I’m not not a Christian.
But when I say that word—‘Christian’—, with all the political controversy that surrounds it, I began to notice that no one cares about the part where I believe there’s a God and a Jesus. I find that people instantly wonder if I am the staunch conservative who is ironically liberal about speaking out and fixating on people’s ‘sin’.
So now, I don’t want to say ‘Chr*stian’ because the word has become poisonous. Because at some point, the Word became poisonous.
I don’t want to explain myself every time I utter that word, because as people make assumptions, I have to do extra work along the way to debunk them.
If you know me, you know I wouldn’t really be considered conservative in most regards. Privately, I think I ought to be more so in some regards. But that’s a different story.
In the remaining regards where I don’t question myself, I stand firmly with my other beliefs, the ones that enhance my faith yet aren’t very conventional.
Among all the conflicting messages, I decided to stop calling myself a ‘Chr*stian’, instead making the active effort to describe my beliefs in detail but not explicitly saying the word. When I do this, people look at me curiously and told me that that meant I was a ‘Chr*stian’. They wonder why, even though I attend a fellowship and a church and embrace a community, I wouldn’t use that word.
Why? Because, how dare I call myself ‘Christ-like’. How dare I even begin to think that I could liken myself to Jesus, in his outlook and loving actions. That’s probably not going to happen, at least not in this lifetime (ha). And using it puts a lot more pressure on me to act a certain way, to think a certain way, as if loving Jesus entails a cookie-cutter-one-way-route to perfection.
So, instead of saying I’m Christ-like, it occurred me to that maybe I could say something different.
Let’s say that Chr*stians are the salt and light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16).
Salt AND light.
(TL;DR: the rest of this post is pretty long. I write about love and use a lot of metaphors to talk about homosexuality and Coldplay and domestic abuse and MU Chancellor Loftin and love. If any of those interest you, feel free to read on.)
Matthew says that if salt loses its saltiness, it’s no longer good for anything. People thinks this means we need to wage a war on sin and work on being perfect people to please God, etc. etc.
The fact is: salt enhances a dish. I would not nearly enjoy my Chinese stir-fry as much as I do if there wasn’t an abundance of salt. It adds zest and flavor.
But as my poor family can attest to when I experiment a little too much in the kitchen, too much salt can alter a dish. It turns into something terrible-tasting, and ultimately inedible.
From my perspective, judgment from God to “not do certain things” is like how parents caution us against things because they may hurt us, not because we should burn in hell because we don’t listen to them. Unlike earthly parents, God doesn’t need us to follow him as some sort of ego boost. He doesn’t think, “Oh my heavens, you don’t respect my opinion if you ain’t listening to me.” It’s more like, He knows what’s best, and when we respect His opinion it benefits us, on the first level, because we can avoid terrible natural consequences that could definitively hurt us, physically and emotionally.
His actual purpose in implementing rules, however, may be more likened to the fact that we could better thread the world together with love if we followed them.
Instead of thinking the Bible somehow makes us experts on how to discern other people’s sin, we should have focused on how the Bible preaches truth… in helping us love people. We ought to follow through with avoiding sin because when we are more at peace, when we are self-actualized (as Maslow would say), we can better discern God’s will to go out and love others. And how to go out and love others.
The world really could use more love than hate, and a self-actualized person who is confident and understands why we shouldn’t do x y or z, does not concern himself with other petty matters such as what constitutes sin.
With that said, some things are pretty grey in our society. Now here’s the part you came for:
To assess anything that may be contradictory to the Bible, we ought to examine how the sins of the mind and sins of the flesh differ; there’s a reason that C.S. Lewis said the first is worse:
“A self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.” (Mere Christianity, Chapter 5, para. 14)”
I struggle a lot with both sins. And let’s be honest, college seems a time when the latter applies more…
But when one overcomes the first, the second can follow in some form or the other.
When it comes to the second sin, many times the church doesn’t focus on being a light toward people who struggle with it. They end up encompassing the first sin, becoming self-righteous or overly judgmental, intentional or not.
Like any group that spends a lot of time together, the church can fall privy to being uncomfortable around each other once we get too close. Once we air our dirty, and more often than not, simply surprising laundry. Sins of the mind seem to be more prominent when it comes to sins of the flesh, and are called out far less.
Sins of the flesh happen to (perhaps?) encompass homosexuality, which is not something that should be condemned across our societies because it happens to be a relatively new phenomenon that we don’t know how to react to yet.
There are plenty of other sins of the flesh that we (namely, the Westboro Baptist ‘Church’) could have decided to obsess over. Look at how high our divorce rate is—in that case, more often than not, there are plenty of men and women sitting in the pews of a church who couldn’t work out their differences with former spouses. But we aren’t ostracizing and bullying their stepchildren who arguably come from a literal broken family. Instead, we persecute gay dads or moms and psychologically destroy their perhaps-perfectly happy children.
When someone gets divorced, it was a choice to some extent, while homosexuality has this mystical debate over whether it’s biological or whatever. I’m pointing this out moreover because we get all wrapped up in homosexuality and the unnaturalness of it all, when divorce is actually artificial and cancerous. People fell out and failed one another in some way or the other, the result manifesting in a sin of the flesh (the actual divorce) because a sin of the mind occurred (not being able to make sacrifices, not communicating, not being able to resist adultery, etc.)
But it’s happened. And as a church, our job is to be a comforter and deal with TRUTH OF THE MIND, not TRUTH OF THE FLESH. If someone comes to you, and they’re divorced and want to confide in you about the hell they went through because their spouse was abusive, you aren’t about to say “go back to him/her” and urge the person to change their ways or they’ll go to hell. Instead, what usually happens…or what I hope would happen…is you listen. You deal with the situation in context. You help anyone dealing with these kinds of situations in context, because as a person who holds the beliefs of a Chr*stian, you are to be the salt and light of the world.
When we focus on “not sinning” and ensuring that our neighbors aren’t sinning either, we lose the point that loving people comes through trying to understand them. When we always put ‘salt’ in the context of sin prevention, we forget that it has to do more with sin reaction. Salt enhances something, fixes something, potentially replaces a bad taste in your mouth with a good one.
In “Fix You”, Coldplay sings: “lights will guide you home”. That line is haunting, and many of my friends cry when they hear that. That line is what breaks people.
If we use our religious lights to ‘ignite people’s bones’ by burning them, instead of helping them, then we are missing the reason that song is so powerful—it sings of redemption, of people being fixed, and that is why the best kind of Chr*istianity reflects this secular song’s concept.
When we fight for LGBTQ rights we shouldn’t be “paranoid” we are somehow condoning sin. Rather, we are condemning the condemnation of people, refusing to throw the first stone at a woman who is not any more sinful than we are.
I mean, I know plenty of LGBTQ Chr*stians. The fact that there are people who choose to follow Jesus despite continuous implications that he would not welcome them (which, of course, are false if u look closely at the Bible) signifies ‘GAY’ AND GOD’S LOVE ARE NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE.
It is not our call to ‘fix’ people. Instead, I seek to take a page out of Chris Martin’s book: use ‘Fix You’ as a way to fix people while ‘I promise you I will learn from my mistakes’. It’s an equal union of humility, of give and take.
This is why the theory that the Bible condones marital abuse because a ‘woman ought to submit to her husband’ (Ephesians 5:22-25) also blows my mind.
In fact, I believe the verse there needs to be dissected: Ephesians is calling the two genders to do what they suck at. It also says ‘Husbands, love your wives’.
I was at an MU Faculty Council meeting the other day, and newly appointed Chancellor Loftin declared his intention to lead with love and always think how to do the best for the faculty. But he acknowledged that they could only respect his advice, and be in a position to informedly give him some as well, if he was always transparent and had their best interests in mind.
To some extent, this reflected the chivalry and love that I think people don’t realize we already crave in relational roles, whether as a man or woman.
Loftin knew he might get tunnel vision and not consider the opinions of his faculty, but strove to do his best to prevent that. The faculty knew they might grow resentful of Loftin if he did not consider their opinions enough, but sought to respect him enough to respectfully communicate with/advise him even in the midst of their frustration.
The same applies to a marriage, to some extent. I can’t count the amount of Internet commentary out there where feminism is still displayed, but women don’t discount that they enjoy being cared for by a man. The ‘cared for’ aspect is just often said as ‘leading’, which seems to make sense to me only because men are normally stronger and taller and can do the heavy-lifting.
But no, women are sound of mind, but in different ways. We have instincts that men don’t. They have instincts that we don’t. There are a lot more men in the army, and although we should have equal opportunity and there are awesome female soldiers, we shouldn’t discount that oftentimes, men are better at certain things.
If the man has his heart in the right place and the woman too, no one will dictate or have to mindlessly follow meekly. If even one person is selfish and self centered, a perfect model of a good relationship will be destroyed, and that is why divorce is a sin but is born out of the first sin of the mind.
Also: feminism is not a sin; on the contrary, the most eloquent open minded (and sound minded) feminists are fighting for liberation from a worldly construct that has ultimately allowed evil to creep in. That’s pretty much the opposite of sin.
We can’t box sin up and call it absolute in any way. Actions that are grey are because the evil in the world has snowballed. Measures had to be taken to prevent against terrible ones already in place, etc. But if we work for the good and welfare of people, that should be the best political platform.
Religion is not meant to always be preached from a soapbox or broadcasted in a loud public debate (more often or not these days on YouTube or Facebook comments). It is meant to be a quiet place, a haven people can go for comfort from the terrors of the world.
As Jon Stewart said, religion has given hope to people in a world torn apart by religion.
We all need to piss (off). And humble ourselves:
Whether it’s one drop of pee in a cup of water or an entire cup of pee, neither of us could say the other is somehow more drinkable.
Contamination remains contamination, and religion is not a race to see how fast one can purify your own water, or others’ water. It’s a walk in the park, a slow, solemn reflection to see how we can help each other purify each other.
A pastor at the Crossing says so many things are rooted in “heart problems”, which is actually a much more digestible way of saying everything comes back to “sins of the mind”.
Everyone who does something somewhat unapproved, that may count as ‘sin’, is wrestling with an insecurity that goes much deeper than just them.
Jesus’ life was an inspiration and testament to healing heart problems. Look at how well received Pope Francis’ church reformation has been. He’s trying to do what Jesus did and sought—healing a church.
I’ve come to college and dealt strangely with these new sights and sounds. My sheltered life in Portland, contrary to the liberal nature of my city, didn’t always expose me to how bad off the world really is.
But beyond that, I’ve listened to stories and been inspired by every story of realization and beauty and understanding.
Through secular means, I’ve ended up seeing God in everything that is love, just like like Switchfoot said.
Every story hints at redemption. Every story hints at us being something greater.
I’m still making my own way myself and haven’t dealt with the perils of being a freshman in college, or even the perils of being a journalist, or even the perils of being me.
But ultimately the stories both in the Word and the ones of deep redemption from the mouths of my friends equally inspire me.
Neither is fiction. Both are truth. And above all, I BELIEVE they can intersect.
Because I’m not not a Christian.