I have a print of a small part of the Sistine Chapel's ceiling artwork hanging on my wall. It's the scene they call "The Creation of Adam", and it shows God reaching out towards Adam's hand. The details are interesting: God's hand is stretched, making an effort, while Adam's is limp and apathetic, but while the details of the image stir up a lot of reflection for me, they aren't the main reason I jumped at buying the print at Ikea a few years ago. The basic idea of the whole thing is what really gets me: God is making Adam alive.
I like this because Adam isn't Jewish or Christian or Evangelical or American. He predates all of that. He transcends all of that. His name can be translated "mankind", meaning in some way his story is our story. All of ours. And in reaching out to Adam, God isn't making him a denominational convert or asking him to sign a 10 page doctrinal statement. He's simply giving him life.
Later in the Bible, in the New Testament, Jesus and Adam are lined up in a few passages, and the writers say that Jesus is a second Adam of sorts. This helps me, because if Jesus's story has something to do with Adam's story, then Jesus's story might also be bigger than a Jewish story or a Christian story or an Evangelical story or an American story.
I was praying recently, or maybe the more honest way to describe it is I was trying to pray, and after trying and struggling for awhile, I expressed something to God that was true and from my heart: I don't want to be a Christian; I want to be a human. My prayers grow heavy or disinterested when driven by Christian duty. My aspirations to be like Christ fizzle out when I associate that too closely with Christian figureheads who may be famous for being Christian but whose way of being Christian looks very different than the way of being human I see in Christ. So like I said, sometimes I don't want to be a Christian. I just want to be a human.
Now you might want to critique that statement. I do, too, to be honest. I could write blog posts from now till the end of the year about all the ways that's wrong. But there's also something right about it. I feel it when I look at that Ikea print hanging on my wall.
Jesus showed us God. He says seeing Him is like seeing the Father. But He also showed us us. Because we were meant to bear that image. And Christians of virtually every stripe have believed that He wasn't just fully God; He was fully human, too.
So sometimes I play a little trick on myself. When opening the Bible or praying or going to church or doing any other 'Christian' thing seems utterly unappealing, I remind myself that this doesn't have to have anything to do with being a Christian. It could just be an exercise in being human. And of course it's not a trick at all, because that is precisely what I believe following Jesus is about. He has the power to make us so much more than Christians. He has the power to make us alive.
My girlfriend and I were stuck in a recurring conversation a long time ago that wasn't helpful for our relationship, and we finally found our way out of it by making a rule for ourselves: we can talk about our expectations for our relationship as much as we want. But we are not going to spend our time in dialogue about other people's expectations for our relationship. (If that sounds weird, just imagine trying to have a love life when you're a pastor at a big church in a small town.)
I wonder if God ever feels like that. We don't want to pray because we were guilted into praying by someone who doesn't understand God's heart very well, and God is saying to us, "Leave that behind! That was never what I wanted for you and Me. That's someone else's baggage." We're interacting with a complicated set of experiences and assumptions that are piled together in our efforts to be Christians and God is just trying to make us alive.
I don't often yearn to be more Christian. Honestly, I get tired of Christian music and most of the books at Christian bookstores depress me or bore me or make me mad. Christian conferences wear me out.
But I ache to be alive. And whenever I quit trying to live up to the cultural hype and rediscover that desire, I find Jesus is there, waiting for me, very much interested in the same thing.
Maybe all of this is better said by someone else. Pope John Paul II offered these words once:
“It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is He who reads in your heart your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle.
It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.”
So if being Christian doesn't sound that great to you, that's ok. I understand. I honestly think Jesus does, too. Maybe redirect your attention to being human, and ask yourself if He might be qualified to help you with that. I think that question will take us in the right direction.