A few years ago, I stopped identifying myself as a Christian.
It was a process that took about 15 years, and it was really hard on many levels. Being willing to surrender part of my identity, something that had been a part of me since birth, took courage and a huge helping of faith. The timing was ironic because I had recently entered seminary to discern whether or not I felt called to parish ministry in a Christian church. The easier path, the path I wanted to walk down, was to pursue my plan of becoming a minister. The harder path was to leave the smoothly paved highway of Christianity and to begin bushwhacking my way through the unknown.
For the first time in my life, I was without a religious identity. And I discovered that humans have an innate survival instinct that compels us to classify and categorize in order to make sense of our world. Male/female. Friend/foe. Apple/orange/mango/strawberry. Christian/Muslim/Jew/Buddhist/Hindu. Once I no longer called myself a Christian, my conversations with others started to get a bit weird. Other people seemed uncomfortable with my faith that didn't fit neatly into a known category. Was I an ostrich or an elephant? The labels "spiritual but not religious" and "none" didn't feel right because it seemed strange to define who I am by what I am not.
Several months ago, I decided to pray for guidance on how to identify myself to others. Just the other day, while running some errands and thinking about something entirely different, I heard the phrase "Free Agent of Faith." Hmm. As I sat with the phrase for a bit, here is what surfaced:
A free agent of faith is someone who has the freedom to walk a faith journey wherever it leads, to experience spirituality in many forms, and to develop a relationship with the Divine, without the shackles of doctrines and creeds that may or may not resonate. It means finding meaning and beauty and witness to something greater than self in many religious traditions, as well as in nature, family, culture, community, and silence. It means choosing to worship with the Unitarians while still loving the gospel music of my childhood. It means being swept away by Hebrew prayers in a synagogue, kirtan chanting in the yoga studio, and the joyful melodies of the night birds as the sun sets in summertime. It means searching poetry, science, the Bible, the Vedas, and the Qur'an for directions at the confusing crossroads of life. And it means connecting with others who stand firmly planted in their religious traditions, holding hands as we face the uncertainties of our world.
Writing these words now, it is clear why I let go of Christianity -- my beliefs had expanded beyond its borders. Only by letting go of the religion that was precious to me could I continue to grow in my faith. The path ahead is still unclear, but I trust that the light of Love is a lamp unto my feet and that the Spirit of Wisdom is walking beside me.