Preface: I originally had posted this on Facebook, using the little “notes” feature. I tagged a whole bunch of people, both friends from Xenos as well as friends from my old church. I thought this would provoke some interesting conversation about different values systems, namely a grace-oriented life versus a law or rules-oriented one. Boy was I wrong. For some reason people wanted to talk about cussing, which can apparently be broken down into categories of varying severity depending on how conservative you are. The more severe the “cuss,” the more firm of a rebuke you’re awarded. I received several rebukes. This post contains the original clobberings of the Third Commandment which were also in the Facebook post. I didn’t edit it to make it more Ten Commandment- friendly, although I did edit a sentence or two where I thought I could be more clear. Thanks for reading and I hope this makes you think about where you came from and where you’re going.
I used to be a lot different from the way I am now.
When I was younger, say, high school age, I was the least fun person to be around I knew. I had this fascination with being an outcast. The problem was that I wasn’t. I had to create a character, make him an outcast and then play the character. That way, I could pretend that I was this tragic character and everyone else looked down on me. “I’m so misunderstood and deep,” I’d think. “No one sees me for the real me.” Fortunately, it wasn’t fulfilling in the least. After a few months of doing that, you become an actual outcast because you’re emulating this morose, dark, sapped-of-joy type of person. Then you’re rather alone and think “What did I do wrong? No one came up and wanted to know the REAL ME.” Maybe a lot of teenagers do that, or something like that, at some point. They grow out of it hopefully. Some don’t. Yikes for them.
During that time I was an avid churchgoer (still am). I attended almost every church event. I was in the youth choir. I was a camper every summer at church camp. I knew a million praise choruses which tell God how great He is. I could recite every possible name He has from the Bible (as well as some made up ones for rhyming church songs). For fun I would memorize violent Bible verses that told how God would eventually destroy people. I was well-educated in church protocols, manners, and ways of doing things.
Like It Mattered, Ha!
On the other hand, I had no real concept of a lot of Christian ideas. I didn’t understand gratitude. I certainly had no real reason to intentionally seek a grateful state of mind, where I could take a look at the things I had and consciously think “I am grateful for this.” I had no real concept of love, either. I went through a phase where I refused to tell my own mother “I love you.” Understandably, she was hurt by that. My reasoning was that I didn’t even know what love was or wasn’t. How could I say “I have this” when I wasn’t even sure what this was? My understanding of love, such as it was, was more along the lines of a fuzzy feeling of tolerance than anything else. When I felt it, or thought I felt it, it was the stuff of warm greeting cards and plush animals. If you had asked me to define love, I really don’t know what I would have said. I probably would have quoted some stupid Bible verse.
I didn’t know how to have relationships outside of the platonic, friendly kind. My idea of a “best friend” could probably be described as “The person I know who annoys me the least of all people I know and also they entertain me.” I could talk about and entertain serious ideas without clowning around but I always felt the need to make grandiose attempts at sounding profound. I wanted people to know how deep of a thinker I was and that I never entertained any idea or course of action without first turning up my nose at it. Then I’d try to sneak around doing that thing I pretended I thought was stupid without anyone noticing, because I’d spent a whole lot of effort convincing people I thought it was stupid. I tended to think that hypocrisy was only real if someone other than myself was aware of it. Maybe it’s similar to that saying that “it’s only a crime if you get caught.”
I was indignant at just about everything. Nothing was good enough for my endorsement. Everything was stupid. “Other people might believe that,” I thought, “But not me. My eyes are open to its tricks. I’m too smart to be suckered into such a retarded thing.” So I would screen every possible thing and the baby would get thrown out with the bath water. High school relationships? Dumb. What a waste of time. It isn’t like I’m going to marry that person. Telling your mother you love her? Meaningless, if you can’t define the term. Acts of Christian service? Pointless. Going to visit people in the hospital is creepy and weird. They don’t need me to wish them well.
I became a cynic.
I remember lecturing my brother about the evils of non-christian music when we were in high school. He played a Metallica album on my cd player at one point. I was absolutely scandalized. I literally had a vision of my speakers clogging up with physical gunk. I hastily chastened him and picked his cd out of my player, holding it with two fingers, as if it was going to dirty my hand. I replaced it with a Christian music album of some kind, hoping it would clean out the gunk. I frequently would have fantasies about being a Christian rock singer. “I’d be so relevant” my imagination went, “People would hear my great voice and believe in Jesus.” And yet I was terrified of the unclean masses and was afraid that their non-christian-ness would somehow rub off on me and ruin my glorious churchy image.
I loved to argue vague points the Bible is pretty quiet about, like, Is it ok for a Christian to go to a bar? Is it more biblical to be a “millennial” or a “post-millennial?” Should you have Calvinist views or Armenian views? Does “speaking in tongues” still apply today? Can a demon physically possess a Christian? And really important (read: not important at all) stuff like that. Yet I can’t remember telling one single person about Jesus who did not already belong to my cult of church.
One of my favorite extracurricular things to do at church camp was to get in long fireside discussions with other people about “End Times.” Speculating about weird, pointless stuff can be a favored pasttime among Christians. ”End Times” is one of those weird things that no one really talks about. Then, all of a sudden, maybe you’re around people who know less than you and hey, here’s an opportunity to impress a group…with my knowledge of eschatology. Some Christians never really say a single real word about church, religion, or anything spiritual. Then suddenly, they hear someone talking about End Times prophecy crap and they get this fucking nostalgic gleam in their eye and want to tell you how awesome it is that we won’t have to go through the tribulation. I was one of those.
I just look back at myself and I’m all like “LOL.”
I grew up being taught Bible stories from the time I was old enough to understand basic storytelling methods (a flannelgraph). I grew up memorizing songs from a popular Christian cartoon character at the time named, “Psalty, the singing songbook.” Psalty was an anthropomorphic hymnal which espoused views of moderation in all things (I specifically remember a song warning against overeating). I’ve told my wife about Psalty. She thought he was fucking weird. That’s what she said- “That’s so fucking weird!” And it is, isn’t it? Maybe you don’t cuss. That’s fine. I’m just saying what my wife said.
What’s weird is the culture that Christians tend to build around themselves as a defensive act. It can get pretty crazy. We see real extremes in the media, that one church that pickets funerals and has all those signs about how gay people are going to hell are a case in point. Westboro Baptist is something of a caricature, I think. Most churches aren’t like that. But my point is a lot of churches still do really weird stuff. Stuff that makes no sense to any outsider- someone who isn’t from that culture of church. Someone might argue that they don’t understand it because they don’t have the Holy Spirit to help them understand. I’m not talking about legitimate forms of spiritual expression, like communion or baptism. I’m talking about the weird shit Christians make up to feel safe and separated. We tend to forget that God never said to do this; we totally made this up.
I forgot, or maybe I never really understood that anything which a Christian or the church does in its functionality should have its basis rooted in evangelism. Anything I do in my personal life should be the result of obedience to the great commission. Anything the Church as a whole does should be done with that end result in mind- arranging an introduction between the lost and Jesus. I used to think that if the Sunday morning service at my church couldn’t save someone, what hope was there for me if I tried to reach out? I wanted to abdicate myself of responsibility- after all, the pastor(s) are paid.
I used to think the following things were important:
- Arguing or debating someone else into my point of view
- Not really listening or caring what their view was
- Myself and my views
- Appearing to be godly
- Singing songs (a shitload of songs- we had songs about songs)
- Being really polite (but scorning polite-ness in secret)
- Christian pop-culture (Christian books, t-shirts, music, whatever- always use the Christian version of something if there’s an option)
- Not cussing or using “bad language” (Instead of “Fuck” say “Friggin,” instead of “Shit” say some other dumbass word. The irony is that it means the same damn thing. I was only kidding myself when I did that substitution thing.)
- Conservative views on things (Politically, socially, you name it. Jesus is a Republican, after all.)
- Gospel tracts (Has anyone ever successfully related to someone with a Gospel tract? They’re one of the the least relational forms of “evangelism” I know.)
- Condemning hypocrisy (while being the biggest goddamn hypocrite I knew)
- Hanging out almost exclusively with other Christians- even to the point of actively avoiding people who weren’t.
- I didn’t know how to relate to someone who didn’t grow up in my little church bubble. I’d see them coming and fucking skedaddle out of the way. “Oh dang,” Conservative me would think, “Here comes Lost Larry. He’s rude, unrefined, uneducated, and rough-around-the-edges. He doesn’t understand my churchy words like ‘fellowship.’ I don’t know how to relate to him. He’s friggin weird.”
- Excusing a particular “bad behavior” by saying I struggled with it.
- Uncompassionate dickhead? Yes, but I struggle with it. Oh, well, that’s ok. As long as you’re struggling! You’re a judgmental bastard? Well, a bit. But it’s something I struggle with. Ah, good. Struggling is good. It means you’re fighting against it! Hardly. It really meant I knew I was an asshole and didn’t know how to change. I could confess to almost anything as long as I admitted I struggled with it. It left me feeling guilty, though. That’s probably because it wasn’t real repentance. It was the appearance of repentance.
Don’t get me wrong- if someone is actually, really, sincerely struggling with something- good. Great, even. What I think is really wrong is when someone claims they’re struggling when they really aren’t. The best way to find out what that particular person is actually doing is to ask them “Do you care that you do this?” That’s a pretty disarming question and whatever answer they give will demand follow- up. If they do care, ask to help them see it through. Be willing to share the burden. If they don’t care, then tell them they’re disingenuous and hypocritical.
Dumb Growth vs. The Maturity of Repentance
I’m a person who does a lot of self examination. That can be either a bad or a good thing, depending on how you do it and the attitude you take towards it. If you tend to do that self examination really harshly and end up thinking about how big of a piece of shit you are, well, that’s not good. I’d suggest you stop taking looks at yourself. However, if you can take a more analytic stance- if you can look at your own experiences and follow the trends to see how you’ve arrived where you are- what has hindered you and what has benefited you, that can be good. It is especially good if you can look at people who helped you or loved you at a certain time and can now go express gratitude towards them.
Part of these changes could be a natural process of maturity and growing in my faith. If you became a Christian at the age of 7, hopefully you’ve experienced some growth in that area by the time you’re 32. Hopefully, after 20 years you’re not still saying stuff like “I struggle with having compassion.” That actually brings up an interesting side issue- if you sincerely don’t have compassion for people, why the hell would you even care if they heard about Jesus? Just a thought. Anyway.
One thing has not changed. I still believe that Jesus is the way- the only way. He says that Himself in John 14:6. “I am the way the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father but through me.” What’s changed is the way I understand it.
I used to understand it as my own wisdom- my brains brought me to this point. My cultured upbringing has resulted in the wonderful specimen which you are now privileged to have arguing with you!
Now I understand in a way that it’s put in Mark 6:
When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things.
Jesus has gone back out to sea, so to speak, but He’s left me (and many others) on shore to “teach them many things.”
I’m no Unitarian. I’m certainly not a moral relativist. I’m a Christian- a follower of Christ. Instead of wanting to force-feed people my beliefs, as if they’re a baby and I’m the parent holding the spoon, I want to convince them they need the bread of life and that it is their choice whether or not to eat. Instead of a selfish desire to keep people from the “evils of the drink,” I want to show people how to find a living water, which will never leave them thirsty.
Instead of judging people from afar and coming to bizarre conclusions without ever knowing them, I want to be their friend. I want that relationship to be based on love and trust so that when the time comes for me to tell them the most offensive thing they’ve ever heard, they’ll trust me that it’s true.
Your conservative political shit won’t save you from anything.
Your confusing values systems won’t save you from anything. Making people feel like shit when they already do is bizarre. We aren’t here to judge but to help people pass out of judgment into life. It’s almost funny to think “I can have an influence in this person avoiding the judgment of God but I’ll be goddamned if they avoid my judgement.” Your ability to ignore and minimize the destruction of relationships isn’t helping anyone else be saved.
The area I’m probably the most different is in the way I understand love. Love isn’t about tolerance- except of your own weakness and the weaknesses of others. If you’re really trying to love people, you don’t have to worry about it in terms of success or failure. God wants us to try to love people because, when we love people, we’re demonstrating that we love Him.
I never thought that “…Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.” (1 Cor 8:1)