a person can change a lot in a decade.
That was the beginning of my exit from what I call “religious Christianity” (which can take on many forms), and my entrance into a more authentic Christianity, the kind Jesus taught and lived. My paradigm shifted so dramatically that as I look back, I see a person I can hardly recognize. My life was characterized by the trademarks of a religious zealot.
I Was Afraid of People
I only associated with like-minded people. If someone didn’t agree with me on religious or philosophical matters, I disliked them because deep down I was afraid of them. I was afraid they would challenge my beliefs, and I knew I wasn’t equipped with good “comebacks,” or rather, I thought I had to have a comeback. I was afraid they’d think I was a moron.
Or else I was afraid they’d influence me, or worse, corrupt me.* I’d bought into the misguided notion that, even for a spiritually mature Christian, it was impossible to maintain my moral standards while associating with “people in the world.”
If anyone differed politically, it was I who thought they were the morons. But fear was still a factor; I was afraid my ignorance of their individual reasons for believing the way they did would betray the fact that I didn’t care to find out why they believed, and why they voted, the way they did.
In all areas, fear was the hallmark of my relationship with those outside the “Christian Bubble.”
I Was Afraid of God
For that matter, fear characterized my relationship with God. I figured He used the same measuring stick against me that I used with others. If people didn’t measure up to my righteous standards, certainly I didn’t measure up to God’s. And fear that I was “not okay” with God manifested in guilt—constant, suffocating guilt.
Except on good days, when I followed all the rules of the Christian Bubble. As long as I didn’t yell at my kids or nag my husband, or if I hadn’t skipped my “devotions” (Bible reading), God liked me, and I wasn’t as afraid of Him.
I Didn’t Like People
I had a binary view of the world and could only see individuals as “sinners” or “saints” (and synonymously “liberals” or “conservatives,” according to the religious subculture in which I was raised). Everywhere I went, I was vividly conscious of a “we versus them” dichotomy. It defined my world, and my thoughts, feelings, and demeanor around other people. I felt comfortable at church, but outside those four walls I was always on guard when surrounded by people and their nasty worldviews, which is exactly (ahem) how Jesus behaved around people, when you stop and think about it (wink).
Moreover, those “saints” who didn’t share my personal convictions were on a lesser spiritual plane. I believed I had an edge on truth, and therefore had an “in” with God and with others who had such “insider privilege.”
I knew the acceptable way to carry myself within the Bubble; I knew the “company lingo,” and just which platitudes to offer when others were suffering. I thought my spiritual habits marked me as “clean and undefiled.” I had no idea they were puffing me up with religious pride and keeping me from the “more abundant” life Jesus intended.
Life Outside the Bubble
Fast forward to the present. I am ever growing and learning how to navigate this wondrous life outside the Christian Bubble. I have a completely different understanding of Who God is, and consequently who I am and who people are. I love life and enjoy it to the fullest. Fear no longer drives or hinders me. I have learned that:
God is wildly, insanely in love with every human being He created, and therefore I can be, too. People are not just “sinners or saints.” Each person is created in the holy image of God, His masterpiece. People are here for me to enjoy, serve, and learn from. Every person has something of the Divine to teach me.
This is not New Age theology; this is the Gospel according to Jesus Christ. A sinner is simply someone who rejects this Love that was demonstrated at the Cross, and refuses to take it personally, and start living it through an authentic relationship with God and people.
People Are Beautiful and Amazing
When I finally, fully understood what it means to be a Christian, I fell in love with everybody. I started hanging out in the unlikeliest of places just so I could get to know the variety of people God created.
I sought out for friendship the very kind of people I once avoided (I wrote a chapter about that in this book). I wanted to know all about them—who they really are, what they believe (not so I can change them–God does a much better job of that; besides, I’d rather focus on where I need to change), what they long for, what they dream of.
Exiting the Christian Bubble rendered me ridiculously giddy at the thought of getting to know people who are entirely different from me.
He (Really) Loves Me!
My relationship with God changed. Far from being the judge with a big stick I thought He was, I discovered He really is “our Father Who art in Heaven.” I found out He likes me on my worst days and can’t get enough of me (literally; I am working on that!).
The guilt is a distant memory. Pardon the cliché, but if every petal on a daisy represented my most shameful moments, “He loves me, He loves me, He loves me!”
My relationship with God deepened. Bible reading was no longer a way to keep in God’s good graces (I had been in His good graces all along without realizing it); the scriptures became my sustenance ( a mark of true conversion), and the consequence for “skipping a meal” was no longer guilt (how silly!)–it was hunger.
Prayer was no longer a chore to check off a to-do list; it became as raw and natural as pouring out my soul to an intimate friend.
I see God in all things. He is not limited to movies, music, books and artwork with a Christian label. The whole world is a canvas vivid with the many hues of God’s palate; as the hymn goes, “He speaks to me everywhere.” I can’t get enough of “my Father’s world.”
Since exiting The Bubble, I’ve uncovered divine truth in “secular” music lyrics, lines of blockbuster movies, on the walls of art museums, in nature (my favorite place to connect with God), and (gasp!) on the lips of those who don’t profess to know Him. Humans are wired to speak the language of God whether they’re aware of it or not.'
I am a lot more secure than I used to be since I began to build my identity on an authentic relationship with “The God Who is Love.” I no longer define or value myself on the basis of how “well I do” at anything.
I have come to understand that Christianity, in its essence, means “living well-loved.” That is my new identity. I realize how much sense it makes that only by knowing we are 100% unconditionally loved by Someone outside of ourselves can we ever hope to become whole and appropriately, successfully human.
Parts of this will not apply to everyone. For instance, those who are struggling with certain types of temptation/addiction or are “young or weak in the faith” should of course be careful and mindful of who they spend time with and who’s influencing them. That’s a different topic entirely. This is simply my testimony of freedom from legalism and Phariseeism.
Also, what this post is NOT intended to do is present the idea that Christianity is just another feel-good lifestyle, movement or philosophy designed to lift one’s self-esteem or reduce Jesus to dead, historical figure who no longer cares about morality and righteous living. I believe in hell (eternal separation from God by one’s own choosing; that’s the most I think we should define hell, and leave the details up to God), sin (not living in the way God originally designed or intended one to live), and the need for confession of sin and repentance in order to receive salvation. I do believe the church needs to do a much better job at addressing these issues with wisdom, grace and love while not compromising the truth.
Your turn! Have you ever lived inside a “Bubble?” Or have you perceived all individuals within any given group as living in such a Bubble? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.