Christian Mythbusters

Christian Mythbusters

Not Having it All Together

July 28, 2021

This is Father Jared Cramer from St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, Michigan, here with today’s edition of Christian Mythbusters, a regular segment I offer to counter some common misconceptions about the Christian faith. 

Someone in our church’s confirmation class this year asked me about my five favorite books, books that are easy to read and which impacted me as a Christian. It was a super fun exercise and the list I came up with dated me just a bit, with many of them being published over a decade ago, when I was beginning to move from the evangelical fundamentalism of my youth into a different understanding of faith.

I made the list by walking my library in my study at the church, and so the list wound up in Library of Congress catalog number order. (Yes, I am enough of a nerd to catalog my books using the Library of Congress system. Be nice.) Here are the books I wrote down:

· The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out by Brennan Manning 

· Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality by Donald Miller 

· Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony by Stanley Hauerwas & William H. Willimon

· The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society by Fr. Henri J. M. Nouwen

· The Gospel and Catholic Church by Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey

It’s the first book in that list, though, I want to talk about today, because I think the message of that book remains so important for people to hear, both Christians and those who may find themselves outside the Christian faith. All that to say, this week I’d like to break the myth that Christians are people who have it all together. 

I regularly meet people who stay away from church because they have a sense they’re simply not good enough, that they should get themselves together before they decide to show up for church. I always try to tell them that getting your self together is what going to church is supposed to help you do, that you go precisely because you are not good enough… but people always remain hesitant.

Now, the other side of this reality is when people walk away from Christian community because of the sins or failures of people in that community. This can particularly happen when you are disappointed in your pastor. A wise priest once told me that when new people would join his parish, he would say that he looked forward to the first time he disappointed them… because it was after that they could start to form a real and true relationship. 

The truth is, we are all of us, priest and parishioner, pastor and congregation, devoted member and curious seeker, we are all of us a work in progress. And Brennan Manning’s book was written specifically for those who know this is the case. And so, he says, early on in the book, that he is writing “for smart people who know they are stupid and honest disciples who admit they are scalawags.”

Brennan writes in The Ragamuffin Gospel about how one of the significant differences between the Christian understanding of God and other understandings of God in the world is that the Christian God is the only God that humans have ever encountered who loves sinners. He insists that the people who most filled with God’s light are those who have gazed deeply into the darkness of their own imperfect existence. 

One of his most insightful lines in the book is this: “Many of us pretend to believe we are sinners. Consequently, all we can do is pretend to believe we have been forgiven. As a result, our whole spiritual life is pseudo repentance and pseudo bliss.” But what if, Brenna suggests, what is we stop pretending to believe we are sinners and begin honestly to acknowledge our sin? Maybe instead of being overwhelmed by guilt and shame we might be set free to experience the deep and abiding love God has for us… and how God does forgive us. 

Brennan describes this Gospel of mercy and love for sinners this way, ““This is the God of the gospel of grace. A God who, out of love for us, sent the only Son He ever had wrapped in our skin. He learned how to walk, stumbled and fell, cried for His milk, sweated blood in the night, was lashed with a whip and showered with spit, was fixed to a cross, and died whispering forgiveness on us all.” 

And Brennan insists, much to the chagrin of more exclusivist approaches to Christianity, that something is radically wrong when the local church rejects someone who has been accepted by Jesus—a statement that should give us all pause.

So, know you are loved, you are fiercely loved, child of God. And if you’ve never heard that message before, I hope you’ll go find a church that will not only be a place for you hear it, but a place you can actually begin to believe it. 

Thanks for being with me. To find out more about my parish, you can go to Until next time, remember, protest like Jesus, love recklessly, and live your faith out in a community that accepts you but also challenges you to be better tomorrow than you are today.