So anyway, the top six critiques aimed at Christians are as follows: they’re judgmental, hypocritical, sheltered, antihomosexual, too political, & proselytizers.

Whether or not the research/polls reflect actual experiences Christians have had with non-Christians (or vice versa), these findings constitute the need for some important conversation.  Reality or mere perception, the fact of the matter is that something underneath all of this is shaping the perspective of our culture as it views the Christian (sub-culture?).  Some form of Christian externalization (i.e., Christian-expression) is giving way to objectification (fixed beliefs/systems/structures), such that ALL of us (Christian or no) smile and nod (frown?!) knowingly at the one-dimensional “Christian” taking stage.  (It must be said: that Christian isn’t exactly lauded amongst either saints or sinners.)  Something seems to have gone awry …

I think one of the most important questions raised during last night’s lecture was addressed to Christians in the room: how do you (intentionally or unintentionally) reinforce such common (mis)perceptions?  (Implicit here: how do you wish to be known?  How are you working for/against that?)

Also thought-provoking: what are the unique challenges & opportunities associated with these reigning perceptions (about “the Christian”)?

As I pondered these questions, I settled on three different “ways of being” I think Christians ought to further explore.  They involve our approach to: our language (how might we encourage & host the most important questions about our faith?), our proximity (how might we be more present — or more meaningful in our presence — in spaces not yet transformed by God’s redemption?), and our fear (how might we release concerns about our own [spiritual, physical, emotional] safety & well-being in order to follow Christ in faith and obedience?)

Our approach to all of the above feels tenuous to me.  Pitfalls, I suppose, exist at every turn.  (Beyond that, isn’t such arbitrary analysis [such as I’ve undertaken here] wrong-headed from the start?  Who ever thinks she’s become that [judgmental, hypocritical, sheltered, antihomosexual, critical, oober-evangelistic] Christian?!  Better to simply get on with the business of being who God’s called you to be, no matter the perceptions?  After all, it may be only your pride pushing you to be a Christian of the other kind.)

I dunno.  (Much.)

But I do know I tried (just a little more) to be (just a little less) “Christian” when tonite over dinner I found myself in discussion about homosexuality & politically incorrect humor.  Waving back the cigarette smoke, I sat and wondered at the grace that made Jesus the unlikely (unChristian) hero of the one & only Christian story.  May that Jesus be born in me.

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The truth of Christianity is not like the universal truths of reason.  The cradle of Christian faith is a story rather than a system.  Though the Bible includes many literary genres, what holds it together is a narrative unity: the story of what God is doing in the world through Israel, through Jesus Christ, through the church.

Kevin Vanhoozer, “Pilgrim’s Digress:Christian Thinking on and about the Post/Modern Way” from Christianity and the Postmodern Turn

This was the headline (or something like it) that came to mind as I took part in a classroom exercise yesterday–charting spaces in my life/relationships as either “public, social, personal, or intimate.”  (Categories derived from Joseph Myers helpful book, The Search to Belong.)

In spite of my own self-conscience commentary along the way, it was a great exercise … and gave me permission to think about cultivating spaces for a wide array of contexts and friendships.  (A luxury that–dare I say?–few Christians seem willing to allow for.  Though I’ve long held that following Jesus should not have to involve abandoning normalcy in all social relations.)  But now I rant.

The point is: great exercise.  Worth my time (maybe yours?) and probably even deserving a bit more consideration in the days ahead.  The same may be said for a few other elements of Allelon’s Summer Institute, a five-day course I completed today.  (Yes, I said five days.  Talk about some serious brain-drain … even after allowing myself a game of hookie.  How did I ever swing grad-school?!)

I’m looking forward to more time to process in the days ahead–maybe even a corollary blog-post or two.

Most Western Christians–and most Western non-Christians, for that matter–in fact suppose that Christianity was committed to at least a soft version of Plato’s [philosophy] … A massive assumption has been made in Western Christianity that the purpose of being a Christian is simply, or at least mainly, to “go to heaven when you die,” and texts that don’t say that but that mention heaven are read as if they did say it, and texts that say the opposite … are simply screened out as if they didn’t exist.  The results are all around us in the Western church and worldviews that Western Christianity has generated … I have heard it seriously argued in North America that since God intends to destroy the present space-time universe, and moreover since he intends to do so quite soon now, it really doesn’t matter whether we emit twice as many greenhouse gases as we do now, whether we destroy the rain forests and the arctic tundra, whether we fill our skies with acid rain.

–NT Wright, Surprised by Hope

Part of the problem in our contemporary debates about asylum seekers or about the Middle East is that our politicians still want to present us with the dream of progress, the steady forward advance of the golden dream of freedom; and when the tide of human misery washes up on our beaches or when people in cultures very different from our own seem not to want the kind of freedom we had in mind, it is not just socially but ideologically untidy and inconvenient.  It reminds politicians that there is a gap in their thinking.  The world is in fact still a sad and wicked place, not a happy upward progress toward the light.

–N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope

Postscript: I deeply appreciated Obama’s candor and vulnerability in taking political discourse to a different arena during his speech, A More Perfect Union.  I listened to it a few weeks ago and did not regret it.

 

At the risk of gross oversimplification, we suggest that there are two quite different ways of looking at the future of the world … The first position is the myth of progress.  Many people, particularly politicians and secular commentators in the press and elsewhere, still live by this myth, appeal to it, and encourage us to believe it.  Indeed (if I may digress for a moment), the demise of serious political discourse today consists not least in this, that the politicians are still trying to whip up enthusiasm for their versions of this myth–it’s the only discourse they know, poor things–while the rest of us have moved on … That is why the relentlessly modernist and progressivist projects that the politicians feel obliged to offer us (“vote for us and things will get better!”) have to be dressed up with the relentlessly postmodernist techniques of spin and hype: in the absence of real hope, all that is left is feelings.

–NT Wright, Surprised by Hope

SECOND NAZARENE
  There is also the miracle of the daughter of Jairus.
FIRST NAZARENE
  Yea, that is sure. No man can gainsay it.
HERODIAS
  Those men are mad. They have looked too long on the moon. Command them to be silent.
HEROD
  What is this miracle of the daughter of Jairus?
FIRST NAZARENE
  The daughter of Jairus was dead. This Man raised her from the dead.
HEROD
  How! He raises people from the dead?
FIRST NAZARENE
  Yea, sire; He raiseth the dead.
HEROD
  I do not wish Him to do that. I forbid Him to do that. I suffer no man to raise the dead. This Man must be found and told that I forbid Him to raise the dead. Where is this Man at present?
SECOND NAZARENE
  He is in every place, my lord, but it is hard to find Him.

–Oscar Wilde, Solome, as sited in NT Wright’s Surprised by Hope