This is a follow-up blog to Why Being a Christian Sucked. I guess it would make sense without reading that one, but probably not as much. It’s whatever, though. Your call. I’m not your mother.
As you may recall, I reflected on three aspects of Christianity that lead to its inevitable suckiness: 1) Christian culture, 2) Going to church, and 3) Being a good kid. The common thread tying each of these things together is that being a Christian for me was primarily something limiting. Being a Christian limited the extent to which I could interact with the world, it forced me to do things that I didn’t actually want to do, and it kept me from doing the things that I did want to do. Now, don’t get me wrong; I’ve come to understand that being a Christian is most certainly an imposition. But limiting, it very emphatically is not.
There’s a somewhat subtle but very significant difference between imposing upon and limiting. To be a Christian–to give our lives to Christ and follow him unconditionally–is exceptionally imposing. It requires that our will be secondary to his; that our desires and our impulses are submitted to what he requires and expects of us. It means that our life, our dreams, and the most intimate parts of who we are, must be completely reoriented around following him. There is no part of our lives or our selves left over that we are permitted to cling to. All must change, all must be made new. To be a Christian is to be imposed upon.
But this is very different from Christianity being limiting. Limiting means that something needed or wanted is off limits; it is to be held back from that which is worthwhile by an external constraint. And that’s why being a Christian sucked. Because I was doing things that I had no desire to do. I thought that what was worthwhile was being kept off limits, and that being a Christian was about proving to God how much we loved him by showing him how much good stuff we were willing to avoid. But the more I’ve learned in the classroom and in life, I see that being a Christian is the opposite of limiting; it’s coming to life. And I’ve begun to understand how everything that made being a Christian suck before can (and should) be completely different. And not sucky.
1) Christian culture
I stand by my statement that Contemporary Christian Music (along with most of the other things that they sell at Mardel) is awful. Because we’re not supposed to pathetically attempt to copy what the world is doing and then add a hint of Jesus, nor are we supposed to disengage from the world and create a cheesy Christian sub-culture. We are supposed to do the opposite. We should be innovative, adventurous explorers of new ways to express truth, beauty and the human condition through music and art. We should be setting the bar for the rest of the world on what it means to be creative–we know the Creator, after all. And while there is still plenty of cheesy Christian sub-culture floating around out there, there are also artists like Gungor and Propaganda and plenty of others who are setting the bar high and reflecting the creativity of God in their art, and that’s something to be excited about.
Much to my pleasant surprise, being a Christian also doesn’t entail being close-minded or burying heads in sand. As it turns out, they don’t even talk about being a Republican in the Bible. They also don’t talk about being a Democrat, or voting for Ron Paul, or swearing allegiance to any other party. In fact, Jesus seems to care a whole lot more about loving people and loving him than he cares about fighting for cultural supremacy. Everything in the world isn’t black and white, and Jesus seems to be entirely okay with that. And that goes for philosophical discourse and theological understanding, too. I’m four years into a theology and philosophy education, and there aren’t a lot of questions that I haven’t asked–and as it turns out, there are answers. And the Christian answers to life’s biggest questions make a whole lot of sense.
2) Going to church
When being a Christian is limiting, church is one more thing that we have to force ourselves to do, even though we don’t really want to. It’s one more thing we have to juggle amidst the rest of our time and energy commitments. But when we allow ourselves to be imposed upon, church becomes something else entirely. When we reorient our lives around following Jesus, going to church ceases to be one more thing that we do with our time, and our church body becomes the center point around which the rest of our life revolves. Because Christian community isn’t an optional add-on to being a Christian; it’s at the heart of what it means to live as a follower of Christ. It is the hub from which we go out into the world and do the work of the kingdom of God. In the body of Christ, the people of God live in community that demonstrates the love of God to the rest of the world. And this community is all-encompassing; it isn’t something that can be compartmentalized to “church friends” that we see on Sundays and Wednesdays. It is the epitome of imposing. But it is not limiting. It is the context in which we are able to live as we were intended.
3) Being a good kid
Being a good kid had its perks. Like not getting in trouble. And that was pretty much it. I didn’t get in trouble, and people thought highly of me, and I thought that was what it meant to be a Christian. But I was miserable, because my whole life revolved around making sure I didn’t do the things I actually wanted to do. Being a Christian meant living my life and going about my daily business as usual, just as long as I stayed within the limits of the rules. Which was quite a disadvantage, because nobody else had those limits. It never occurred to me that being a Christian would involve a complete rearrangement of my priorities or a total reconstruction of the way I interacted with the world. Crazy stuff like that was for missionaries and pastors, and totally didn’t apply to me.
But it turns out, that’s exactly what being a Christian means. Carrying on with life as usual while also trying to stay within the framework of the rules is extremely limiting, and generally sucks. But being a Christian means being imposed upon; it means that our whole life–our goals, our careers, our daily routines–are completely rearranged and reoriented around Jesus. And when our lives no longer revolve around us, we find that what we want most is to know him and do his will. And his will isn’t a complicated process of difficult rule-keeping: it’s to love him with everything we are, and to love others as much as we love ourselves (Matt 22). All of the other commandments exist to show us what it looks like to do these two things. So we don’t have to subscribe to a strict set of rules and be constantly paranoid, making sure we don’t place a toe out of line. Instead, we are freed to live lives of joyful service and adventures as we work to make God’s kingdom come and his will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
And that doesn’t suck. Because it’s what we were created to do.