Amazing grace how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found
Was blind but now I see.

When I was a boy resting in the bosom of my people, we spoke of the lost and of the found. Lost people were those who didn’t have faith in Jesus Christ. We talked about them in anxious and concerned tones. Some had rejected Jesus outright. This was an astonishing thing, impossible to comprehend. You could only shake your head in sorrow to think of them. Lost souls.

Others simply didn’t know about Jesus. Maybe they had heard his name or even uttered it themselves in anger:

“Jesus Christ!” 

Or with the curious addition of the middle initial:

“Jesus H. Christ!”

But clearly those who used that kind of language didn’t understand that Jesus died for their sins. Someone needed to tell them. Missionaries went to the far lands to take the good news to the heathen. Those who were adept at telling the locals about Jesus were called “evangelists” or “soul winners.”

Not everyone was called to be a missionary, but we were all called to be soul winners. We were responsible for telling people about Jesus. If we didn’t, they might end up in hell.

And hell is a mighty bad place to be.

Now that’s a whopping load of guilt to carry around. Someone ending up in hell because you were too much of a spiritual sissy to tell them about Jesus. That’s what I think a lot of people don’t understand about evangelicals. The guilt. Most of them don’t want to be a bother. They might even feel uncomfortable bringing up the subject of your eternal destiny. But damn, you’d have to be a real bastard to believe people are going to hell and not at least try to warn them, right?

Which is why I lead Timmy, the boy next door, to Christ when I was in 4th grade. Timmy was in 3rd. I explained the situation to him on the way to school. He was guilty of his sins and heading for hell. Fortunately, there was an escape clause. He had only to pray the sinner’s prayer and the whole thing went away. A clean slate. It’s a helluva deal, really. If you think about it.

Timmy was so inclined, and I knew the sinner’s prayer well, having heard it at the end of countless Baptist sermons. I walked him neatly through the prayer, and I think we both felt better afterwards. It kind of cleared up a sticking point between us. I didn’t have to worry about his soul anymore, so we were free to be boys. We could relax and throw the ball around.

So anyway, that’s how I grew up. Seeing the world with a clear division between the lost and the found. For the first 48 years of my life I lived happily amongst the found people, inside the walls of dear mother church, my soul safe for all eternity.

It all started unravelling for me a few years ago. About the time I started my old blog. Eventually it led to my resigning as a pastor. But if you’ve been reading my stuff, you know about that. I’m not sure I fit in with church people so much anymore. Or if I even want to.

So now I’m lost. I really am. So very lost. I wander from church to church, looking for something. I don’t exactly know what. Have you ever lost something and you keep looking for it in the same old places, even though you sort of know it won’t be there? That’s me on Sundays. And the more churches I visit, the more lost I feel.

I seem to be wandering along the ragged, progressive edges of Christianity, far from the galactic center of orthodoxy, sputtering along one of the spiral arms of the spiritual galaxy. Sometimes I think I know what I’m looking for. Some quirky bunch of people who are radically honest with each other. A place where the faithful are humble and the unbelievers are welcome because they are trying to be faithful.

But honestly, these days I feel most comfortable when I’m not in church at all. I like sojourning with the children of the earth, and the scientists, and the good-hearted hedonists, and the materialists, and the other lost children.

Are these my people now?

I know I sound rather gloomy, and I suppose there is a certain elegiac sadness to this story. But the truth is, I’m enjoying being lost. For the first time in my life, I feel I have choices. No one is relying on me, spiritually speaking, so I guess the spiritual and metaphysical world of ideas is my oyster.

So that’s the deal with me right now. I don’t know how this chapter of my life is going to unfold.

Where will I end up? Will I have some kind of revival and be pulled back into the Church proper? Will I end up on the edges of some congregation, attending some menial task like Foy with his fountain at Saint Mark’s?

Or will I continue to travel by stages further and further into the Negev?

Gordon Atkinson

The Negev in Genesis. And more info here.

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