Despite the many clichés, a life in Christian faith is not immune to heartbreak, uncertainty, loss or struggle. Dr. Jacqueline Bussie’s new book, “Outlaw Christian,” released April 19, seeks to tackle difficult questions and open the doors for authentic connections through honest and vulnerable dialogue.
My mother was my best friend, until the day she forgot who I was. On that day, my own mom looked at me with kind eyes and asked, “Who are you? Are you my mom?” For the next sixteen years, early-onset Alzheimer’s made sure my mother had no idea who anyone was, let alone me. On most days, this made me feel like one of the outcasts in ancient India whom the gods required to crawl backward out of the room, broom in hand, sweeping away her own footprints behind her. Parts of myself began to disappear, destined for the dust heap.
Watching the person I loved best in the world die made me realize that nearly everything I as a Christian had ever learned about suffering and evil was a crock, with a lot of pious clichés about “God’s plan” and “God needing another angel” thrown in…. Words that once consoled made God feel further away than ever. I found myself asking, “Why didn’t anyone ever tell me this is what life and love really feel like?” To make matters worse, all my family members splintered in their grief, and no one ever really talked about how much it hurt to lose my mother….
Words that once consoled made God feel further away than ever.
When I was younger, before my mom got sick, I was completely in love with God. If you had known me then, you would have guessed I would grow up to be a religion professor….
But as I became an adult who lived eyes-wide-open to the suffering of others, my love for God evolved. The way I grew to love God came to feel a lot like the way I felt back in high school when I fell in love with one of my best friends. He did not love me back, not “that way,” he claimed as he broke the news that night in his Honda Civic and I hid my wet eyes behind my hands. From that day on, my best friend, though I still loved him with all of my heart, was a constant disappointment. Even looking at him hurt. His presence stung of loneliness, though of course his absence was even worse…. If you have ever loved someone who did not love you back, you know exactly what I mean. Everyone can connect to a story of unrequited love. But the weird thing is that no one ever wants to talk openly about the fact that for big chunks of our lives, millions of us feel this way about God.
In my journey toward becoming a more authentic person, I came to realize…that I never outgrew the longing to talk about the stuff that hurts us most. I came to believe all of this secret keeping and soul hiding was, in the words of my hip nephew, cray-cray (read: crazy)…. I didn’t want to let go of God or my faith. Okay, that’s not totally true. Some days I did want to throw God out like a used sweater that no longer fit, was irretrievably retro, and had holes in the elbows and stains down the front. But this sweater somehow kept reappearing in my closet, messing with my style. I couldn’t ever completely break up with and let go of God even when I wanted to, or maybe closer to the truth, God wouldn’t let me go or break up with me. For whatever reason, unlike my atheist friends, I wanted God back. Some of the Christians I knew admitted to sometimes feeling far from God like I did, but they had been taught to fear talking about it. Unlike them, I didn’t want to accept God under the usual laws of dishonesty, silence, intimidation, and fear. …
But let’s face it, honest people are usually lawbreakers. No wonder most people turn tail and run from truth telling, for who wants to live inside the jail of other people’s judgment?...
….The name outlaw Christian describes the kind of Christian I am and the kind I’m setting myself free to become: namely, a follower of Jesus who no longer accepts cocky clichés, hackneyed hope, or snappy theodicies—defenses of God’s goodness and power—that explain away evil and suffering with a theo-magical sleight of hand. An outlaw Christian doesn’t condemn questions or discourage doubt. Instead, an outlaw Christian seeks to live an authentic life of faith and integrity, and chooses to defy the unwritten laws governing suffering, grief, and hope that our culture and our religious traditions have asked us to ingest.
An outlaw Christian doesn’t condemn questions or discourage doubt.
The faith of an outlaw Christian is bold, outspoken, and active in a world of pain…. The faith of an outlaw Christian laments, loves, laughs, longs, and lives, but the one thing it never does is lie . . . about anything.
Excerpt taken from Outlaw Christian by Jacqueline A. Bussie. Copyright © 2016 by Jacqueline A. Bussie. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. www.OutlawChristianBook.com
Dr. Jacqueline Bussie is the director of the Forum on Faith and Life and an associate professor of religion at Concordia.
Laura Caroon '06 is a content strategist at Concordia College.