Be curious, not judgmental…Re-examine all that you have been told… dismiss that which insults your soul…And your very flesh shall be a great poem. –Walt Whitman
I’ve never met anyone more boring and miserable than Christians. Seriously, no one seems to hate life more than Christians. In fact, the church made me hate humanity.
Ugh…did I just say that?
I know these statements are judgmental and cynical. I know these are sweeping generalizations. I know many Christians who aren’t this way, who are full of life and love and generosity. Nevertheless, these are the messages that have run through my mind after years of existing within the white, American, evangelical subculture.
I remember in high school youth group singing the lyrics, “This world has nothing for me.” We weren’t allowed to wear bikinis during beach trips because we would cause the boys to stumble, and our youth pastor delivered sermons that scared us senseless about having sex before marriage. The messages weren’t so much about Christ’s wild and redemptive love as they were about how to act like a good Christian. Our bodies were a liability, and our desires got us in trouble. Bottom line: being human was a big problem.
I learned to see the world as a cesspool of sin. Humanity was depraved and deceived, and Jesus was our ticket out of this mess. These doctrines kept me out of some teenage trouble, but they came with a cost. There was only one correct way to read the Bible, and if you didn’t see things this way you were “lost.” Truth was absolute. There was little room for mystery, discovery, or curiosity. Even more concerning was the fact that potluck casserole dinners with no alcohol was the church’s idea of fun! But the scariest part was the way this theology hindered any sort of empathy and any hope for connection with another human being outside of this subculture.
In college, I sank into a deep depression, which reared its head throughout my twenties and thirties. I was for sure dealing with some inherited chemical imbalances, but I was also wrestling with some deep spiritual questions about the meaning of life. It felt difficult to hold onto a God who I thought was destining everyone to hell, except for a few chosen people who could be shielded from His wrath because of Jesus’s sacrifice. Even though the church preached about God’s love, I felt like God hated humanity and that Jesus was the only way He could tolerate us.
I often struggled to remember the good news of the gospel. To me, it had become The Very Dead Gospel. Gospel of Sin Avoidance. Gospel of Doctrine. Gospel of Sound Theology. Gospel of Church Attendance. Gospel of Exclusion. Gospel of Should and Don’t. Gospel of Good Behavior. Gospel of Deprivation. Gospel of Shame. Gospel of Rules. Gospel of Grape Juice and Cardboard Wafers.
The theology I’d internalized felt closed and harsh, like being trapped inside a small space with no room to stretch my limbs and little oxygen to breathe. I felt paralyzed, like I’d lost the ability to move and flow freely through my life, the ability to play and explore, and the ability to fall in love with humanity in all of its darkness and glory. I was living on stingy rations, camping out in a trench with a small canteen of stale water and freeze-dried food that made me constipated.
Pablo Picasso once said that until something goes wrong, it can be no good. Until I allowed my theology to go wrong, it was no good, or at least no good to me.
I’ve had to leave church to find my way back to the God who loved humanity so much that He became human.
The good news of the gospel is simple and spacious: we are loved exactly as we are. Jesus came to break the whole thing open, to give us abundant life, starting now. The gift is there; we simply must claim it. When we look at people merely through the lens of good and bad, right or wrong, in or out, we miss the point of the entire story. We miss the rich complexity that lives under the surface. Connecting with each other in our common humanity—isn’t that the point? Isn’t that what Jesus did on this earth? Isn’t that how we share God’s love most tangibly?
Our humanity isn’t a liability—it’s sacred, the ultimate art form, full of tension and darkness and light. It’s the subject of every good story. It’s the door through which we find Jesus, and I’m learning to love it again.
Libby Kurz holds a BS in Nursing and an MFA in Creative Writing. Her work has been published in The Poet’s Billow, Relief Journal, Driftwood Press, and Literary Mama. A veteran of the US Air Force Nurse Corps, she now resides on the coast of Virginia with her family. When she’s not reading, writing, and keeping tabs on her three kids, she works as registered nurse and teaches poetry workshops. She is passionate about a good cup of coffee, bumming on the beach, and finding meaning in the ordinary moments of life. You can find her at www.libbykurz.com.