Can I ask a question?
Why is there a cultural expectation that Christians are lame? No, let me re-focus that question a little bit.
Why have Christians allowed people to think we are lame? Seriously, now. I mean it. Are we lame?
I’ve touched on this before, but lately I’ve found myself mulling it over more and more. My recent weekend spent at the Blue Ocean Midwest Conference may have shed some light on this subject for me. As author and Blue Ocean overmind Dave Schmelzer has pointed out, Christianity has become a culture. He refers to himself as a secularist who follows Jesus, and points out that he has met Muslim’s who follow Jesus, as well as Jews who follow Jesus. He even told a compelling story about a young woman from a largely atheist part of the world who could not leave the culture of atheism behind – it was too large a part of her life. But she wanted to follow Jesus. Dave’s advice to her? Perhaps she might be – dare he say it – an atheist who follows Jesus?
This idea holds water for me. When I think about Christian culture, certain ideas come to mind.
1) No drinking alcohol. WHAT?!?!? Jesus drank wine all the time! Wine was like Kool Aid in first century Palestine! Alcoholism is a disease – absolutely. Some people cannot drink without it leading to excess – I understand that. But Christian culture (in general) seems to think that any drinking is bad. Can’t get behind that.
2) Sex is bad. Hoooooold on there, buddy. Sex is so money I can’t even begin to say how awesome it is. The English language doesn’t have a word that encapsulates how great sex is. Just for procreation? Listen. Animals procreate – humans have fun. Sex for pleasure is a no brainer, not a no boner.
3) No tattoos, piercings, or any other visible signs of counter-culture. Look, if you’re going to break Levitical Code, break the crap out of it. And trust me – you’re going to break Levitical Code.
I could go on all day, but let me sum up, instead, with a story about a dude I once met. I worked with him at a call center maybe ten years ago. He was in his early twenties, and I was around the same age. We sat near each other, so we would sometimes chat in between phone calls. One day, this guy told me that one of his friends was getting married that weekend, and that Friday night they were doing his bachelor party. He was really looking forward to it.
“Sweet!” I said. “You guys got some wild plans?”
“Well,” he said, “we’re gonna go paint-balling. Then maybe play some video games. We want to have fun in a way that’s wholesome.”
Christian culture teaches that “wholesome” can be an adjective that describes “bachelor party.”
Now, listen. Some people reading this may consider themselves (along the line of Dave’s thinking) “Christians who follow Jesus.” Some of them may even be my friends. And I hope they know me enough to know that I poke fun at them out of love. There’s nothing wrong with Christian culture; it’s just not for me. That’s part of why I dig my church, its leadership, and Dave’s way of thinking – it focuses on Jesus, not the culture that has been built up around Christianity.
That said, there are some ways that following Jesus does seem to encourage certain behaviors that might contribute to a re-evaluation of one’s original culture. Someone belonging to hip-hop culture might be inclined, after coming to God, to stop calling women “bitches”. I would consider myself a secularist, but a very specific sub-type of secularist – I’m a Gen X’er. As such, I tend to be overly critical of authority figures, cynical, a little elitist, sarcastic, and judgmental of anyone older than I am. As a “Gen X’er who follows Jesus,” though, I’ve been working hard to let some of my cynicism and sarcasm be addressed, and maybe even tuned down a little bit. I don’t think they’re healthy for me. I don’t think that God wants me to be hardened in those ways – at least, not so hardened that it stunts my growth. I can still be a Gen X’er without embracing the baggage that comes with it.
But am I still drinking? Hell, yes. Would I get more tattoos? I’d get one every week if what I wanted wasn’t so expensive. Do I think that sex is dirty? Only when the Jell-O Pudding stains the bathroom floor mat.
I still think I’m awesome.
So why does the wider secular culture think that everyone who follows Jesus acts in ways that are so, well. . . Christian? Maybe it’s because Christian culture is, kind of by default, the most prominent voice talking about Jesus. Or maybe it’s because there are people out there – some of whom might even be famous – who are “somethings-that-follow-Jesus” who just haven’t spoken out about the “God” part. I imagine the Western media is also to shoulder some of the blame. If the recent Tim Tebow phenomenon has taught me anything, it’s that the media has no interest in subtle shows of affection toward God.
Some people seem to have maintained that balance between faith and cultural identity pretty well. I met a guy at the conference who pastors at the River Heights Vineyard inMinnesota. His name is Peter Benedict. He was co-heading one of the breakaway sessions at the conference, and he did so with a combination of humor, sarcasm, self-deprecation, and sincerity that was very engaging. He looks like this.
But when he turns around, you see this.
Do I dig a pastor with tattoos? Yes, I dig a pastor with tattoos. If I met Pete outside of a church event, I would never imagine he was a pastor. In fact, I wouldn’t imagine (just from looking at him) that he’s a Christian. He doesn’t carry himself like a member of the Christian culture would. He looks too relaxed, too counter-culture-y, too snarky to fit in with a culture that generally seems to reward conformity, mildness, and stoicism. So when a guy like Pete Benedict talks to me about Jesus, I’m more likely to listen to him, because he doesn’t come across as someone who is Christian by culture. He’s just a normal, snarky, soul-patch-wielding guy. If he’s talking about Jesus, I imagine there’s a reason why.
I’d like to get some chatter going on this bee-otch. Am I way off mark in my take on Christian culture versus faith in God-by-way-of-Jesus? Do you consider yourself a “something-who-believes-in-Christ?” Is an atheist-who-believes-in-Jesus even possible? Could I maybe use more lots-of-dashes-in-them phrases in this paragraph?
I could. I will, even. Unless you convince me not to.