Wednesday, April 03, 2013

What's in the name?

If anyone knew how many blog posts are written in my head each day, they'd probably be surprised
(and maybe a little bit appalled...or even thankful. Ha!) at the percentage, or lack thereof, that make it to the blog. I guess that's the blessing and the curse of pacing circles around the pool deck while scanning the water: there's still lots of brain power left to do and think about a lot of other things. If only the people in the water knew what I was thinking about. Or maybe it's better that they don't!

Bright and early yesterday morning, I found myself contemplating what's in a name. What's in a specific title. Most specifically, what does it mean to call oneself a christian. As I've entered a new environment and begun the process of integrating into a new group of coworkers, a new community, it's hard, for me at least, to not want to make a good first impression. I want people to like me. I also want to be known. As much as I value going to work and then going home, I want to be known for more than my work as a lifeguard. And so we've talked about family, hobbies, and value.

In each conversation, I admit, it has been difficult to "confess" to being a Christian or to anything having to do with it. I have spoken very little, if at all, about my previous work in church ministry, how I met my sweet husband (at church) or my faith, even though it's important to me. It's not that I'm embarrassed of Jesus but I do have reservations with being connected to what people think of when they think of church or christians...because sometimes I think the same things. There's a certain, well, stereotype, that I fully admit came from somewhere. Like...

the crusades
the inquisition
witch hunts

...just to name a couple of the big, historical, ugly ones. But, even though they are big and ugly, I'm not convinced that's what people think about when they think of the church today. What about...
the judgement cast upon those "outside" the church by those on the "inside." You know the ones. They don't drink or swear and they go to church every week so obviously that makes them better than those that do.

the abuse - physical and otherwise - carried out against the vulnerable by those within the church.

the decision to segregate specific people groups by their age, gender or lifestyles

the stupid things that become issues to squabble and divide over. 

the greed and seeming misuse of money. who hasn't heard a tele-evangelist offering miracles if only a big enough donation to their specific ministry is made. And there's the building projects, new and old, that hint at excess on the backs of hardworking individuals, trying to do their

the striving for power. leaders abusing their position. Scaring instead of caring. Ruling instead of leading. Guilting instead of loving.

the apparent hypocrisy of those who do one thing on Sunday at church and then live however they want the rest of the week or those who pick and choose what truths they can apply or those who read their specific desires into scripture simply so they have something to justify their opinions. the ones who wave the bible like a law book instead of a love story. 

...but here's the rub. I can't, I won't, paint the whole thing with the same brush. I am unwilling to say, even though I know there's lots out there that would like me to do otherwise, that all churches or all christians are bad representatives of Jesus just because some are. I am unwilling to say that Jesus' message is false or no relevant to today or simply not helpful because some people choose to abuse the message and use if for their own gain.

The truth is there are bad people everywhere and, since churches are made of people it would be safe to assume that churches would have some too. In fact, I would think, that the Bible itself promises it.

"for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus."  Romans 3:23-24 (emphasis mine). 

men, women and children
young and old

It is only by his grace that we could consider ourselves anything but a bad person, someone who has fallen short of what God intended when he created us and left Adam and Eve in the garden. Until we get to heaven, no one will be perfect. There is no such thing as a "good Christian" (find that title in the Bible anywhere, I dare you). In this life we will only find ourselves at different levels of being changed by who he is and representing him a bit better, following Jesus from a little closer or a little further. In this life, we will all have stuff, ugly stuff, that keeps us from looking fully like Jesus. Stuff that makes us look like anything but Jesus. It goes without saying (I think) that people who have just met him will look less like him than people who have followed him for years and years and years, studying who he is and making choices to change their behavior. It should, then, also go without saying, that time "put in" is not the only factor. Nor is simply adding the title and "doing" the right things. It is the choice to follow him, to change behavior, attitudes and character,  studying who he really was and modelling ourselves after him, by his grace, that changes lives. 

What I'm saying is that one could go to a church building for their whole life, every day, and still be ugly on the inside because they haven't let the truth of Jesus change anything about who they are. (Did you know that the only people in the Bible Jesus was ever truly angry with were the Pharisees, the church leaders, who had made faith into nothing but a dead religion, doing the right things, following the mostly made-up-by-men-laws to the legalistic letter, but not loving people?) Likewise, one could go for a matter of months and be transformed, becoming more than they had ever hoped or imagined, growing into his image in leaps and bounds. And so there it is. There are mean, judgmental, greedy, lying, cheating hypocrites in churches. But there are also loving, daring, generous, kind Jesus like people that I wish I could be more like.

I'm feeling a bit like an idealist today and wishing that Christians could be known by what they're supposed to be known for. 

When asked by the Pharisees what the most important law was, "Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”' Matthew 22:37-40.

Every "rule" in the Bible, old or new testament, in one way or another reflects those two commandments. 

We're supposed to love God and love people. 

Followers of Jesus are supposed to love. 

They're supposed to be Christ-like. 

He hung out with the most unlikely crowds which probably means he heard some crude jokes and foul language and, shocker, likely had a drink or two. He healed and met real needs. Love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, faithfulness and self control marked his countenance and flowed into every encounter with people he had. His teaching on money, marriage, and relationships between slaves and masters (or employer/employee perhaps) were intended to build people up and make people better. Those who did not know the truths of scripture were not beat over the head and judged for their ignorance - how do you hold one accountable to rules they do not know? - instead he spoke and taught with the specific will to educate and provide answers. No one was ever forced to follow him. Jesus allowed for choice. He did not guilt people into making choices either.  He loved well.

What if that was what churches and the people that fill them were known for? For loving God and loving people and evaluating each and every action through that lens? 

What if? 

I feel like maybe that name, the christian title, wouldn't be so heavy to bear, something to confess to. At least that's what I hope. But right now, in this world, it's not quite that way, is it? So, for now, I'm going to try without the title but I'm going to work hard to live and work with the attitude of Jesus so that if and when the "christian thing" comes up, maybe, just maybe, it won't be such a scary thing.


Hailey Nelson said...

One of the reasons I love you is because you are not what I would call a "typical christian". You are my idea of what I wish more christians would be more like. You have never judged me for being me. Never judged me for not being christian, for swearing, drinking, etc. Thank you for that. I have never felt anything but accepted by you. Be who you are, always. People will judge you for who you are and what you portray. You are loving, lovely, and loved. Just the way you are :)


Stacey Sparshu Miller said...

Thanks sweetie. You know the sad thing? I don't think I'm that rare or that unusual. In fact, I'm pretty sure there are lots more like me who want to love God and love people...maybe we're just less noticeable then the "other" kind because we don't hurt so much? I don't know.

AAAAAND, can't judge you for having a drink because I'm still looking forward to the next time I can have a glass of wine with you!