I know I’m walking on thin ice here (I don’t have a good track record addressing issues of religion and Christianity; somehow I always end up on the business end of the gavel), but…
I was recently asked by a pastor friend to come to his church and play a few of my earlier songs and talk a little about my spiritual journey. I’m well aware that I seem to have grown up (since my mid-twenties at any rate) sort of ‘in public’, and that, for numerous reasons, amongst mainstream Christians, my stock is currently low. Nevertheless, it’s still intriguing to me how the “Church” at large seeks to deal with ‘problem children’, one of which it appears I have become.
My time with my pastor friend and his church was lovely, full of music and reflection and a communal sense of encouragement. Afterwards, however, someone came up to me to confide that she’d happened to mention my scheduled appearance to a friend earlier in the week, and that the response had been, “John Ellis? Isn’t he that guy from that band who rejected God and brought so much damage to the Kingdom?”
My personal ‘journey’ aside, the interesting thing to me about this response is the assumption, shared by so many poorly-taught believers today, that a single human being can somehow affect the reputation of God. As Richard Rohr writes:
Does God need us to know that he exists? Is God so insecure that he needs us to get his name right?… Does God exist so we can think correctly about him or her? Would the God who created billions of galaxies really be that worried about our little PR campaigns in his favor? Why would the God who created mountains, moonrises, and peacocks need us to tell the world who he is? Does God really need me to get it right and to share my understanding with others?
It is indeed ludicrous to think that we matter so much that our little opinions of what “God” might mean carry some kind of weight. Still, we are ego-ridden beings, prone to hubris and narcissism at the best of times (if we’re brave enough to admit it), and we like to believe that our takes on things, our assumptions, opinions and ideas we’ve decided are true, are indeed true.
In line with that very human arrogance, which we are all subtly socialized into regardless of what we believe, we moderns place an undue emphasis on the weight of those we anoint to represent us. In the case of Christians and Christianity, Church history is filled to the brim with church leaders onto whom we have conveyed authority, from priests to popes. Our modern era is no different: rock star pastors of massive Charismatic churches abound, as do actual Christian ‘rock stars’, which I was once accused of being.
This is all to be expected, really; the propensity to revere, elevate and, dare I say it, worship, is a standard human instinct. But the idea of one of these exalted saints being somehow able to shake the very kingdom of God is another thing entirely. If your image of God is shaken by a fellow-believer who stumbles on the path, it’s more than possible that your image of God was shaky to begin with.
Sure, I made mistakes. Sure, I grew confused. Sure, I said and sang things that didn’t make sense to people who had grown to know me as a “Christian”. Sure, I doubted. For the sake of expediency, if nothing else, I should have kept my mouth shut until I was little more stable in my thinking. But then again, knowing what I know now, I should have kept my mouth shut to begin with.
Modern society no longer venerates elders, wise older people who have lived long enough to look a fair distance back down the road and draw one or two inferences. Instead, we want hip young things to lead us, because somehow if it’s hip it must be right. So in my case, I feel that when I decided to “follow Jesus”, I should’ve gone off like Paul for 13 years and learned the basics of faith from a wise old elder before daring to discuss it with another. Instead, in my youthful arrogance, I grabbed a microphone and started yelling the ‘Good News’.
That impetuous youthful zeal can only end in tears. And it did, for me. Just as it has for so many believers over the years who have received some sort of publicity by attempting to engage their spiritual convictions with others and who then go through the next season of growth, which is, inevitably and necessarily, doubt.
But did my personal struggles, which have led me so recently to new fresh understandings of what “God” might be about, cause damage? To God? I would suggest that if the foibles of well-known Christians upset your walk with God, you have possibly been following them too closely. You are responsible for your own stance before God; if and when you falter, it’s not somebody else’s fault. Sure, we can unsettle and confuse each other, but your difficulty is ultimately yours and yours alone, before God, to set right.
Human beings are simply not important enough in the grand scheme of things to alter one jot the reality of Supreme Being. You could throw umpteen bible verses at a statement like that, and yet no spiritual tradition on earth has ever suggested that individual human consciousness is able to positively or negatively affect “God”.
According to the perennial tradition, so many other worldwide systems of philosophy, spirituality and religion are, at the core, humble, gentle ideas. That’s essentially what Jesus was about too. How have we Christians got it so wrong that we accuse each other, point fingers at each other, and stand aggressively in defense of the almighty Kingdom of God, as though some of us can become anointed gatekeepers of God’s reputation.
That’s beside the point. Spiritual doubt and confusion is unsettling, fair enough. Not a single Old Testament character is free from some messiness. God seems to have survived. He doesn’t need us. He just loves us.
For my part, I was always only trying to be honest. With myself first. I would say to my worried anonymous friend, yes, I stumbled, but I’m walking again.
 If this distinction bothers you, please take the time to research the theology behind the “Gender of God”. You will more than likely be surprised.
 Richard Rohr: “On The Threshold Of Transformation” page 180
 Look at Aldous Huxley’s “The Perennial Philosophy” (1945) or Huston Smith’s highly influential “Forgotten Truth” (1992)