By Tera Shelton
During a year of volunteer work in the city, God began working in my heart to show me how I had been trying to contain Him in the boxes that I felt comfortable with. I knew God, I knew His Word, I knew what to do,say or pray to feel close to God. I knew I could fast, memorize, read or go on a retreat to feel close to Him. I had stuffed God into these boxes of how I wanted Him to be. I made it easy on myself so that I could understand, or somehow explain God and our relationship.
Prov. 3:5-6 says, “do not rely on your own understanding,” but I feel like for so long I had relied on my own understanding of who I thought God is, the church is, what spirituality and faith should look like. It was the only way I knew, what I was taught and I was confident in my own understanding of God. It was so easy. I was so comfortable with the God in my mind.
In writing the following poem, I was in no way feeling hate towards where I come from, or was meaning to sound arrogant or like I have it all figured out. I just feel like I was taught the “right” way to be a Christian, which was a good thing because I would not know what I know now or be where I am now without those teachers and mentors. I know that there are great, good, positive, beautiful things going on in those structures that have been set up, and I know and love and celebrate those things about it.
However, at the same time I feel I wasn’t ever told how there isn’t just ONE “right” way to do things and that faith in Jesus doesn’t follow rules or steps, or that God loves sinners just as much as he loves the upright tidy Christians. I feel like I missed out on a big piece of the freedom that is found in questioning Everything, in exploring other cultures or ways of faith and their ways of loving God, in it being okay to question or not follow the structured church’s ways of doing everything. I was never given the freedom to explore different ways of doing church, worship, discipleship, community, evangelism, teaching, etc.
The only thing I knew before Mission Year was an established, rule-following (whether spoken or not), straight and narrow system of Christianity/Spirituality/Church that I no longer believe is the only way of doing things.
“Free from Cardboard Box Religion”
What’s this Christianity?
This label you give me?
This new world of religion
Hypocrites telling me who I should be
Teach me what it means
Tell me the steps to become clean
Explain to me all the “right” views
How to read, think, and pray
Help me to blindly accept your values
To judge those who are Agnostic, Democrat, or gay
Train me in how to talk to people, how to dress
What to listen to, watch, what’s best
Convince me that everything else is worthless
That it’s okay to mentor, lead, be involved but never rest
Show me how to bow my head and raise my hands
When to close my eyes and when to sing along
Persuade me to be a Republican;
To believe killing our enemies is honorable
But killing babies is wrong
Tell me what I must do to be forgiven
Try to contain God in one denomination
Teach me what verses to memorize and high-light
Leave no room for personal interpretation
Make me conform to the pattern of your culture
Remind me that open-mindedness is dangerous
And if I can’t save the lost I should pray for them to be, to think just like us
Convince me that men are better leaders
Teach me my role, put me in my place
I’ll learn modesty and the right way to hug
I’ll join in on your show, put on a happy face
Tell me how I should be
Assume you’ve found the right way of Christianity
Convince yourself God can be explained
Cheapen grace with your personalized religious game
But I’ve finally put down my cards
With their man-made rules and learned strategy
I’m tired of feeling guilty for not playing along
I believe in a God who came to set me free
You put Jesus in a box
Lock it shut with your stereotype
Make him relevant, Republican and white
Anything to make him fit into the pop-Christianity hype
God save me, save them, save us all
Forgive us for what we’ve turned you into
Show us how far we must fall
If we dare to live out justice, peace and love like you
Instead of layers of good works
May we clothe ourselves with grace
Help us to realize we are the church
And that you’re not confined to one building or place
Jesus, show me how to be like you
And not who they say I should be
Deconstruct my religion
And teach me how to be free
Tera recently ended a year of volunteer work in the inner-city of Philadelphia with a non-profit group called Mission Year, which was the best year of her life. She will graduate from the University of Mississippi next spring and plans to teach in an inner-city school.