Often I have wondered if faith communities have enough space in which both “who I explorer-map-camerawas” and “who I am” could feel comfortably at home.

The very consideration of that thought requires a confession that my understanding and practice of the Christian faith has changed considerably over several decades.

Perhaps the best way to define such changes — which some would deem maturity and others as waywardness — would be to say that I affirm the generalities of the faith passed on to me but not an abundance of the specifics.

Of course, the more revealing question might be if “who I am” would be accepting of “who I was” — and vice versa. And what about all of those “who’s” in between?

In general, the faith passed on to me continues to receive my affirmation.

These are the broad affirmation of a biblical faith conveyed by family, Sunday school teachers and others who invested their time, instructions and examples for which I’m deeply grateful.

They taught and showed — and I believed and still believe — that God is love and that my value comes from being created in the image of the loving God. That confessing one’s sin and professing one’s faith in Jesus Christ is an important place to begin the personal journey of faith.

That the Bible has something important, even divine, to say to us — today and tomorrow. That being kind to one another is a good way to live.

Many of the specifics, however, have been replaced by newer understandings.

For example, I consider the nature of God’s love and grace to be broader and more inclusive than once imagined — going far beyond the limited spiritual clubhouse that we so eagerly sought to manage.

That what “the Bible says” is not necessarily the Way of Christ. That Revelation is not some secret roadmap to the end (which only a few can decipher) but a passionate call to stay firm in faith despite the harsh challenges.

That varied literature forms comprise holy scripture and present truth in ways other than literal interpretations often softened to soothe our desire to know everything and to fit our social comforts.

That the narrow way of following Jesus is not about believing some neat set of manmade doctrinal statements but doing the really hard stuff that Jesus said marked his followers — such as loving enemies, walking extra miles, giving away goods, losing one’s life. Hard stuff that could not be marked on the 6-point offering envelopes familiar to “who I was.”

That salvation is wholeness — not the signing of a four-step tract of directives. That confession is more than reciting magic words as a way of missing hell and then living until that time in hellish ways toward others deemed less acceptable to God by poorly-constructed biblical justifications.

Yet “who I was” and “who I am” — and all the “who’s in between” — shared the same desire: to follow Jesus. I like to think that is enough to enable the various “who’s” to embrace that important common ground.

But I’m not sure — because so often those various “who’s” have been and are too sure.

The church and its various expressions often lose when insisting that Christ followers remain the same in order to remain in the fold. So do individual Christians who too narrowly define who is right and who is wrong in their claims of faith.

There are important and needed efforts to building unity within the diversity of Christianity. Yet, in a sense, the starting point for Christian unity and acceptance may be with ourselves.

All of our varied selves. NFJ

pierce_johnny15_optBy John D. Pierce