The Christian Renaissance: Healing from Church

The Christian faith has been used by many who don’t represent the love Christ has for His believers. But can we change that? Can we return to the roots of Christianity, and truly experience a Renaissance? Is the Church actually what this generation needs? First things first: we have to heal from church and religion, and seek to understand what it means to be a believer.

Keeping it 💯

If we’re being honest, our experiences with religion and church have ruined many a relationship with God over the centuries, and certainly made Christianity a faith that from the outside, is difficult to understand or accept. Some of this is by design. But that aside, and with some of the tougher concepts for humans to grapple with when it comes to understanding who God truly is and what is required of believers, church seems to be the one thing that often leaves a sour taste in our religious memory banks. So many similar stories of the pain of going to church, interactions with church leaders and the congregation they attract, and concepts pitched but not explained. So many stories of religious sects abusing their positions and people, it’s no wonder our generation is turned off! And while I don’t believe this is a uniquely Christian phenomenon (religious misrepresentation, fighting, wars, and abuse happen throughout time, throughout the world, and throughout belief systems), for the sake of this post I’ll focus on my own faith— Christianity.

I want to start with making it clear that while I’m speaking generally, I know that bad experiences aren’t true for all Christians and Christian experiences. Even some of the things I remember from the past bring a smile to my face. But it’s important to speak with truth and conviction about the sum total because the current climate of the Christian church across the world is one rife with confusion, declining numbers, frustration, and painful memories. And if we are ever going to revive anything to its original purpose, we must speak with truth because the truth sets us all free— believers or not. It allows us to speak objectively when we can at least understand the basic truths of any belief system. So much has been done “in the name of God”, and heartbreaking isn’t a strong enough word to express the immense anguish of it all. We all know Christianity was used as a tool of oppression against enslaved Africans during slavery, we know about pastors using church money for personal gain, we know about the sexual abuse in the clergy, the murder-suicides of whole congregations, and we’re now becoming increasingly aware of the inhumane, faith-based residential schools abusing and killing innocent indigenous children under the protection of the Catholic Church. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what we know. Many Christians face persecution the world over, jailed or worse simply for reading a Bible. All of this evil in the name of a religion that holds love at the center of its philosophy. How is this even possible?

Christianity and Power

Christianity has been used for power, extermination, and the oppression of global populations for a very long time. This is fact. But what many today point to when thinking of abuses in the name of Christianity, are a part of more recent history. Those in power (specifically, white colonizers) saw opportunities within their (mis)interpretation of the Judeo-Christian belief system, to control and justify the enslavement and even elimination of its followers (think African Slavery, Apartheid, Indigenous and anti-semitism murder). But I want to make clear, it is not the Nature of Christ to control, abuse, or oppress His followers or non-believers. It’s the exact opposite. In fact, Christ himself was oppressed, and ultimately murdered, for directly challenging the status quo, without ever using force. His very presence, though peaceful, and the way He challenged the beliefs of the time, were highly provoking, and also highly coveted. As I’ll share more later, in the wrong hands, anything can be defiled.

Earlier I referenced the Judeo-Christian belief system, which includes the Jews (often referred to in the Bibles as Israelites, were the Chosen people of God; the ancestors of some who practice the Jewish faith today) and Gentiles. I use the word some because they are not the only descendants, but that’s another topic for another day. What is important to note here is that Jesus was a Jew, and the son of the God of Israel. That is often overlooked when speaking about Christianity’s roots. Christianity only became a separate belief system because of the persecution of His followers after His death and Resurrection. In that way, it isn’t a new faith. It’s simply the continuation of a larger Spiritual history. Remember that! Jesus was persecuted by leaders of His own faith and culture, who were intent on His suppression and ultimately, His extermination, because it threatened their power, their interpretation of the law (Old Testament scripture), and their prestige in the time of Roman rule and Jewish persecution. And they certainly didn’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth could be the scriptural Messiah (not the King, and not the time)— as he was gentle and lowley, the opposite of how Messiah was described in scripture. There’s a feedback loop here that I won’t get into for the sake of staying on topic— but know that “the system” has been broken since humans first fell from grace; it’s not a new world concept. Humans simply repeat history, and the result is the constant oppression of other groups of Humans for perceived inferiority. It’s like a glitch in the matrix. Another post for another day.

What I am highlighting here is something that the movie— The Book of Eli— illustrates quite well: take away knowledge, and replace it with scarcity and fear, you can control just about anybody. This is essentially what has happened to Christ (who was aware and knew His mission), and within the Church (amongst an unsuspecting congregation, who often don’t know scripture). I have skipped so much I know; I’ll have to write another entry to cover. I will share my own experience to illustrate this point more clearly.

My Personal Experience with Church

I was raised Christian. Born into a Christian family, went to Church, even had/have family members on Church staff. I developed a relationship with what I knew of Jesus (which I now know wasn’t very much at the time), but it was enough for a seed to be planted. The problem is, there was no growth. I was not being watered, and I experienced an extreme spiritual drought. My young soul was thirsting for understanding and connection, but I wasn’t fed the proper spiritual nutrients I now understand are so critical to spiritual health as a believer: I was not encouraged to read scripture (knowledge), I wasn’t taught how to pray (relationship), and the community was divided in thought and method (unity of the body of Christ) and didn’t see much giving back that I can now so clearly see is a hallmark of the Christian faith (caring for the poor/poor of spirit, widows, prisoners). There’s a lovely passage In Luke 8 called Parable of the Sower, which uses the seed as a metaphor for The Word of God. Definitely check that out for a deeper understanding.

For a long time, it felt like what the Church did was take from the people who had the least to give, and I don’t just mean financially. Many people go to Church spiritually empty, so the way a Church gives back speaks volumes. I had so many questions and misunderstandings that were never addressed. The space wasn’t given to ask those questions. Even as I write this, it hurts to think of how many people missed out on Christ because of their church experiences. Many people have shared similar stories, which ultimately prevents them from pursuing Christ. I know it makes the enemy satisfied with what he perceives as victory. But we certainly don’t have to hand it over to him…

Recalling my experience in the church, it is no wonder I sought spiritual awakening in other belief systems. That seed that had been planted, wanted so desperately to grow, but my faith was weak and the environment couldn’t sustain me. Other seeds were planted around me, but they were quickly watered! Soon I had a garden of beliefs! I was getting answers to questions from different belief systems. Initially it felt exciting and soothing, and I felt awakened and in tune with the collective consciousness of the world! Wow! But we know what is said about the world. Overtime, I began to feel drained, confused, disheartened, even more divided, and a lot of defeat. What was happening?

Lost

I remember when the modern witch/bruja movement begin to go mainstream. I was both annoyed and excited to see that people were opening to what I had already been growing in my eclectic garden, but hid because most of it was considered taboo. By this point, I’d been adorning my third eye for years. I’d already joined communities with others who were studying in Kemetic wisdom, Black Aboriginal culture and African Traditional Spirituality, and Eastern Philosophy (such as Buddhism). I considered myself a mystic or a witch, and was deep into the occult, but I didn’t tell people this specifically because I found it often made them upset. I’d been pulling oracle and tarot cards for years, working with crystals and candle magic. I had a yoga and breathwork practice; and veganism was a spiritual choice as much as it was a physical one. My kundalini had risen, which seemed to make my dreams vivid and lucid. I had the ability of astral projection figured out, and spiritual herbalism was my latest calling. My practice was only second to my study. As an anthropologist and someone with a natural inclination toward the marginalized pockets of society, I felt at home in a big, divergent world.

There was one point I seriously wondered if I descended from a line of mystics and witches (“good ones”, of course). Occultism must’ve run through my family because with everything lining up the way it was, there was no way all this magic and ability to manifest wasn’t encoded in my genetic makeup! I missed zero shots lol! I’m not saying any of this to brag (and I’m not sure it’s actually true), because what I understand so clearly now is that your girl was lost, searching desperately for community, exhausted and a mess…and didn’t even know it…

If you are wondering, all of these practices and beliefs are very real.  That was never a question. And I don’t mean real as in their existence, that is obvious because most of these belief systems and practices stand the test of time and span the globe; practiced among indigenous communities and adopted by modern ones.  I am not the first to embark on this type of spiritual quest.  By real, I mean that I was fully invested in the application of each belief system I pursued. These practices were real to me, came to me in what felt like organic ways, and they worked for me, which led me to believe I was on the right path. It’s important to highlight, that often times we go about thinking something is right for us because it works, ignoring how it is affecting our lives. I wasn’t seeing the impacts all of the seeking and spiritual mixing in the early years because the veil was still thinning (and it was pretty thin even then). It wasn’t until I was desperate for a healing these systems couldn’t provide, that I realized I needed a major change.

In this part of my seeking journey, I became deeply aware of something else that is very real: Evil. Even before realizing I was lost, I could sense the pervasive, intangible force that existed across belief system, space, and time.  I did my best to stay away from things my conscience considered evil (although many Christians might question that statement given all my “dabbling”). But I was truly making the distinction. There were certain limits that I honored, and understood very clearly about balance. For this reason, I never got into spells and dark magic that was used against others. My practice was personal and for what I thought was my own good. Soon enough though, you begin to attract unwanted energy because in life, evil is simply a part of it.

I remember my first run ins with people who were using the dark side of some of the same practices I was.  During this period, I experienced psychic attacks, and felt the effects of modern-day vampirism.  As I’ll get to in a bit, in the wrong hands, even pure things can be defiled. While questing, that seed in me was still there, and there was light within me that others wanted to stamp out. To this day, and even on what I consider a solid spiritual foundation for me, I don’t assume that beliefs or practices are inherently evil simply because they don’t align with what I believe or understand.  I know there are many across belief systems who carry their own inner light. I do maintain, however, that not everything is for everyone, and that unless you’ve been gifted the responsibility of holding certain wisdom, it’s wisest to leave it alone; as you have no idea what evil you may open or what a lack of knowledge can cascade into. My problem wasn’t a lack of knowledge. My problem was that I’d already been claimed, born into, and covered by the God of the Universe, who clearly had other plans for how I would live out my spirituality. I didn’t know it then, but I feel fortunate that I maintained my integrity while exploring an eclectic spiritual expression so juxtaposed to the one I was called into. I do believe it was a necessary part of my journey, helping me to know with conviction, what things are not for me.

Knowing what wasn’t for me, the new question became: what was I looking for? What was I hoping to achieve with all of these practices if I was also discerning between good and evil? Was it Peace? Enlightenment? Happiness? Something inside of me was longing to be fulfilled, but nothing was actually doing the job.  Remember that seed? That seed I said was planted by the church? I  have since realized it was actually planted by God, through my parents (Psalms 139:13, Jeremiah 29:11). I thought it was planted by church,  but I was wrong. Church at that time couldn’t properly water my seed because their own seeds weren’t watered. They had the same issue with weeds I had (a misaligned application of beliefs). All these years I’d been judging them unfairly, judging from my misguided and misanthropic corner or life; from my pain. I’d been judging them- period (Matthew 7). I was looking to the church to save me, forgetting that they were all human just like me, instead of looking to the One who created the seed in the first place. Leaders can get it wrong, too.

Healing Church Wounds

You see, we are all human. We all have the same needs, and many of the same desires: to be loved. But our humanness gets into the way and we think we have to take love, by might and power. What also, and more often gets in the way, is the unseen enemy and his lies and deceit. The fear and division is a tactic that we don’t even understand. Remember the Book of Eli I mentioned earlier? The Book itself was the answer to both the mission of Eli (for good) and the mission of Carnegie (for evil). In whose hands would determine how it would be used.

There’s a lot of symbolism and symmetry between the Book of Eli and the direction our world is heading. But this isn’t an analysis of that movie. I just want to highlight that in the wrong hands, or with a limited understanding, or with a certain intention, our beliefs/systems can be used for good, or used for evil. It is rarely the system itself (a book or religion in this case).

If we can remember that, we can begin to approach our church/religious wounds with the proper care. We can start to look at our past experiences and see opportunities to reconcile. We can see that it was never church itself that was the issue, but the leaders who may have been misguided (or flat out evil), or the congregation that just needed proper guidance. We can see that it isn’t the Bible that is the issue, but its application, misinterpretation, and maybe most importantly, NOT READING FOR ONESELF that caused the confusion. Only then can we begin to understand that our spiritual seeds weren’t growing due to our own ignorance of what was required from us as individuals, and a lack of relationship with our Creator.

Christianity has been misrepresented since the establishment of the first church. Paul and the Apostles had a huge undertaking with spreading the good news of Christ to the world. As with any news spreading, it gets diluted every time it is shared. It’s like a really bad game of telephone! If people aren’t earnestly seeking a relationship with God through Christ, if we aren’t using the tools that have been provided and abiding in Him through the Holy Spirit, it is so easy to fumble the message. That’s basically what has been happening. With the rise of spiritually hungry society, a thinning veil between the physical and spiritual worlds, and the undeniable sense of the darkness that surrounds us during these modern times, I do believe that the world is ready for a true spiritual awakening through Christ. But there are steps…

The Temple Within

Spirituality is a very personal journey. Though we are instructed to come together because we are the body of Christ, and as humans, companionship is encoded in our DNA, our relationship with God is personal. Church isn’t meant to replace that relationship, but accompany it. The Bible isn’t meant to be our religion, but to reveal to us what God wants us to understand about His Kingdom, and our role within it. We can certainly have a relationship with God without church or the Bible. But for this day and age, as far as we have fallen away from Him, it would be like trying to hold a conversation with someone, blind-folded and wearing noise cancelling headphones, even though you’re free to remove both. It’s unnecessarily difficult. Our spiritual ancestors didn’t have– or have access to–  the text, but we do. The whole point of evolution is to do things better. Not harder.

At times, we have to go through a period of wandering (just like our Hebrew ancestors did in the wilderness) in order to understand what we have in a Living God, and quite frankly, to get our spiritual life in order. Walking away from church is analogous to the destruction of the physical temple. But as Paul reminds us in Corinthians, we (you and me) are the Temple! If we can remember that each time we are tempted to place all of our faith and trust in a building or even religion, we can be less tempted to jump ship, or place our salvation and expectation on religious leaders who are human just like us. We can have the same grace and mercy we ask and are freely gifted from God, for them.  We need to pray for them more, hold them accountable in a Christ-like way (the opposite of cancel culture), and we need to participate, using our voice to let churches know how to serve the needs of their congregations, and the larger community!

The Christian Renaissance

Walking away from the things that hurt us is often necessary. Sometimes we know why we are hurt, and other times we just can’t express it. But what’s more powerful and more like Christ, is showing mercy and grace, forgiveness, and second chances. I’m not talking about returning to evil. If you know your experiences were a direct result of that pervasive evil I spoke of earlier, that is not what God has for you. But in most cases, the enemy isn’t the church, or even people of flesh and blood. The enemy is the unseen, the very real, satanic forces that do everything to divide believers and crush the Spirit within. The enemy works best with the willfully ignorant, the downtrodden, the easily angered and vengeful, and people ignorant of The Word and devoid of relationship with God. We are much easily led astray when we have no spiritual home (knowing where we belong) and no Spiritual armor

I’ve been blessed to find a church that has been pouring into my family in such powerful ways. This church has a meekness that is relatable to our lived experiences, and sometimes we need that. Other times, we need something a little different. Our church also has the option to attend virtually, and they’ve really made that experience easy, acknowledging our presence and making sure that the virtual community is just as strong and loved as the physical one. Though we have only (and consistently) attended online sermons, we look forward to attending in person.

I’ve also used the Bible every single day of 2022 in some format. What has been a monumental support for me is the Youversion App (Bible App). It has the Bible in just about every translation, every language, and it has an immense library of plans for virtually every need, from videos, to podcasts, and in general, it’s my favorite resource, like, ever! Because of this, over 531 million people from all over the world have installed the app so far!

Another great resource: The Bible Project. The Bible Project “produces media to help people everywhere experience the Bible as a unified story that leads to Jesus”. What I love about the Bible Project is that it provides a scholarly approach to faith. They do this through easy to understand illustrations that spell out each book of the Bible in a digestible way. They provide the background, culture, setting, and authors of texts, allowing us to understand the purpose of the books, and any other relevant information that might help viewers make sense of what is being read. It’s really a great tool for those who need a more concrete understanding of spiritual concepts.

With church, free resources like Youversion and The Bible Project, and even faith-based shows like The Chosen, there are ample opportunities to revive our connection to Christ, and reclaim the true essence of what it means to be a believer. It helps us to reclaim Christianity, and remove the dirtiness from centuries of mishandling. The Chosen does a great job of this as well. It really is a television series for this generation. I recommend it to every single human, no matter your belief!

I’ve had a hard time identifying as a Christian because of all the pain of my lived experience and that of my ancestors and global community. But I understand now more than ever, that Christ lived and sacrificed His human life for this exact reason— so we could be justified and free to have a relationship with our Heavenly Father, despite falling so far from grace. I refuse to throw that all away because I put my faith in humans who did what humans do— mess stuff up. Now that I’m back, I know exactly where to put my faith. And I pray that God uses my testimony to restore your faith and help you walk into your spirituality as well.

There will always be good and evil in the world. Lord knows, that even as I was writing this entry, I cried tears of hurt and frustration, feeling the weight of documenting the tiniest speck of history of the Christian church from my little corner of life. I know that God will use this blog for something so much bigger than me, so much bigger than our past pains. The challenge is always in how we navigate the tough stuff. We become more discerning by remaining faithful to our Living God– seeing opportunities to be the light in the darkest situations! In a world that often feels prone to calamity and chaos, living as Christ calls us to guarantees our salvation from that very darkness, from the evil that threatens to come against us. Living Christ-like gives us a fresh start and a future; an entire Kingdom if we let it!

Don’t waste another moment in anguish. Let’s repair and renew our faith! Let’s heal from church and experience the renaissance of Christianity!

Welcome Home and God Bless!

Ashley

*Note: I have hyperlinked many great resources, including articles, shows, and apps. I do not receive payment or incentive from the original creators of the content for sharing these things, other than sharing ways that God is moving throughout humanity. They are simply resources that have helped strengthen my faith and understanding tremendously, and I want to share them with you!

I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment, share with others, and subscribe to get updates!

Related Posts