I’ve been writing lately about what I see as the problem with the liberal/mainline/progressive church. I’ve talked about Liberal Vs. Progressive, why we’re not growing, and said that I think Mark Driscoll is right. Then I shifted a bit and raised the question “Why Christianity?” and offered my reasons as to “Why I Am A Christian.”. My next question was about a “Salvation Moment” and my answer. I want to continue in that vein of raising a question and then offering my answer on a variety of different topics. I’m not trying to provide definitive answers, but rather to raise what I see as the provocative and/or essential questions that the church needs to be able to have answer for (even if that answer is to say that this isn’t an idea we need).
Yesterday I asked: What does a Christian look like? This post is my answer.
I feel like it would be helpful for me to state a couple of things upfront in order to locate myself in this conversation. One: I am an American. I think this is a unique context in which to attempt to live out the Christian life. These comments are influenced by my physical location. Two: I am going to set forth some ideas that I don’t always manage to live up to. I’ve said this before (in postings about being a Christian anarchist), that I believe things that I don’t follow through on. My comments in this post are what I aspire to, what I hope God will bring to fruition in me, but I often don’t manage to live them out. I readily admit that some days (maybe even most days) I don’t look like a Christian. Thinking through these things has been convicting for me (in the best way) and I see there are a lot of areas where I need to grow and change. 3: I’m sure this isn’t everything, but when I think of the core of what it means to live out the Christian life, these are the first things that come to mind; these are the things that, to me, are the most vital. 4: Often when we talk about tough things in the church there is all sorts of guilt and shame tied up into the conversation. I don’t want this conversation to come off as a guilt trip, as a “holier than thou”, or as shaming, but I understand that sometimes when hard things are brought up, those feelings do come out. I hope that if they come up for you, that you can separate out what is shame/guilt you need to let go of and what it maybe inspiration to challenge yourself.
A Christian should be showing the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)
A Christian should have an allegiance to God, shown in the example of Jesus, above all else. For me this means Christian anarchy (although I understand that others don’t go that far). This means working against Empire wherever it exists, not only to oppose it but to actively stand in the way of it. I oppose nationalism in all forms. I want to live as a citizen of the Kingdom of God and that often stands in opposition to how I’m expected to live as a citizen of the United States.
I believe that God has (and therefore Christians should have) a preferential option for the poor and the oppressed. Christians should be working to eliminate poverty, taking care of the poor, and opposing anything that takes advantage of or further harms those living in poverty. Being a Christian means thinking carefully and critically about money. Money might just be the most complicated part of Christianity.
I believe that Christians should work against any system that is unjust, fight against systemic injustice of all kinds, and work for peace and the end to war. They should be working for the dignity and health of all people, especially those who are oppressed.
I believe that the Christian life is best lived out in community. Community can take many forms: from living in intentional communities, to being part of a church, to having friends that walk with you in the way of Jesus that have dinner together once a week. You don’t have to belong to a church (for some folks there are no churches near them that are safe, I get that), but I do think you need to be in some sort of community. You need to be able to be encouraged and encourage, to challenge and be challenged, and that is awfully hard alone.
Along with community I think a Christian should have some kind of private spiritual practice that refreshes them and challenges them to continue to grow. I think Christians should also be studying the Bible (and the history of it).
I think that, especially in the United States, to be a Christian does mean that you will look different than those around you. I think that following God in the way of Jesus cannot help but be counter-cultural. It might mean that you refuse to say the Pledge of Allegiance or sing the National Anthem at sporting events. It might mean that you refuse to be a part of unjust political systems. It might mean that you are on the front lines to get arrested in the Occupy Homes movement (if you can safely afford to do so). It might mean that you treat the person asking for money on the street as a human being and look them in the eye, offer a handshake or some food. It might mean that you refuse to buy new clothing and instead wear your clothes until they are really worn, or only buy second hand, or…. The list goes on.
Most days I don’t feel worthy of the name Christian. I know I am too often selfish; I care more about my own comfort than I do about standing up for what’s right. I talk a good game about standing against Empire, but I am afraid to get arrested. I buy too much shit I don’t need and don’t give enough money away. I am too concerned with how I look and so I stand and sing the National Anthem even though I feel like I shouldn’t. This life is hard. It’s not a checklist of things we need to do in order to win God’s favor, this stuff is a response to the Good News of Jesus’ incarnation. It’s the message the world can be redeemed, that new life can spring from death. It’s the message that the Kingdom of God can be here now if only we would work for it; and the message that the Kingdom of God is here now in spite of us.
To live as a citizen of a Kingdom that is both here and yet to come is complicated. It’s messy. It certainly can’t be reduced to a checklist of things to do or things not to do. But it’s more than just a vague “do good things” and “love other people”; it’s a deep understanding that these empires should not feel comfortable to us. That the pursuit of the “American Dream” is in opposition to the dream of God.
This is a call to a difficult life: A call to consider the cost, to take up the cross, to stand in opposition to the Empire wherever it is found. It is a call to live dangerously; to know that when you question power and privilege that you make people angry, but that you need to do it anyway.
And it’s not just radical acts: it’s radical acts rooted in a deep love of God, in the way of Jesus, and love of people. It’s action fueled by contemplation; it’s serious action and serious faith. It is not perfection but striving. It’s knowing that you won’t get it right all of the time, but that it’s still worth it to try.
When I think of what a Christian looks like it’s Dorothy Day starting a hospitality house in NYC and praying the rosary in the chapel, it’s Daniel and Philip Berrigan pouring their blood over and then burning the draft files during the Vietnam war, it’s the Catholic sisters standing up to the Bishops and the Vatican, it’s Oscar Romero preaching in El Salvador, it’s Jay Bakker standing up for queer folks at the cost of his job, it’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu working for peace and healing, it’s radical acts both large and small done in the name of Jesus. And, to me, it’s a much more compelling vision than “no drinking, no swearing, no sex.” It’s something I want to be involved in more than “show up to church, give money to the church, make all your neighbors believe in Jesus.” This is the good news, there is more to life than money and fame and power and privilege and success; there is joy and love, community and friendship, peace and sharing, incarnation and resurrection.