in which I lose another Christian friend

Posted: July 13, 2013 in believing, my personal journey
Tags: , , , , ,

images-183I think I might have lost an old friend this week. We’ve known each other for 25 years. This sucks. And it isn’t the first time this has happened to me in the past couple years.

My buddy’s main complaint, boiled down…I’ve changed.

And I have. He’s correct. The biggest change, of course, and the one that is the most troubling for him, is that I no longer identify myself as a Christian. He, on the other hand, proudly states that he believes the same things today that he believed when he was 21.

Yes, I have changed. A lot, in fact. Including my religious beliefs. And I can understand why this is difficult for many of my old friends. I wasn’t just a back-pew-at-church once-a-week-on-Sunday Christian. I directed Christian ministries, which is where I originally met many, if not most, of my old friends. I led worship. I was an interim pastor at my local church. I taught a thriving Bible study in my home for four years. I counseled people from a Biblical perspective. I prayed with people. God/Jesus was the center of my life, which is still true for these old friends. So I get it. I know how exclusive and all-encompassing the Christian faith is, at least for evangelicals. It’s the defining factor in their lives, like it was for me, and because of this you are either in their club or you’re not. And although these folks have no problem reaching out to non-believers (this is not a group of people who behave like judgmental assholes toward non-Christians), they do find it difficult to be close to people – even long-term good friends – who no longer share these same core beliefs and motivations.

And I have to be honest about this. I’m finding it harder to be their friend, too, but for a very different reason. This buddy of Broken_church_in_the_jungle_by_Linolafettmine mentioned to me this past week that “Satan is deceiving me.” He also made a comment about my “shaky morals,” which I truly don’t get. (I consider myself more morale now than I ever have before.) It’s hard to feel close to people who think these things about me. Does that make sense? I accept this guy…I love him as a brother. We’ve walked with one another through difficult life events and have shared honestly and openly about our deepest struggles and greatest victories. Because of this long-term commitment to one another and the respect and love I have for him, I can handle the fact that we think about things differently. In fact, differences don’t scare me anymore. I celebrate them. I can disagree with someone about things – even important things – and remain committed as a friend. But I have to admit: it’s truly hard to be close to someone who thinks you’re going to hell and who considers you immoral.

Yes, I have changed. This is true. I’m on a great adventure of change, in fact. I have walked away from a faith that was really good for me for many years but that I probably should have walked away from ten years before I finally got up the nerve to do so. And there have been other changes, as well. I like myself better. I’m both more confident as a person AND more gentle with, tolerant of and understanding toward others. I listen better. I’ve become quite a bit more liberal and even progressive in my politics and beliefs. I like rap.

Where I haven’t changed: I’m still committed to social justice and doing whatever I can to help unfuck up the world. In fact, I’m probably more committed to that than I was before. I still love my wife, am faithful to her and plan on being with her for at least another 26 years. I love my four kids and would do anything for them. I consider myself a faithful friend, although not a perfect friend. I still make people laugh. I talk too much. I take risks. I’m not afraid to “come out” about who I am and what I think, and I know I can offend others, which is something I’m still trying to self-monitor. And I still get hurt and feel lonely when people who have been important to me find themselves unable to remain close, and I still feel badly when I’m judgmental and intolerant toward them.

images-184Where I might still change: Who knows? Faith may grow or shrink, ideas may change, opinions may modify. It’s an adventure.

One last thought: I have some really great friends. I am accepted and loved for exactly who I am by some old friends who are still “in” the evangelical world and by old friends who are no longer or never were in that world. I also have some awesome new friends. I am a lucky man.

Mike

PS. Click HERE for my “In which I come clean about my faith” story from last year.

UPDATE: The awesome Facebook page and blog “Christians Tired of Being Misrepresented” reposted this story this afternoon, and I received many touching comments. One of them, by Emmett, was a great reminder for me. He said:

I wouldn’t fall too harshly on the Christian friend mentioned in this story. I mean, friendships can fade; people who became very close over something that was the most important thing in the world to both of them can find it difficult to reconcile the loss of that thing. Speaking as someone who is non-religious, it’s easy to say, “(The friend) is not a Christian, then.” But I imagine it must be difficult for him as well. He likely feels like he’s losing a friend as well.

What a great comment. Thanks, Emmett. It renewed my empathy and understanding for this old friend. I will continue to reach out, yet will learn to be satisfied with whatever depth of friendship we end up with.

 

Comments
  1. Reford Nash says:

    Isn’t it amazing how your life improves when you move out of the evangelical Christian world? I made that move at age 19, and (50 years later) have had few regrets. I eventually however found my way into mainstream/liberal Presbyterianism, and became a pastor, now retired. And even my retirement from mainstream/liberal ministry has seemed freeing as well. I’m now enjoying reading/conversation on the far edges of Christian faith, and loving life even more! I fully resonate with your story, though I regret, with you, your loss of some friends. I’ve tried to hang onto friends from my early evangelical days, though it is hard and some don’t give me the chance.

    • nash says:

      Exactly! “It is hard, and some don’t give you a chance.” Thank you for sharing that. Wow – age 19. I waited until my late 30s!

    • Andrew says:

      I’m 18 years out myself, having left at age 17. Unfortunately left most of my friends behind in that world but have made so many quality friends on the outside that it’s not something that bothers or upsets me any more. I consider myself a liberal Christian but have never gone back to a church or fellowship – having the relationship with God is enough for me.

      And I can relate regarding liking oneself better too. When I left the church I realised that I was actually not that nice a person to be around – I was judgemental and always finding excuses to be so, and very narrow in my world views. Ironically, not very Christ-like! So I made a conscious effort to change that and to expose myself to different views and to listen more. I learned to not feel guilty about being human or about things about myself which I couldn’t change. And yes, I do like myself better.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Love this article!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. MH says:

    I was raised a non practicing Jew. A national day of prayer 5 years ago upset me to the degree that I totally gave up on religion (we were cutting funding for early childhood, mental health, etc. and the advice from the pulpit was God would provide…). Then I was introduced to Jewish Humanism. humanism with the jewish traditions that I grew up with really has worked for me. Your post really resonated with me – thank you so much for sharing.

  4. Ford1968 says:

    Wow. I’m so sorry. It hurts when close relationships become less close. It sound like you are on a very healthy trajectory. I’m glad there is gravey to go with the grit.
    Thank you for sharing this. It’s a gift.
    Best to you.
    Ford

  5. Jessica Vivian says:

    This is lovely and also tragic. I live in a mild paranoid fear of some of my friends “finding out the truth about me.” That I am not following Christ the way they are and they will probably become suspicious of me, or think *I* am a tool of Satan or something.

    Anyway, positive vibes from across the Interweb.

  6. This is… refreshing.
    I stepped out of the evangelical christian world for sometime now because of “a few life choices” and was agnostic for about a year. then found my way back. through Progressive Christianity.
    and It’s kinda sad because, here you are, feeling that you are a better person than you were before and then some people drag you down, if not leave you. saying things like “You should be rebuked! The words you utter with your mouth are unacceptable”.
    I admit, I’m too young (19). so these things are too much for me. but knowing that someone else share the same burden and has the same vision gives me relief.

  7. Nessie says:

    Mike,
    I’m so sorry you’re in pain. It strikes me that as your friend proclaims that his faith hasn’t changed since he was 21, that also means he hasn’t grown. And isn’t growing part of being human? Even though it hurts…and is confusing and scary. You are growing, and who knows what truths you might discover, and use to change the world for the better? Stand in your truth. We are all here with you, and we need you! 🙂

    • Anonymous says:

      To be fair, he actually has changed. (This is MIke, the author, by the way.) Even his own Christianity is not as “mainstream” as it once was. But the truth he HAS held on to, I haven’t, which makes us suddenly (apparently) very different. I DO understand, to some degree…see Emmett’s comments in the last paragraph of my post. But I also know that we’ve walked together through so many things – marriage issues, addiction issues, personal growth and change, and so much more. It’s just hard for me to understand why he suddenly feels he has to distance himself from me. Oh well…it’s a journey, right?

  8. buzz says:

    Yeah, have been / am going through something similar. While I still identify as a Christian, too many brothers & sisters in Christ are recoiling from me; one person whom I had considered a good friend for the last decade now calls me a hater of Christianity (maybe; depends on which flavor we’re talking about — but I still love Christ himself).

    Ever read Ursula K. LeGuin’s short story “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”? (text is here: http://harelbarzilai.org/words/omelas.txt ) I read it when it was first published & it really resonated deeply within me. I think it goes a long ways towards describing the way many of us in the Christian community feel about that community…

  9. Pat Pope says:

    Yep, I can relate to this. I think as one who was a church leader, it’s very disheartening and disconcerting for some people when we change, but I think it also reveals where people have set up idols or at the very least, unrealistic expectations. Changing is not a crime and we all do it. But for some, the faith is one thing about which we should not change, but the reality is, all Christians change. If not, then why don’t we adhere to some things written in the Old Testament? That right there is proof of change. Somewhere along the line it was decided that those particular beliefs didn’t apply anymore. I think people need to be more honest and just admit that they’re only comfortable with certain kinds of change.

    The one thing I’ve learned from my journey is that I’d rather be true to what I believe and have friends who allow me to be me, even when I change versus living by some script out of fear of retribution from the tribe.

    • Paul Kalmen says:

      “If not, then why don’t we adhere to some things written in the Old Testament?”
      I saw this clearly in evangelicalism, but my reaction, rather than becoming “progressive,” was to turn to the Old Testament and its explanation found in the New Testament. Y’all talk about the truth as if it were different for each person, but there can be only one truth. It is true that we all have different views of that truth: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

  10. Paul says:

    I, being on an indefinite leave of absence, from the Catholic Priesthood, say welcome to the Journey of your relationship with the supernatural. Supernatural? That which is beyond our nature. Be the best of the Divine in you. Peace.

  11. Des says:

    wowwww…i had a very similar experience…i had to do some soul searching and i still have faith in Jesus, but my views have become way more liberal. check out some of these links.
    http://www.clarifyingchristianity.com/creation.shtml
    http://biologos.org/questions/category/responses-to-arguments-against-god-and-christianity
    http://biologos.org/search?s=human+fossil+record
    http://musingsonscience.wordpress.com/2011/01/04/evolutionary-creation-9/
    http://comereason.org/sci_bible/sci040.asp
    http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/Nave-html/Faithpathh/stretch.html
    GOD BLESS. JESUS LOVES YOU. AND IF U OPEN YOUR HEART AND YOUR SPIRIT, HE WILL SEEK YOU OUT LIKE YOU DESIRE. PEACE

  12. nash says:

    To be fair, my friend actually has changed, despite his claim to believe the same things today he did when he was 21. His own Christianity is not as “mainstream” as it once was. He even feels sometimes judged by Christians! But the truth he HAS held on to, I haven’t, which makes us suddenly (apparently) very different. I DO understand, to some degree…see Emmett’s comments in the last paragraph of my post. But I also know that we’ve walked together through so many things – marriage issues, personal struggles and growth and change, and so much more. It’s just hard for me to understand why he suddenly feels he has to distance himself from me. Oh well…it’s a journey, right?

  13. Judy Isaacson says:

    The metaphysical New Thought (not New Age) movement has helped me to view the world more clearly, that is, to view all religions as meaningful and to realize that we are all One.

  14. David Harley says:

    I am orthodox. You are heterodox, misled by the Devil, They are heretics who serve the Devil.

    Religion is an extreme example of this phenomenon, but hardly unique. Politics can cause similarly intense divisions, because of the emphasis on Truth. Currently, in the US, the entanglement of moral conflicts with party politics can make the two inseparable. For many Americans, voting Democratic makes one a babykiller or voting Republican makes one an enemy of women.

    Yet there are plenty of other cases where no truth claims are involved, apart from assertions of the real existence and importance of the category. Where we run into problems, surely, comes with the emphasis on “identity”. Passing for white, passing for native-born, passing for neurotypical, passing for straight, passing for Christian, passing for able-bodied, these are everywhere in the US.

    The labels would cease to matter quite so much if we weren’t obsessed with identity, whether we suppose any particular identity to be innate, acquired, or socially constructed. There may no longer be black battalions in the US Army — there are ethnic battalions in the IDF — but we do have a host of segregated institutions, as in religion and politics. Members of many groups expect that those who are regarded as members of the group, or other groups, should act in various ways that have little or nothing to do with the ostensible characteristics of the group.

    Unfortunately, members of all identity groups tend to regard fuzzy edges as a threat. “Blackness” is a case in point in the US, with hostility to those who operate on the edge. Being “black” is a category imposed by almost all Americans on other people, even when it is meaningless to them, as it is to Nigerian or Kenyan immigrants, for whom even the national identity is of limited importance.

    Bisexuality is often seen as a threat by both gays and straights. The deaf community can be very defensive about cochlear implants and “oralism”, whereas outsiders tend to regard the notion of deaf culture as ludicrous.

    Once a belief system and its associated identity have become so familiar that they seem natural, just part of the way the world is really divided into sorts, people find it very hard to step back and see the categories as having been constructed, by insiders, by outsiders or, more commonly, interactively in the case of human categories.

    Christians and atheists, Democrats and Republicans, often complain that they are being stereotyped. If one steps back, one can see that they are mutually constructing identities by creating an Us and a Them.

    • paulw says:

      Look not at but the God in others to see the God in you. Eyes should not be blinded by the views of the body. Look into the heart.

  15. Linda Nicola says:

    It sounds to me like you’ve become more of a Christian than ever before.

  16. Anonymous says:

    For me it isn’t so much as that I have changed as it is for my own deeply held believes about social justice and acceptance that came to the forefront of my faith and action. It may look like I have changed but what I represent now is very much the person I became when I first became a Christian 37 years ago. I can look back to numerous situations in which my stances on various issues were liberal as was my own attraction to Christ when he said he accepted me “just as I am”.

  17. Sad that someone would think it’s a good think that he believes the same things he did at 21. That’s not a strong faith, that’s stagnation.

    I can understand it being hard to feel close to someone who thinks that way about you. In my case, my recent experience, it’s hard to be close to someone who thinks it’s impossible to think about what’s said in church and still choose to go to church.

  18. trog69 says:

    Great good luck to the author in his journey.

    I have never really been a believer, though I thought I did at various times. I never really fell in with church-goers, so I haven’t had your experience. The only time it’s come up in my life was my Mother-in-law finding out about my unbelief and being mortified at first. She didn’t say anything to me for a few months about it, and then emailed me to say that she woke up to atheism when she realized that I’d always been a good person in her eyes, and that completely contradicted what she had assumed of nonbelievers. So I was heartened by that. Another reason why I am not anti-religious is when I found out about the many Christian-led orgs. that fight to keep the wall of separation intact. If not for your Christians, we atheists wouldn’t stand a chance against Dominionists and far-right theocrats.

  19. I always find it hard to get into a mindset of someone who feels they can tell me that I am going to Hell. I’ve always thought that was God’s decision. I have to say though, a Heaven full of the really hardline evangelical Christians would seem a bit like Hell to me.

  20. Peter says:

    I have been outside the walls of traditional Christianity for some 40 years. For the last 10 years I have become very familiar with the emerging / emergent / house church movement. This story is very similar to many others that I have had the privilege of sharing over the last few years.
    Maybe I should just leave a link to my blog – http://outsidethegoldfishbowl.wordpress.com

  21. Dale Murphy says:

    Hello Mike. Your journey sounds similar to mine. I wrote a book about it. You’ve earned a free copy. I’ll gladly send you one if you like, or a digital version. Here’s the Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/Read-Bible–Will-Scare-Hell/dp/0595305830/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1373812456&sr=1-1&keywords=read+the+bible+it+will+scare+the+hell
    -Dale Murphy

  22. ozherbie says:

    Mike, I’ve also lost an old friend over the similar journey we’re on. Funnily enough his last name is Nash as well, although his first name is David. Once he started judging me for simply speaking my mind and disagreeing with him he wanted nothing more to do with me. It hurts like hell because we used to spend hours and hours studying the Bible together and working through concepts and beliefs. We helped to define the world for each other.

    Now He can’t accept the fact that, while I’m still a believer, I no longer accept the Bible as perfect and infallible and I have a real problem with both ancient and modern church culture denying proven science and burying their head in the sand when science contradicts their faith (i.e the age of the earth).

  23. I don’t, for the life of me, know what I am — except a thinker. I’m not NOT a Christian. I’m not a Buddist, nor was I raised Catholic or Jewish. This of course, sends the message to my more Conservative friends that if they beat on my head long enough, I am still malleable enough to become their vision of whatever and therefore, be saved for (insert religious sect here). I am a political, common sense moderate — and both ends of the political bell curve perform much in the same way as the religious zealots. Neither of these groups understand and respect my viewpoints and my continuing quest for balance — giving me the impression that I indeed, have religious and political freedom — as long as it conforms to their way of thinking. And this also contributes to my growing believe in zombies, as it appears that they’ve lost their brains and are voraciously greedy for mine…

  24. CRAm1kfW says:

    283912 6674Informative Site Hello guys here are some links that contains information that you may find useful yourselves. Its Worth Checking out. 637393

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