christian?

“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” – Mahatma Gandhi

It used to be that I thought being a Christian was the best thing a person could be. I assumed the meaning of life was to follow Christ, by going to church every Sunday, trying to get “more in touch with the Holy Spirit,” that if you “spoke in tongues” or were “a prophet” than you must be an amazing Christian and God’s favor must be on you.  The goal of life was to be more like the good Christians that I saw every week worshipping, becoming angry at the injustices that Christians were experiencing, and enjoying pure and holy fellowship one with another.  I thought that becoming awesome at my bass guitar so I could play in great worship bands or that becoming a “praise and worship leader” was much better than having to endure the traditional music of the church.

I was messed up 🙂

Seriously, I do want to be careful here.  I understand that there are great people who have come before me and many more that will come after me that will disagree with much of what I say.  I understand that there is value in the church and that much of the “bad” often overshadows the good.

However, I also want to be clear in a statement that I’ve made on this blog before: I’m done with the traditional church.

I side with Gandhi.  In my version of the statement “the traditional” could be substituted with the typical, the archetypal, the stereotypical, etc, etc.  I have found both personally and through the testimony and experience of others that there can often be a disconnect between what is said or preached by the church and what is actually practiced by the church.

Christian? To be like Jesus?

First, let’s figure out some of the hallmark characteristics of Jesus.

Compassion: The first thing that comes to mind when I think about the life of Christ as it’s described in the Christian Bible is that he always showed compassion.  To everyone and in every circumstance: from the healing of the Centurion’s daughter to the Samarian woman, to the blind men who were healed, to the women who would have otherwise been stoned for her adultery, compassion is present in all of these circumstances.

Acceptance: Until a couple of days ago, I probably would have used the word tolerance here.  But as has been appropriately pointed out to me in a Facebook conversation I’ve been having recently, tolerance is offensive.  Jesus accepted all people regardless of their race, gender, beliefs, social status, criminal history and I feel strongly that these same acceptances would continue to include other characteristics such as sexual orientation.  He touched lepers.  He ate with tax collectors.  He drank wine at parties.  He requested pardon for his murderers. He did more than simply tolerate the fact that “sinners” existed and should be “loved” despite their “sins” – Jesus accepted people.  Period. Obviously he never claimed that murdering was right, or taking more money than you should was ethical.  But regardless of their baggage and bad choices he partied hearty and pardoned fully.  I would also argue that it is approaching impossible to both love and tolerate.

Anger: Jesus anger and outrage was always founded.  Interestingly, anger has been described as the “emotion of judgement” and it has further been argued that we as non-Jesus are sinning when we become angry (Bruxy Cavey, The Meeting House Podcast – 10/04/2009) because it is judging which we as Christians are told not to do.  Also interestingly, the angry moments of Christ all deal in some way with religion – those who purvey rules over relationship and compassion, and those who have denigrated the value of God’s house . . . that is, those who have made it about themselves, self-gain, rather than about God and his plans.

Fellowship: Jesus recruited a following who stuck with him through the good times, at least.  I believe that Jesus understood the value of relationship and cherished it.

Faith: Jesus had faith in God.  Jesus also had faith in people who others seemed to have no faith in.  To paraphrase many who have spoken about Jesus’ disciples, the fact that he selected people that had been established in professions, meant that he chose not the culturally defined “best of the best” but people that were deemed “not good enough” to continue with studies to become a Rabbi, for example.  No, instead, Jesus chose the not-so-goods, the sloppy seconds, etc, etc.

Grace: Jesus was grace incarnate.  To quote a friend’s lyric “this is grace.  to be held like you never made mistakes.”  C’mon now.

With these characteristics identified we see a church culture that ranges from mildly differing to blatantly opposing these values….

Instead of compassion for others we see a level of self-interest that I, personally, feel is evil.  As the church, we allow millions and millions and millions and millions to be spend on facilities and programs as if it’s all about us.  We need larger, more compelling facilities so that we can get more people to come as if the act of coming is superior to the act of going.

We speak about being welcoming and accepting, and yet condone vehemently protesting abortions with hateful words and imagery.  We condemn homosexuality and homosexuals for wanting to have a legally recognized form of their love in marriage.  Somehow we’ve forgotten the years of careless treatment, and defamation of this sacred institution. Until fairly recently, my spiritual history had until left me thinking that certain significant people in my life were “bad” because of the choices they made.  Is it OK to live as though Jesus had double standards?

We’ve decided that it’s OK to be angry – that “righteous anger” is justified, except that anger is never condoned by Christ.  Bruxy Cavey discusses this at length in the podcast linked above it’s a great listen.  Essentially, my take away was that becoming angry is similar to casting the first stone, and we have no right to it.  But in church culture we’ve almost glorified righteous anger as a sign of heightened holiness.

I think you get where I’m going.

In short, I feel as if I have denigrated what it means to be a little Christ.  I feel as though I’ve given Gandhi justification to say what he said.  We Christians tend not only to not live like Christ, but seem to be missing him on many of his major point.

Which is why I’m not ashamed to say that I love Jesus or that I want to be like him, but I never enjoy claiming to be a Christian.  It has come to be affiliated with characteristics that Jesus never aligned himself with.  Trying to live like Christ and trying to be a Christian are two different things . . . and I think you know which I’d like to do.

4 comments

  1. I go to a media and technology driven church with an intellegent lighting system, smoke machines, comprehensive audio-visual equipment…The windows have been blacked out so it’s as dark and as capitivating as a theatre…
    When playing in the worship team, I am sometimes given a colour code of what to wear…shorts are not permitted on stage…(even though we live in Florida, in the 3rd sweatiest city in north america) and I’ve been reprimanded a time or two not moving my boom mic out of the way of the ‘shot’ when they are recording the webcasts or giving a small wave to a friend in the congregation that I may not see after service.

    Easter of this past year was the most difficult day for me in all of my church history. During ‘meet and greet’, the Pastor approached me and said I needed to be clapping more, bigger smiles, better choreography (ok, he didn’t say that last part, but that’s how I felt). We had three services that day and through out all of them, our worship leader sang one line of a song out of key due to an ear monitor problem and he was told by church staff to fix it by the third service because he sounded ‘atrocious’. I don’t think he’s gotten over the punch to his self confidence…
    NOw don’t get me wrong, I love my ‘church’, as in the people who run it, go there and make it happen. Our pastor is one of the best teachers I have ever heard and he is passionate about reaching the lost and teaching them how to really live. We do indepth series about differing topics so people are actually fed meat and given tools to tackle life God’s way. If we ever leave Tallahassee and have to find a new Sunday morning place of worship, I will hope it’s similar…but all of this to say, Have we missed the mark?
    I know the set up brings people in and allows them to be fed the word…which will most likely change their lives and introduce them to the living God…but is it right to have the tithe spent on back drops, scene set up and smoke machine refills instead of the hungry kids that come to church every week and down the free coffee like it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet?
    I don’t know…I go back and forth on this every Sunday. I went to a traditional methodist church 2 weeks ago and suddenly appreciated my church more than I ever had before for it’s ability to keep me focused and awake…but when that happens, am I getting caught up in the flash and the flare instead of being the hands and the feet?
    I’d love to hear your thoughts.

    1. Kathy – it’s interesting you post this. “church” is my next topic to deal with here and I’m wrestling though a few of these ideas now.

      I’m not a fan of church. I’ll happily go on record. And I have. “I’m done with the traditional church.” I’ve been in a discussion recently with a friend who has been dealing with a lot of questions surrounding faith and the church and christians. My answer to his version of the “have we missed the mark?” question was an emphatic “Oh yeah, we’ve missed the mark.”

      Now I realize that I’ve got to back this up, and I will very soon.

      I don’t want to go as far as to say that church is inherently bad. I go to the church where I, personally, think they get it. They don’t always get it right, but they get that IT is about more than getting it right. To a very large degree, I understand that it’s a personal “taste” decision as to which church is for me. I go to a church whose pastors calls out feedback when it happens because feedback makes them unhappy and annoyed rather than the lack of feedback being what God would have wanted, or to veil the experience in a state of perfection.

      When Watershed becomes more about the show than about the relationships on Sundays and throughout the week I will happily wish them well and be on my way. What I love about Watershed is that Watershed would never let that happen. The minute that a budget decision is made to buy a new screen rather than continue to increase the capacity to feed children in Africa, I’ll be rethinking my Sunday morning routine.

      What I love about Watershed is that the 2nd full time hire after a music/worship coordinator (by title only, the dude does so much more) was a staffer focused COMPLETELY on Justice initiatives both locally, around the country and overseas. What I love about Watershed is that we love it when homosexuals, druggies, atheists, conservatives, liberals, skeptics, believers, punks, preps, and pizza makers come together and there is love.

      I’ve been wanting to do a shameless plug for Watershed for a while too – maybe I’ll turn this into a post. But – there is a quick overview of what’s to come as soon as I can find the time to write it!

      Thanks Kathy. I’m looking forward to many of these discussions with you over thanksgiving!!!!

  2. Watershed sounds great…I hope you stay with us until after a Sunday morning so you can come to church with us…I’d like to hear your take as a ‘first time guest’.
    Not to quote business terminology, but our church has a high ‘turn over rate’…lots of influx, lots of the opposite…There are things I love beyond measure about http://www.gc.tv
    I love the kids ministry. I love that Caden comes home, making up songs about God, quoting Psalm 89:11 and learning that church is exciting because he’s experiencing it on his level.
    I love that they do monthly compassion projects, collecting things for the women’s shelter or sending mission trips to Africa. As a church we support an orphanage in Mexico. There is practical good being done.
    And I love the teaching…our Pastor is a phenominal teacher who is admitidly not the greatest at relationships but he tries and works hard at overcoming his introverted personality to be the hands and feet of God…and I respect that…
    But somedays, I just get fed up with it all. The politics, the chain of command, the ‘show’…somedays the schedule goes out the window…as long as that day isn’t Easter because Easter has to go off without a hitch…and that particular day left me empty and questioning, “Are we focused on the right thing?”
    Anyway, more chats at Thanksgiving! I think we’re all going to have some late night convo’s about everything under the sun and I can’t wait!

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