A friend recently said to me, “You really aren’t a new Christian anymore. Why do you keep calling yourself that?”
I began my search for God thirty-five years ago. I started regularly attending church eleven years ago. I joined a study group nine years ago. And I was baptized seven years ago.
Merriam-Webster defines new as, “Having recently come into existence; having been seen, used, or known for a short time; having been in a relationship or condition but a short time.”
So if my journey with Jesus has neither been recent or short, why do I keep calling myself a “new Christian?” The truth is it’s just easier. If I’m still “new” then I don’t have to assume responsibility for every failing of the Church since its inception. If I’m still “new” then I’m not judged for sharing the same faith as some crazy person who commits violent acts in the name of Jesus. And if I’m still “new” then I don’t have to continually explain my close friendship with a lesbian couple to those both inside and outside the Church.
Some of you will think this is weak and pathetic. But nine years ago when I joined my first study group I was more concerned about the state of my own heart rather than the current state of Christianity or its long, complicated history. I wanted to understand Jesus – who he was and how following him would change me and how I lived.
It was jarring to experience the love of Jesus and the hatred of his Church at the same time. As my heart grew to give and receive love more freely, I also met those who had been deeply hurt by the church. Early in my journey, I found myself very inadequately defending Christianity to other parents on the playground, inarticulately explaining church to my family and completely without words when a good friend told me how wounded he was by his church. I learned that I could end these awkward conversations very quickly by saying that I had just started going to church or that I was exploring Christianity or simply that I was a “new” Christian.
The new Christian angle was usually the most successful at ending conversations because the person on the other end no doubt assumed that I would eventually come to my senses and stop following Jesus. But clearly, eleven years later that is not the case, and I have decided it is time to let go of my “new Christian” title and move along.
I’ve had many conversations about this with my friend and mentor, Dan Sheffield. When I feel accused, questioned or responsible for all of Christianity, Dan suggested I ask, “Is that your experience of me?”
Do those in my life experience me as hateful, violent, intolerant, or corrupt? The answer has always been no. More often than not, the conversation becomes more personal and I can tell people about the Jesus I know and his impact on my life. Worse case, the finger pointing ends and the subject is dropped – for now.
I cannot change the past. I cannot silence the haters. But I can be me – a Jesus follower still finding her way. As I hang up my title as “new Christian” I remind myself that I do not carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. But I need to carry my weight – I’m responsible for me out in the world.