Still thinking about lameness.

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?

Maybe. . . maybe don’t answer that.

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?

“Two steps forward! Two steps back! We come together ‘cuz unlikely juxtapositions are possible when you redefine common definitions to allow for greater meaning and cultural relevance!”

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.

Yes. I said that. And I wrote it down to be said at a future time, as well.

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.

“Blood in your meat? That’s good for one SERIOUS banishin', son."

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.”

It’s just as well. Strippers don’t appreciate having Chick tracts shoved into their g-strings.

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.

In my case, that’s manifested as a bi-weekly email to Janeane Garofalo that she STILL ISN’T ANSWERING!

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.

Pictured : Not Subtlety.

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.

Okay. . . . normal-lookin’ dude. . . kinda got the soul-patch thing going on. . .

But when he turns around, you see this.

WICKED RAD NECK TATTOO!!1!

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.

Also, if you don’t comment, HippyBear gets it!

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About Daniel Mitchell

50% of "What the Faith?!?!", a blog about two skeptics who turned to God for no apparent reason. View all posts by Daniel Mitchell

17 responses to “Still thinking about lameness.

  • Peter Benedict

    About to go Facebook link this. Will join the discussion at a later date (or hour, depending on how things go…)

  • Daniel Mitchell

    No swearwords or references to genitalia, please. This is a family blog.

  • Jeff Pelletier

    I’ve never heard the word snarky used to describe Pete. Genuine is the word I would use to describe him..”Counter Culture”- yeah. But he’a also a work in progress. I sense an underlying anger towards Christianity and contempt for Christians in general. Part if this is earned but we shouldn’t believe the lie that if we act a certain way everyone will love us. We will always have “opposition”, especially if we live the whole faith.
    So no I don;t think we are lame. Weeny maybe.

    Jeff Pelletier

    • Daniel Mitchell

      “Weeny” I can accept. 😉

      Pete is definitely genuine – that’s why I can appreciate his snark. I think there is value in a mentality of “who watches the watchmen,” and Pete seems to have that mentality. I personally believe that following Christ works best from a position of need – God favors the underdog, in my (extremely short and limited) experience. People like Pete help keep the community honest, and I think that’s great. If we’re slipping into hypocrisy, I’d rather hear it from Pete Benedict than someone who really intends us harm.

      Thanks for joining the conversation, Jeff. 🙂

  • Forty Ounce

    Best line” “Only when the Jell-O Pudding stains the bathroom floor mat.”

    I’m not sensing the anger… just honesty. Like being white. I don’t care who you are, there’s a lameness about being white that you just gotta make peace with if you’re gonna get over it and move on. But I’ve got all the love in the world for all my crackas.

    What I wanted to add was this: this blog (beautifully) addresses the lame “flava” added to our culture by a certain type of xtianity (I dunno, baptist, assemblies, whatever). But what about all the other contributors? Lutherans (liberal and conservative) are the first that come to my mind, but insert your group of choice. They love the happy juice, I don’t think they’ve ever even heard of sex, and I don’t think they tend to have issues with tattoos. That seems more of a generational preference in my experience. I’ll have to give some thought to it… but you’re onto something here.

    In the end, I think my conclusion has been that I’m a Christian, I don’t think all these “answers” we’re given from the Church make half the sense they say they do, and if someone doesn’t like it, then I don’t really care. I don’t know if that’s the most mature response… but that’s all I got.

    • Daniel Mitchell

      Yeah, being white is something that you have to embrace and just go with, you know? You can be cool after you do that, but if you don’t get it out of the way in the beginning, it can be quite the hurdle to jump.

      You’re right that there are tons of not-lame Christians in the world. I DID grow up surrounded by Southern Baptists, so it’s possible that there is a certain amount of culpability on the part of some denominations. But I think that the issue I have is that the lamer the Christians, the more I see to hear from them or see from them. This is especially true regarding media portrayals of Christians. And I think that part of that is our responsibility as cool Christians – why are we letting that be our image? Why aren’t we speaking out and getting as much attention as, say, the Westboro Baptist Church? I’ve never seen a group of picketing Christians, holding signs that say “God thinks you’re awesome.”

      As for whether or not your response is “mature,” I wouldn’t worry about it. I firmly believe that Christianity should have as little to do with the idea of status quo as possible. We NEED challenges to our ways of thinking. People with your attitude provide a valued service!

      • Forty Ounce

        I’m sorry Daniel, I meant “other contributors” to the lameness. I wasn’t clear. So I’ll have to give some thought to what exact lameness they contribute, that didn’t make the list.

  • Daniel Mitchell

    Come on now, Forty. We’re all waiting for your lameness list now. 😉

  • Forty Ounce

    Okay, this was harder than I thought. I mean, I came up with a long list of crap, but tried to narrow it down to the broader cultural scope you seem to be speaking to.

    I think the broadest “misguider” to our culture as it relates to xtianity is just the straight up puritanism. That’s a Western, even American, deal. And it is largely responsible for your list. So things that bug me are often a result of that too. But then you see this stuff elsewhere, so I’m just gonna go for it…

    1) Shame in nakedness/body, etc. I guess that’s linked to the sex thing. But there are lots of people who’ll talk about sex, but won’t talk about masturbation or things like that. I have a problem with that.

    2) Assumptions on family. The marriage thing–I’ve got a lot of questions on the myriad of assumptions we as a culture attach morality to as it relates to marriage.

    3) Discomfort with mystery. One thing I appreciate about Eastern Orthodoxy is its ability to embrace mystery. Eastern cultures in general seem to have an easier time with not having all the answers.

    That’s all I got for now. The other items on my list need more thought.

    Oh- and congrats are your poos!

    • Daniel Mitchell

      Puritanism is DEFINITELY something I have issue with, and it’s possible that a divorce between Christianity and Puritanism would (in the long run) make Jesus seem less. . . backward? distasteful?. . . to the secular crowd.

      But now, to ask a weird question. European Christianity seems to be much more “liberal” and distant from Puritanism than American Christianity is. At least, it seems that way to me. Not for nothing, though, but Christianity seems to be a LOT more successful in the United States than in western Europe. So. . . is Puritanism part of the reason for that success?

      Things that make you go “hmmmm”.

      PS – My world of poo has been rocked to the core! 😀

  • Peter Benedict

    Interesting: Jeff (who knows me really well) doesn’t dig “snarky,” but last night my wife read this and mentioned her favorite part was me being called snarky, because it’s true.

    As for lameness: For me the problem with so much xtian culture is lack of humor, particularly the kinds of humor I like. There’s an almost total lack of irreverence, little humorous self-deprecation that doesn’t seem to be false humility, and wit is almost completely absent.

    This blog is addressing those deficiencies, thankfully 🙂

    • Daniel Mitchell

      I will certainly say that the blog is ATTEMPTING to address those deficiencies. The success with which they are addressed is subject to some debate. 😉

      If I’ve noticed one thing that certainly seems to divide people regardless of race, creed, or culture, it’s the human ability to appreciate humor. It’s a bounded set quality (if I may borrow again from Blue Ocean) that seems to be applied across the board. Some people see humor as good thing. Some people see it as a threat, or as insulting, or as degrading. And this isn’t to say that humor cannot be used to DO those things, because it clearly can. But I think the defensive attitude toward humor (and the idea that some things just “shouldn’t be joked about”) CAN be taken too far.

      To whit, some people just can’t take a joke.

      To me, the ability to laugh at yourself and at the things you love is proof of your sincerity. You’re basically saying, “It’s okay – laughing at this stuff doesn’t make it go away. In fact, it means it can stand up to a little laughter, it’s strong enough.”

      There’s also something to be said for “black humor”, a quality the British seem to prize that I find particularly endearing. Being able to laugh in the face of something that is negative is one of the healthier defense mechanisms for me.

    • Forty Ounce

      I agree with Pete. 1) that he is snarky; and 2) the bit about humor missing. Especially the irreverent part– I just wish people appreciated that more.

      Did you read my post about the British, Daniel? Don’t even front. 🙂

      Oh and I think that’s why the Puritans came over here. They weren’t wanted over there. In Europe, that is. (go figure…)

      • Daniel Mitchell

        Madam, I am most assuredly not “fronting”.

        And sure, the England threw a huge party when the Puritans were no longer running the show – they brought back things like “theater” and “music” and “boobs.” Although I’m sure the boobs had still been there. . . but they definitely lost prominence.

      • Daniel Mitchell

        Yes. “THE” England. That was on purpose.

        . . .

        It WAS on purpose!

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