Sunday Thoughts

by

by Al Sturgeon
(published every Sunday in “Desperate Houseflies”)

GIMME THAT OLD-TIME RELIGION

I feel I should say in my first religion column that I consider myself a Christian, but I’m afraid I’ll have to do much better than that.

Let me begin by saying that language matters. I know that sounds trite, and almost ridiculous coming from me. (I write. I live in Mississippi. I’m not Faulkner.) Language matters, nonetheless, and the meaning of words morph over time. At present, I have issues with the word, “Christian.”

Oh, I think it’s a fine word. Used only twice in the New Testament, it seemed to originate as an identifying term used by outsiders to describe that odd, diverse band of counter-cultural boys and girls who followed and (more importantly to me) imitated the man they called Christ.

That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. The name “Christian” is now more an insider word, and the tendency to act like Christ is no longer a given. (Okay, that’s a bit bold, but stay with me…)

I have a friend who is an atheist. Well, I think technically she’s agnostic, but either way her money’s on the table for No God. We respect one another on certain grounds, and our relationship is comfortable enough that she sends me emails that portray Christianity in less-than-favorable lights; not as an insult to me, but as something at which we can both cry. Recently, she sent me a “Christian” test that is administered online. It asks if you agree with concepts such as whether the federal government should require high school seniors to pass a national exit exam, and whether the best income tax system is a flat tax system. According to the test administrators, there are right and wrong answers to these questions. Should you fail to get them right the first time, out of the goodness of their hearts they offer and encourage weekend retreats where they can teach you the right answers. Thanks a lot.

Now I know there are always wacko groups out there on the fringe. This is not a fringe group (wacko depends on your vantage point). This is a popular evangelical group featuring the most well-known Christian speakers in America.

My friend’s husband (as you might suspect, not a Christian either) noted after looking at the economic section of the test, “Didn’t Jesus say something about it being hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom?”

Which is my point exactly. Being a Christian today doesn’t seem to be preoccupied with literally acting like it’s namesake. Instead, being a Christian at present (in my opinion) looks a lot less like Jesus, and a lot more like a Pharisee.

Now I know this all sounds self-righteous, and for that I apologize. It would take you two seconds to discover my life doesn’t look a whole lot like Jesus’s either (as would the lives of the early Christians, too). All I’m saying is that I’m not satisfied with that difference.

The thought has crossed my mind recently that there have been a couple of times in my life when I have felt more like I was doing right by the moniker: one was when my wife and I served as houseparents for abused, neglected, and troubled teens (it felt that way all the time then); the other coming here and there working with Habitat for Humanity.

As a preacher of God’s grace, I’ve worried that these feelings are too works-focused. Merit-based salvation. Instead, I think those times hit home with me because I found myself acting more like Jesus then than any other time – which seems to be the whole point of discipleship in the first place. Being a Christian old school.

Yes, the language seems to have changed over time, but I say give me that old-time definition of the Christian religion. That’s good enough for me.

Note: You are more than free to offer comments, questions, or suggestions.

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5 Responses to “Sunday Thoughts”

  1. Steve Says:

    i think when people label themselves as christians we should acknoledge it. when people labeled as christians don’t act like christians we should cry over it. we should strive to be the ones who make the difference in the positive direction. don’t make excuses for the bad behavior, but we redeem it: redemption in grace and sorrow, and conscious redemption by letting my actions be the example. (aw, this comment probably makes no sense–i’m trying to communicate jumbled feelings in my heart)

    Al–this is been the best week ever of the houseflies, thanks.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Good stuff, Al.

    Though I hope you will in the near future, you didn’t touch on the infighting so common amongst denominationalized (i.e. fragmented) Christianity. Required reading for that topic: Brian McLaren’s “A Generous Orthodoxy.”

    — TA

  3. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Thanks. I hope to do that (and read that), too. We’ll see where it goes.

    I had a different article in mind first, but I thought I’d better begin by explaining a bit of what I mean by saying “Christian.” In a blog opened to the world, I needed to explain my perspective first – saying I’m writing from a Christian perspective I’m afraid doesn’t communicate exactly what I want to communicate anymore.

  4. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Refreshing thoughts, Al. It’s damnably rare to hear a Christian express self-doubt these days. In fact, that’s the most salient feature of contemporary Christianity, IMHO: its hateful smugness.

    Baptists and Methodists and Lutherans and Campbellites and Pentecostals may be wildly different in many details, but, to paraphrase the old church camp song, we know they are Christians by their smug.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Smug hits it about right.

    Especially after the electile dysfunction of last November.

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