>photo © 2009 John Snape | more info (via: Wylio)
I don’t think I set myself as being “holier than thou.” I don’t think I set myself up as being holier than pretty much anyone else. I’m a sinner and struggle with many things in life. I am acutely aware of my own need of redeeming…much of this awareness, somewhat ironically, coming from my own sense of pride. While I try to be a model Christian, I recognize that I’m far away from the very model I try to portray. So, I’m careful, I hope, with my words. I try to be humble. I try to show myself in a worse light, the chief of all sinners. And, I try to see the best in others. I try to assume the best in people. I make excuses for the behavior of others. I try to be empathetic. I try to avoid “slippery-slope” assumptions. If one dances, that doesn’t make them a bad…let’s say really, really bad…let’s say a bound-for-hell…person. If one swears that doesn’t make them less of a Christian than I am. Because they go to a different church or no church at all or vote different or have an entirely different belief system I can still learn from them and act as if they are beloved children of God…because they are. God loves them, warts and all…just as God loves me, warts and all.
Sometimes the “warts” are well-known.
We live in a community where marijuana use is rampant. Lots of drinking. Lots of people have been wounded by the church at some point in their lives and lots of people have come to very different destinations in their quest for religious meaning. How am I different? I do try to live my life and train my children to live in a counter-cultural way. We live differently in some larger and smaller ways. We may talk differently. But that’s not because we’re better than anyone. It’s not because God loves us more than anyone. It’s because we’re trying, however haltingly, to live faithfully. And this affects the words that come out of our mouths. It affects the things we put in our bodies. And, I think most importantly, it affects how we treat others. We treat others with grace and love and forgiveness and understanding. As God loves, we love. Or, at least, as God loves, we TRY to love.
It has taken a long time, within this community, to be seen as a person who was not going to judge (unfairly) those around me…if they use foul language, if (when I’m not around) I know they use pot. How do I hold the line between “holiness” and “hospitality”? And, as I’ve lived it over the last 40 years or so, I’ve come out on the side of hospitality; grace. I try for it not to be “cheap grace” or “sloppy agape.” I try not to veer into the “if it feels good, do it” mentality or “I’m OK, you’re OK.” I don’t want a watered down Christianity. I want a bold proclamation of the gospel in my own life and the lives of those around me. I want to be identified as a Christ-follower by what I say and do and yet I know that I don’t do a good job at that some of the time…most of the time…all of the time.
My fallenness is astounding. Fortunately, the grace of Christ trumps it. Even more astounding.
I was drawn to reflect on this this morning, coffee in hand, after reading another good post from Carlos Whittaker over at Ragamuffin Soul. He writes a post called “Monkey Bars, Damnation, and Pissed off Christians.” Yes, that’s the title. It turns out that Carlos’ daughter broke her arm on some monkey bars and, in his frustration and anger and worry, he tweeted, “damned monkey bars” and, in an immediate follow-up, asked for prayers for his daughter. Well worth praying for I would think. What’s interesting is the response of one of his twitter followers who called him into question for using “inappropriate” language that was unbecoming of a “prominent leader.”
This hit me hard this morning. Geez. What’s “appropriate” for a “prominent leader”? How human and fallen are we allowed to be?
I am not a swear-er by nature. You can ask my kids and my wife. I don’t know why I don’t really swear. But, it’s not what I do. And, really, I don’t get bent out of shape when those around me swear. Maybe my ears perk up a bit, but that’s about it. So, is “damn” a bad word? I don’t like it when people invoke God’s name in the mix, as in “God damn it.” That’s putting some words in God’s mouth that I’m not comfortable with and, when it comes down to it, just saying “damn” could imply the whole God-thing anyway.
Now, this is not to say this is a non-issue. Check out these words from James, chapter 3:
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
(In fairness, Carlos did not curse a human being. He cursed some monkey bars. I assume there was little emotional damage done to the monkey bars.)
But, what is the standard of leadership and religiosity that we hold up there for the world to see. I think there is a saccharine Christianity that is promoted…don’t swear, wear respectable clothing, drug-free, hang out with the right people, listen to only Christian music, etc. It’s morality over substance. And, I’m not sure it’s real or even really attainable. We see on the news how the “morals” of our Christian leaders are holding up. So many are pharisaic. They put on a good show on the outside but there’s little substance. What is it Jesus said in Matthew 23:25-26:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”
I know how I portray myself to others matters. I’m not sure that not swearing ranks up there with treating others with love and compassion. Here’s how Carlos explains himself. I think it’s good. I’ll leave it here:
I would rather show this version of “leadership”, the scratched up dirty one, than the perfect version I can’t live up to and see online everyday.
In the mess of who I am you will hopefully find nuggets to learn from after you clean all the crap off.
I love Jesus I really do, and I try to follow him, I just am horrible at it. But getting better every few weeks or so.
Nuggets and crap were maybe not the best use of examples but you get the .
I’m not pretending to be James Dobson here. I’m more a mix of James Dobson, Phil Dunphy, and Homer Simpson…with a touch of Darth Vader thrown in for good measure.