Tuesday, May 28, 2013

What does it mean to be a Christian?

We seem to live in a culture (a world, maybe?) that swirls in polarization and separation. Our politicians can’t seem to talk to one other in order to actually do their jobs. Special interest groups, each one insisting that the rights they demand are the true, inalienable ones, scream at one other with their hands over their ears. Speak one word of criticism, concern, or even as a question, and the label of bigot, hater, or heretic will be slapped on your shirt faster than you can say Hester Prynne.

This can all be seen in Christian circles as well. A lot of lines get drawn in the sand, separating people claiming to be followers of Jesus from one another. It appears that you can have “Jesus and . . .” as long as whatever follows the and is acceptable to others.

“I am a Christian and a Democrat.” (No, say the Republicans. Jesus would never vote with you)

“I am a Christian and a Republican.” (Horrors, claim the Democrats. You all hate the poor. Jesus loves the poor)

“I am a Christian and a biblical literalist.” (You are a Bible worshipper, sneer the liberals)

“I am a Christian and believe that Genesis 1-3 is metaphorical.” (You hate God’s word, scream the fundamentalists)

“I am a Christian and believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.” (You are mean spirited, yell the progressives)

“I am a Christian and I am gay.” (You may as well say that God and the devil are one, cry the conservatives)

And so on. It seems to be the and that gets us into trouble. I used to hear it said that you can’t have Jesus and something else. You can’t have Jesus and continue to lay unchallenged claim to wealth, prestige, and other props of success. You have to be content with Jesus.

I wonder if we need to revisit our newer, more ideological ands. Perhaps we can set down for a moment the things that separate us, move back beyond the and stop with “I am a Christian.” Is it possible to stand with others as fellow sojourners trying to make our way on the path that is Jesus?

Frederick Buechner said, “A Christian is one who is on the way, though not necessarily very far along it, and who has at least some dim and half-baked idea of whom to thank.”

The term “Christian” was first applied to followers of Jesus in the city of Antioch (Acts 11:26). The word means “little Christ.” Christians were (probably in a mocking way) seen to be miniature Jesuses. Not a bad word, when you think about it.

Not bad unless you start tacking the ands onto it.

I think saying “I am a Christian” means to be on the way with this one called Jesus—but not strictly in imitation, as though trying to copy Socrates or Lincoln or Churchill. I’m referring to the living Jesus, the one raised from the dead and ascended to the Father. But to be on the way with Jesus also seems to mean that we give up the rights to our ands.

Is that even possible for us? Can we give up our demands on our politics, our sexuality, and even our religious ideals? Or can we only follow Jesus if we are shored up by our ands? Do we lose our identity if nothing else keeps Jesus afloat as he walks across the water?

Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on us.

No comments: