I owe Christians (even though I am one) an apology for how I used to see them. Like all young people, I used to see things as very black and white, and one such way was how I saw people as either Christian or not Christian. There was no real grade of Christian. You could be new, stagnant and stubborn, or open minded; I judged all Christians against the same standard – my standard. I was never blatantly rude, but I’m sure I gave a few disapproving looks without meaning to since my face and thoughts are pretty much linked as one: (person) “You hate it don’t you?” (me) “I didn’t say anything.” (person) “Your face speaks volumes.” (me) “Your face speaks volumes.” (person) “So your face and tongue are equally rude; nice.” I also remember having some very judgemental conversations with close friends against some people at my church… also like a typical teen. Yes, I’ll admit it. I have had to learn a lot about what it means to be a good Christian as I’ve grown up… and I still have a lot more to learn… possibly… who knows? I might just be relearning things I’ve forgotten like when you’re watching a movie and part way through you’re like “I think I’ve seen this before… or have I?”
Before I get into how I’ve learned I should be seeing Christians, let me point something out: Christianity today is very different than Christianity when I was growing up in the 80s and 90s. Today, believers seem to be in survival mode in Canada as everything else seems to be more acceptable than belonging to a Jesus based community. For instance, in many job interviews, you’d be better off saying you’re part of the Pride community than saying you go to church on Sunday, which is vastly different than 20 years ago before Will and Grace helped the Pride community originally become much more universally accepted. In 2003 Ellen was given her talk show, but before that, she lost her sitcom of five years in the 90s and her place in Hollywood after coming out. It’s so different now, I recently had a couple decide not to use me as their officiant because they were so against me using a blessing at the end of their ceremony even though I explained that the prayer balances all the jokes I tell before that. What’s crazy to me is a wedding is a religious ceremony, so if you’re really against God, you should go to city hall and have a party after. To me, they’re like a pastor saying Harry Potter is evil and then riding a broomstick to work… or something like that (for the record, my jokes at weddings are much better than that).
In the 80s, being a Christian was much more acceptable. It wasn’t unusual for people who weren’t believers to respect religion and/or to have visited church or Sunday school a few times… or maybe that’s because I grew up in more of a rural area. In the 80s, it was still uncommon for people to live together before marriage and sex on the first date generally frowned upon. It wasn’t until Friends that cafes and being quick to have sex and/or live with your partner became more the norm. In the Protestant Christian world, at my medium level conservative church, guitars were only for campfires or children’s time until the early 90s, which is also when drums were slowly introduced to the Sunday service. Before that, we had only had pianos and organs (and no sense of rhythm). At my church, weddings weren’t allowed to have dances after until later in the 90s… so maybe we were more conservative than medium level.
Growing up I went through phases where I said I was a Christ follower, but I wasn’t a Christian because I was angry how Christians seemed to be hypocrites and full of judgement. What’s funny is I regularly teach that people accuse others of doing what they are guilty themselves, so why did I accuse Christians of being hypocritical and judgemental? Because I was. As the saying goes, “When you point a finger at someone, three more point back at you.” Not only was I judgemental, I judged Christians harsher than anyone else. I put Christians on a pedestal and expected higher morals and lifestyle from them. Meanwhile, I’d give non Christians a free pass because they were below me, so why would I worry about what they did? Yes, I was judgemental with a side of jerk. What’s crazy, is even today in a world that overall doesn’t value faith, lots of people appear to expect more of Christians like I did. The truth is, however, we’re all people and should be held to the same standard that pushes us toward being kind and caring whether we believe in God or not because a good person is a good person regardless of their faith choice.
The other day I realized an important lesson, if you put Christians on a scale of 0-10 with 0 being non Christian and people who say they’re Christian but have no idea what that means (even some people who grew up in church have no idea what being Christian means; actually, I’ve met pastors who don’t seem to know what that means) with 10 being as Christian as you can be (aka you’re Jesus), saying you’re Christian has many different levels. When I was younger, I was judging people as either a 0, you’re not a Christian, or you’re a 10, so you better be perfect. But that’s stupid because even if you just became a Christian, you don’t suddenly become a 10. You don’t magically change and become a great person. Sure, some people have said when they accepted Jesus as their Savior they suddenly lost their addiction or were healed in some way, but from my experience, when you accept Jesus, your life falls apart because satan tries to mess you up. He’s angry that you choose God, so he’ll do whatever he can to break that connection while it’s still fresh and the person doesn’t have as solid a foundation.
The reality is churches are full of people who are in different phases of their journey. Some people are growing while others are stuck where they have been since they were a child. Some people are at church because it’s routine or they feel forced to be there. What’s scary is, whether you’re Christian or not, what kind of a person is drawn to leadership? Broken people who want to prove something and/or need constant approval/attention and/or want control. It’s like what kind of people go into politics? The great thing about this (there is good in all things), sometimes a broken person goes into church leadership and it helps them grow past their original needs. I know this because that’s what it did for me. Based on my scale, when I started in church leadership I was pretty low. Sure, I went to church every week and read my Bible from beginning to end numerous times before I was 20 while also never swearing or trying alcohol and saving sex until marriage, but they’re superficial. My actions all had their benefits, but I still had to learn what it meant to be Christian. I still needed to learn what it meant to actually love myself and see me in God’s eyes instead of this constant beating myself up for not being perfect, carrying constant guilt and shame for not being good enough, and needing to judge others to feel relief from this (the most judgemental people tend to judge others as a break from being harsh to themselves). It’s like with plants, you can have lots of sun, water, and good soil, but if the seed sucks, nothing very good is going to grow.
**It doesn’t matter how many times you go to church, pray, or read your Bible, if your heart isn’t right, you’re going to suck.
What’s important to note is that the higher a person goes up this Christian scale, the better the person they become. You can’t be a great Christian and not be a great person. Personally, I’d argue it’s impossible to be a great person without being a great Christian (that’ll make some people angry). What is a great person? Someone who lives a life filled with a grateful heart, gentleness, and kindness to a point (aka they’re not a pushover); they have the ability to stand up for themselves in a constructive way that doesn’t cause division or unnecessary hurt as they use questions instead of statements to get their point across. From my experience, you can’t achieve this to a very high level without being connected to God. I’d also point out that there are few Christians who can achieve this and they have God (if I’m going to upset people, I might as well try to upset everyone).
What can a believer do to be better Christians? First, we need to recognize that we are a balance of being God’s precious creation and being as worthless as dust instead of just focusing on one or the other (aka entitled versus depressed). Second, we need to be nicer to themselves, which includes being patient and kind, and to let ourselves feel emotions in healthy ways. This is great because being nicer to ourselves means we won’t need to judge others to feel relief from the judgement we put on ourselves. Third, we need to stop worrying about having answers and focus on having questions. I was once told that Jews love to ask questions while Christians try to have answers. Questions are superior because they increase communication, create community, create safety, and ultimately promote love. Meanwhile, answers create division, destroy safety, and leads to a lot of hurt. It’s prideful and closed off. Questions can be exciting and help people feel like they have something to contribute. As the magnet on my fridge says, “Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.” (Voltaire) A great questioning area to consider is defining heaven and hell based on the Bible and not Greek mythology where there’s a God with a white beard in a city of clouds and angels in white robes while there’s a Hades for the bad souls. For instance, is hell a place of torment or do you simply cease to exist because how can a loving God watch that? A lot of Christians think of the Book of Revelations as the answer, but that’s one confusing book that is pretty much ignored minus the last two chapters. Logically, you can’t dismiss a book for being apocryphal and metaphorical, and then pluck a some passages out and claim them as truth. God wants us to question because that gets us talking about Him and focusing what He wants instead of our own selfish ambitions and anxieties.
This week may you consider what it means to be a great Christian.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)