I log on to Facebook. Something I thought would only be for my son and daughter. But I find friends there from grade school, high school, and college. We reconnect electronically. As we “friend” each other, we scroll through photos, posts, and the info page—education and work, philosophy (religious and political views), arts and entertainment, activities and interests, and so on. We look to see who we might connect with, and we find those things that make up our friends’ identities—or at least that part of their identity that Facebook has space to include.
Christian, without any qualifiers is missing from all but a few. Some Christian friends—and I—leave off our religious views entirely.
I wonder what it is about our identity in Christ that makes us choose how we express that identity in this particular electronic media, but I also think about how we respond to others who ask us about our religion. How do we express our religious viewpoint–our faith–to those who only see our “online” presence? Or, for that matter, to those who we first meet?
Kathleen Norris, in her book Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith touches on our identity as Christians. She notes that she is reluctant to speak of herself as a “Christian” because she knows how deficient she is in practice. But, she is reluctant also because “so many of the people who make the most of their ‘Christianity’ in public represent a distorted version of the faith.” She adds that so many in America regard “Christian” as synonymous with “fundamentalist,” and that the media seems “bent on perpetuating” that error.
I agree with her and grapple with this issue. It is not that I don’t find my identity in Christ. I do. But, the negative views of “Christianity” that ooze from history, and through the media and some “Christian” public figures—well, let’s face it, the negative views are, sadly, well deserved. They even stir up anger and heartache in me—like the burning of the Koran recently that resulted in violence and death in the Middle East.
And so, when I first meet someone or publicize on a medium where people might “meet” me only electronically and not ever get to know me, I want to distance myself from the public view of “Christianity.” Rather than “Christianity” allowing me to connect with others, I fear it will create an unwarranted divide.
It isn’t just the media image of Christianity either. As Norris states, “I know how deficient I am in practice.” I, too, am a blemished and broken human. I am deficient without God’s grace and mercy. I am deficient without the loving God who sent his son to the cross to bear my sins.
So, in the context of twenty-first century America, and knowing that I am broken and blemished, publicizing—headlining—that I am a Christian—seems counter-productive. It is a roadblock for the unbeliever—or people of other faiths—to relationship with Christ-followers.
I don’t know how to redeem “Christianity” for Christ except through relationship with others. If “Christianity” is suspect and associated by some with hate, divisiveness, violence, or arrogance, I can’t redeem Christianity if using that word to identify who I am creates a barrier before I even have the chance to establish rapport.
And so, as I walk through holy week—knowing that God loved the world so much that he gave his only son to die on the cross—I look to the cross for answers. The only answer that seems clear is finding my identity in Christ and inviting Christ to transform me so that I may love others fully. I know that love is the heart of Christian faith. And, that Christ suffered the cross because of God’s love for all of humanity.
In twenty-first century America, keeping a distance from the “C” word seems almost necessary. Instead of posting my identity on Facebook, I need to turn toward Christ and pursue my relationship with Him so that I may meet others with His love, as an image-bearer of God. To let God transform me so that He might use me to transform the hearts of others.
“Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” 1 John 3:18.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 1 Corinthians 12:5-8
I slip the covers gently off and swing my feet to the floor. I move slowly and carefully to make sure I won’t step on the dog. And then, I remember: he’s not there. We haven’t picked him up from the kennel since returning from our trip last night–taking our oldest to the East coast for college. I think, oh good, no dog to walk today. A little break.
I make my morning tea in the dark and nestle into my cozy chair with my bible. But I’m first distracted by my cell phone. I need to check for text messages. See if I’ve heard from either of the kids. I check. Nothing from either. I sit in my cozy chair, no dog curled up by my feet, no word from the kids. Husband still asleep.
I relish the time alone and feel lonely at the same time. I’ve always needed time alone. Time with God. Quiet time. Or, as a teen, time running–usually along a wooded path near our home. Time to reflect, to pray, to sing praises. But today, the loneliness sinks me deep into the chair. Tears flow slowly yet steadily down my cheeks.
I miss the kids. It has been so good to have them home for the summer. Seeing how they matured over the school year. Getting to know them again. Seeing their hearts. Their spirits. Seeing what makes them passionate. And, yes, picking up after them. Trying to figure out meals that everyone will eat, and whether everyone will even be there if I do. Juggling schedules and cars and moods and who gets to use the washing machine next.
I miss it all–the messiness of living as a family–a hopelessly imperfect family–in this broken world. And, I thank God for it all. For His hand in it. For His grace and forgiveness. For the fullness of relationships. For the pain that comes along with it sometimes.
And, I thank Him for the loneliness because it reminds me that He is present in it all. In the fullness and in the loneliness. In the joy and in the sadness. And, that as I sit here none of us are alone–even if we are lonely. He is present some 2,500 miles away with our son and some 25 miles away with our daughter. And, He is here. Now. With me.
And so, I sip my morning tea with Christ. And find comfort in it all.
We arrived at the small, suburban home nestled in the southwest hills. As we approach the walkway, I notice the slightly overgrown yard and the open garage door. Two white Toyota sedans. The same, but different years. Both older but well cared for.
Rick and his family warmly greet us. We needed to catch up on life and kids and work. It had been too long. As the afternoon drifted into early evening, I felt relaxed and I gazed at this unusual group. A group of people all chatting as though old friends. A farmer, a secretary, a few lawyers, a professor, a judge, a homemaker, a few business owners. Most of us would not know each other, except for these annual gatherings. Strange how Rick had managed to bring all his friends together and made us friends, too.
We catch up on each others’ lives and talk current events. The occasional, “I’m sorry, I don’t remember your husband’s name” or “now how many kids do you have” doesn’t stifle the genuine warmth of the conversation. We all know there are just too many of us to keep track of all the details.
But I notice more here. Not just the relationships that Rick has planted and grown from nothing. But, I notice–as I do every year–how simply Rick and his family live. Sparsely furnished rooms. Furniture that hasn’t been replaced in years–perhaps ever. But a home that is clean. Simple. Comfortable.
This man, who could have much more, chooses to live simply. I realize that as long as I have known him, he has never valued things. I can’t recall ever hearing him talk of cars or homes or things he’d like to have. Rather, his conversations focus around friends and relationships, family, education, great books, history, politics, baseball, and the economy.
I think of Matthew, chapter 6:
Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. . .
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food . . .
–Matthew 6:19-21; 6:25
I think to myself, This man is wise–wiser than I ever realized.
As the sun gets ready to set, we begin our goodbyes and “see you next years.” I leave with the reminder of what it means to live in a way that reflects God. A relational God.
The day reminds me that it is okay–in fact, good–to live counter-culturally. That is what God wants for us.
I am blessed and my spirit is renewed.
Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis
You are the light of the world – like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.
~ Matthew 5:14,
When my kids were little, I always knew when they were content and happy. They exuded joy naturally. My son would gallop instead of walk–everywhere. He would suddenly break into this little trot that sang out “I am the happiest kid in the world.” My daughter would sit quietly, playing, and suddenly just start humming–even before she could talk.
Through these natural reactions to their life, they outwardly exuded joy. I know they never thought about showing their joy–they just did. Like the verse from Matthew, like the city on the hilltop, their lights could not be hidden.
And, in outwardly reflecting their joy, I found peace and joy along with them. I knew that all was well. I knew that they felt safe and happy and loved. I was grateful I could see it in them. Their joy, in turn gave me joy.
Joy is infectious. But, we need to enter into relationship with others to share it. We need to look beyond our own four walls and our comfort zones and be the city on the hilltop–beaming with joy. We need to become beacons of light.
When work gets really busy, like it is now, I tend to turn inward. I say “hello” to fewer people on the sidewalk. I don’t stop to chat with a colleague like most days. I close my office door–sending the message not to stop by. I stop being the beacon, and my light dims. I feel it. I stop showing the joy for life that I generally exude.
And so, today, the message from Matthew reminds me. I need to “hum” or “gallop” a bit so that my light will shine — at least a little, even during the busiest of days.
How will you let your light shine today?