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In my short time on E2, I've noticed a number of ranty nodes about sanctimonious Christians. I've actually found myself nodding in agreement on more than a few occasions. But today something bugged me that I want to address.

First of all, I am a Christian. I was never a "churched" child, however; I came to my personal faith over a number of years and through a great many personal challenges and hardships. I consider my beliefs to be hard-won. Maybe that's why it's taken me such a long time to find a church fellowship where I feel comfortable being who I am, where I am. I am a smoker, I'm divorced, I remarried a self-described agnostic, and I love Guinness. In short, I wouldn't exactly fit in at the Southern Baptist Convention, particularly considering my belief that women are as capable of ministry as men and that God is a God who speaks to his people today, not just 2000 years ago.

Thankfully, I have found an amazing church fellowship - not too big, not too small, fundamentalist in that they believe that the Scriptures are the revealed Word and will of God, but who don't hesitate to use their God-given common sense on a regular basis. (God didn't give us brains so that we can check them at the church door, you know?) These are real people who are perfectly imperfect. We're all struggling with the daily challenges of real life, and some of us have some really irritating personality traits. But we're also doing all we can, with the help of a Father who's infinitely patient with us, to actually love one another. Irritating traits and all. We fall short, we screw up, but we help each other remember the good things about being alive, the marvelous, maddening state of being human. If God loves us as much as He does in our humanness, shouldn't we follow suit and learn to love one another despite our frailties? I think so, and so, apparently, did Jesus. Look at the company he kept.

Come on - I know some of you might hang with a bit of a rough element, but hookers? Crooked IRS guys? Addicts? Stinky, illiterate fishermen? Jesus not only tolerated them, he sought out their company. Or to be more accurate, they sought out his company, and he touched the untouchables, taught the incorrigibles, socialized with them, laughed and danced with them. He washed his disciples' nasty feet and loved his boys even when they were too scared of the religious establishment to admit to even knowing him. He gently brought a woman to her feet (and a homicidal crowd to shame) while she still reeked of the man with whom she was caught in adultery.

The only people he fussed at were the religious folks. The ones who were more concerned with outward appearances then the attitude of the heart. "Hypocrites", he called them. "Whitewashed tombs". Other choice stuff. People who looked good, who were leaders in the religious system of their day, who made everyone's business their own. The hookers are closer to God's kingdom, Jesus said. No wonder he was crucified.

And you know what? I'll be the first to admit that the worst affront to everything Jesus ever stood for are the religious people. 2000 years ago or in the year 2000, the spirit remains the same in these people, and it stinks to high heaven. These people are the ones who cheated me out of years of knowing God in an intimate and immediate way through intimidation, criticism, and the false front of perfection they don like chain mail. For the longest time I actually believed the hype - that these were God's chosen people, and that, oh well, I was hopelessly sinful and probably going straight to hell. I mean, who could ever be as perfect as they all seemed to be? Going to church was a lot like encountering a whole cathedral full of teacher's pets - smug, self-satisfied drones who seemed convinced that they'd cornered the market of God's affection.

Well, I met one real Christian, and that's all it took. I was hooked, and hungry for more of whatever he had. Since then, about six years ago, I've stayed hungry for God. I've come to realize that my purpose for being alive is to worship God and enjoy Him forever. I want to know Him for real, not through a liturgy or through tradition or through someone else's cool stories of knowing Him. I want to experience Him the way I experience my husband, my friends, my family. I want an intimate relationship, alive and full of passion, with this Creator-God Who knows me better than I know myself. The coolest thing about this is that He desires me more than I desire Him! He actually likes me, which is a concept I'm still trying to get my mind around.

So, like any relationship, it's taken time to build. There are ebbs and flows and dry spells and times of amazing discoveries. It's an exciting ride, and one I'm glad I got on. But I don't expect everyone to jump on, either. My husband, for example, is in a very different season in his spiritual life, and I have the utmost respect for who he is, where he is. And he respects me, as do my many, many friends who are not Christians. So why does this happen all the time:

I'll be at a party or a club or a bar, somewhere where alcohol and/or smoking is a given. And I'll light up, or order another Guinness, and almost invariably someone will say something like, "But I thought you were a Christian!" Today I got really ticked off. I've been working as a waitress for a couple of months, and our "office" Christmas party was this afternoon. I promise you - you'll have to take my word for this - that I've never mouthed off about what "I Believe" at work. Some of the folks who kept me away from God for a lot of years were the type of well-meaning people who never shut their yaps about Jesus. (I personally find it annoying when people constantly yammer on about their cats, their boyfriends, or their vast CD collection, but I really hate a constant stream of pre-packaged Jesus-talk. Still, and hopefully always.) But the fact that I'm a Christian is no big secret, either. It's hard to hide being in love, and people wind up asking questions. Anyway, with the exception of one other waitress, I've never socialized with all my co-workers before today. So my head chef brings me a ginger ale. "Chad," I said, "what the hell? Bring me a Guinness." You could have knocked him over with a feather. This led to a pretty interesting conversation about Jesus' first miracle being turning water into Guinness. (Technically, it was wine, but if it'd been my wedding...)

My point is this: by all means, rant against, rail about, fight until your dying breath the religious spirit that makes so many Christians into unappealing, bland Martha Stewart clones. Hate it with every ounce of passion you can muster. It is something destructive and repellent and worthy of hatred. But please, in your zeal against that spirit of religion, don't throw the baby out with the bath water. Don't become a party to what you say you hate by turning intolerance inside-out and parading it around. Religion is a tricky and deceitful thing. Sometimes it masquerades as righteousness.

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