Sinner is my denomination.

Here in the homeland of all things Southern Baptist, the appearance of faith has a shiny veneer. There are things that have been accepted tenets of Southern Christian life for generations. Two services and Sunday school on Sunday, Wednesday Bible Study, Thursday choir practice. Women’s Mission teas, and various types of training during the week, from Kids for Christ to Bible Drill to adult discipleship classes. Long, imploring altar calls that tug at the heart of the most hardened sinner, and rattle the comfort of the holiest saint. (No matter how much they want to go to lunch). There’s a consistency to it, an entrenched Protestantism with the unique flavor of iced tea and fresh biscuits, the smell of Magnolia and honeysuckle. It is pervasive.

It is especially comfortable to those raised in it. It has all of the feelings of hometown football and family holidays. Many churches are mirrors of their members’ lives, who have married high school sweethearts they held hands with, secretly, in the back row of church in revival. And these churches are the living record books of their towns. Names in roll books go back over a century, and families who’s descendants are now far away still have names etched on aging stained glass, or in the brass at the end of pews. It is easy for church to become culture as much as religion. And it’s easy for so much familiarity to become the only way, and for its power to overwhelm those who don’t understand, or who wonder how else faith can be apprehended. It can be difficult for those neither raised in that brand of Christianity, nor in that town.

I feel out of place sometimes. But not because of exclusion or unkindness. Instead, it’s because I have a kind of wanderlust when it comes to my faith. I like to try on beliefs and questions for a while, to see how they fit. It explains why my reading runs the gamut Roman Catholic to Evangelical to Quaker. It also explains why my wife and I end up getting curious stares when we explain to some fellow Southern Evangelicals that we gave up something for Lent or that we lit advent candles in our home.

Actually, I grew up United Methodist (Catholic light, it has been called). I have attended various churches and considered joining many others. My wife has had a similar journey of faith, punctuated by three years of employment at a Catholic college, where she developed deep affection for numerous priests and nuns, and where she learned to love the sound of the Mass and the light of burning candles in the dark on stressful days, when she could slip quietly into the chapel to reflect. So, our journey has been both confusing and enlightening, and our faith has given us comfort and trouble as faith should.

But the approach of Easter gives me a special comfort in my spiritual travels. In a world so divided by faith, in a faith so divided by doctrine, Easter is an object lesson in the unifying, pivotal point of the faith.

Easter recalls Christ’s resurrection. But before everyone celebrates that miracle, we remember the common, ages old reality of murder. Christ was crucified, sure, but it was a murder, just like any lynching. And all believers know they were, are, complicit in his death. Either we ran or stood by, either we cried “crucify him” or we drove the nails. It doesn’t matter which. On Easter the lesson has more to do with unity than we realize on the surface. It isn’t about dividing us into good and bad, us and them. It’s about reminding us that we all were, and are, guilty. That our down home holiness is less the point than our certain sinfulness. Our unity doesn’t grow from common culture or similar denominations. Our unity stems from our common culpability and our uncommon forgiveness for it.

Given that fact, I don’t feel so bad that I fail to fit in. Because I know that on the larger scale, I do. That my pilgrimage, and my wife’s, and probably my children’s can take us many places. It can take us into and out of the Bible Belt, through the doors of churches Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Orthodox, Catholic and everything in between. But in the process, it will always take us to the meeting place of sinners. And that’s what church is after all.

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