Lines and Labels

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABreaking news: I’ve discovered yet another line in Christian culture, and now (of course) I must decide which side I am on! Because obviously we can’t all be on the same side, and (of course) whichever side I pick will be Jesus’ side, because, y’know, He always sides with me, and speaks plainly to me about what is His good and perfect will. In addition, He always cares about every facet of Christian culture, because our varying opinions on baptism are totally a significant reason that we cannot possibly work together to feed the destitute. Yada, yada, yada. You get the point.

Sarcasm aside, I did find it slightly ironic when both this and various articles from this website came into my facebook feed on the same day. Disregarding that specific topic (No, this is not another persuasive essay about 50 Shades. You can breath a sigh of relief now.), I feel that that incident points to a bigger disagreement that has been forming in my practices over the last few years. Allow me to clarify. I grew up on Moody radio, rather conservative sermons, Brio magazine, and the purity culture whose effects are being dissected and debated quite a bit of late. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve also come under the influence of another, somewhat more liberal branch of Christian thought. I’ve been a fairly faithful reader of Deeper Story  for several years, I followed Prodigal Magazine back when it was a thing, and, I can’t fail to mention Jamie the very worst missionary. Who knew that actual missionaries could swear? I thought that was, like, pretty much impossible. Granted, I don’t agree with everything I’ve come across on any of those websites, but neither do I agree with everything I’ve heard on Moody, or in sermons, or in purity culture. Yet, I also can’t say that I know exactly where I stand in between these two extremes.

I don’t have a set, writ opinion on feminism, or even necessarily on the gender of God. I refer to Him as masculine because the Bible does, but really I think Johnny Cash captured it best when he coined the title “Father Hen” without attempting explanation. I have friends who’ve courted and dated specifically for marriage, and I have friends who’ve lost their v card, some of whom don’t regret it. I have friends who basically abhor swearing, and never associate with people who curse; I have friends who swear like soldiers. And you know what? They aren’t terrible people any more than we all are. I love both groups just the same. I know folks who’ve marched in the march for life, and I know those who vehemently believe that in many circumstances abortion is the most humane option. I socialize with Christians who drink or smoke and also those from the polar opposite camp. I could go on…

But essentially, I guess this boils down to that I don’t know which side I’m on, and as much as I dislike labels, they are a part of being human. I gain security, and self worth from knowing who I am. Also, I think a crux of all of these issues is how I choose to view grace. The first of the extremes I’m caught between easily morphs into old testament legalism, and the second into a grace happy, sin and you’ll be forgiven existence. Legalism repels me, so often I lean towards the second, but the first somehow comes with me, and I’m seen as quite conservative by my “living in the freedom of New Testament grace” friends. Bottom line? I don’t fit. Which is nothing new. I should be used to this by now. I just wish I could pinpoint where I stand…

*footnote: Camp conservative is having a hard time stomaching the idea of me in dreadlocks (which I plan to get this June). For now my appearance allows me to group hop. Maybe then I’ll be stuck in the one extreme.




Categories: My Life, Ponderings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Lines and Labels

  1. “[M]uch as I dislike labels, they are a part of being human.” True. But when you say that it brings into sharp focus this question: “Is labelling people (and ourselves) part of being like Jesus?” I think about that question now, and the answer I see in the Bible is “No.”

    I think of the gospel narrative, and how we are shown a Jesus constantly forsaking the labellings, categories, and camps of his culture–Pharisee, Saduceee, Herodian, Zealot, Essene–and interacting with people as individual people in their unique walk with God (or personal lack thereof). Jesus didn’t come preaching that people needed to take sides with the Pharisees, or Saducees, or choose between the Herodians or Zealots. He came preaching “Come, follow me,” and that call broke all the lines and labels that people had. And that shattering call of Jesus made the groups and camps furious, because the lines and labels that people constructed gave them “security, and self worth from knowing” to what group they belonged, and it frightened them that Jesus was destroying the very things that gave them security.

    That same Jesus frightens the social and religious groups of today as well.

    It is the way of humans to gain security, and self worth from knowing who we are by the groups we belong to. But the Bible example, the Jesus example, is that we should gain security and self worth from our relationship with God. Yes, that is scary and uncomfortable by the measure of our human nature because it isn’t people validated. You don’t feel secure in your flesh if you don’t have your particular group of people to affirm you and make you feel secure. But as Christians we are called to walk by faith, to walk in fellowship with God, and to find our security and self-worth in our relationship with Him. But walking that path will, I assure you, rob you of every security and self-worth you might get from people groups. That is how Jesus walked and lived, and we are called to walk as Jesus walked. Yes, different Christian groups call you to different camps. They call you to rally to their banner. But should you? Is that what the Bible teaches, and God calls you too?

    I think not. I see the New Testament teaching us that we should live out not some system, camp, or label, but rather calling us to living out our personal, organic, relationship with a living and active God. It is because of what God has done for you, and in you, that should motivate your actions toward the individual people in your life. “I behave in such-and-such a way toward you because of what God has done for me, and in me.”

    I am not suggesting that the Christian walk is the utter subjectivism of fashioning whatever god most suits our taste (the ultimate pitfall of liberal Christianity), but I am saying that a living Christian faith walk comes from a personal fellowship with the living God rather than from a set of rules, labels, or lines (the pitfall of conservative Christianity).

    What it boils down to (I will use a metaphor here) is that rather than deciding which “baseball team” you are going to join, one must realize that the game which the public, cultural, Christianity plays is not one God plays. Following Him means abandoning the game of “baseball” and making art instead. That is a metaphor.

    That doesn’t mean we never talk about books, movies, and their worth. It doesn’t mean we never talk about feminism, abortion, or the nature of God. But if you grasp what I have said so far then you have a glimmer that how we ought to talk about those things may be radically different than either the right or the left says we should–that to rightly talk about such things may require rejecting how those groups frame the conversation.

    But that is a big topic for a different day.

    * Footnote: I am curious, why the choice of June for a new hair style?

    • Mmm. So many good points… As to the June thing, I had figured on getting them in the spring (kinda need my hair to keep me warm for now), but I ended up promising my boss I wouldn’t get them until after his vacation, just in case I get fired. So he can still have his vacation. The (very conservative, Christian (baptist)) storeowner said I would “have to quit” if I did anything too wild and crazy. But the store has a union, and no dreads isn’t in the dress code, so hopefully I can keep my job…

      • Ah. Very thoughtful of you to allow your boss a vacation in peace 😛

        I hope it isn’t an issue that costs your job.

        As someone who has had to carefully read dress codes because of my beard I will say the point of policy someone might use to get you are the terms “comb and neatly trimmed.” That was the general catch phrase I saw to encompass anything that might be considered unacceptable. I could satisfy those requirements, so as much as some people gave me grief over my facial hair (“dirty, nasty” are two words I have heard) I was safe from any formal complaints. However, if similar language is in your company policy, even if the word “dreadlocks” is not, if someone takes offense at you they may try to argue that your hair choice is not trimmed or neatly combed and so you are in violation of company policy, etc.

        It may all come down to how much of a lawyer wrote your company policy, and how much someone wants to cause trouble. Such is life!

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