So, that is a perplexing title.
On Being “Too Christian” and Yet, “Not Christian Enough.”
For a number of years now, I have been musing over the topic of “Authentic Christianity vs Being Culturally Christian.” In part, this was due to being exposed to both in others as well as myself.
Ultimately, I am thankful for my experiences. Even the difficult times have taught me so very much. And so, out of all of that, I am often left asking whether or not the Church is Christian enough.
You see, I am convinced that the story of Jesus, the narrative scope of the Bible, and all of the creeds we have established have an inherent de-stabilizing nature to them. They cannot help but de-center us, to shock us, to cause us disorientation in the proper ways that are most needed. But often the faith become a means of solidifying ones views or framework rather than cause us to disassemble and reassemble our relations to the world around us.
Perhaps this is what I mean… Sometimes the church is too “Christian.” I absolutely believe the Church can become a place that values the externals of a religion more than the inner transformative teachings. The clothes, the vocabulary, the liturgy, the music, and so forth can become the ways to discern if someone is “one of us.” But the fact is that the vocabulary, the liturgy, the music, the sermonizing is merely the technology (Thank you, Pete Rollins) by which the church communicates and exposes people to its transformative teachings of Jesus.
And so, some churches are “not Christian enough” in that they have become too stable, too safe, too comfortable for us and as a result allow us to stay at an arms reach away from the real ethical implications of following Jesus.
Truly, religion is one of the safest places to hide from God.
All this goes to say…
I think there is a deeper and more beautiful Christianity than organized religion can handle.
One thing I have noticed in the past two years is that audiences tend to need a certain quota of Christian vocabulary in order to think you are still talking about Christian things. This tells me that we have large numbers of people in our pews that know the Christian lingo but not how to think “Christianly”.
So, I wrote a parable. In fact, I have been writing a lot of them. This one is called, “The Elephant Shaman.”
In the heart of Africa, there was an explorer trying to improve maps of the local area. There were whole sections that were left relatively blank, and so sought to go there first. Day one was good, day two he found some footprints, but on day three he found a village that was completely unknown and untouched by the modern world. To his surprise, the whole village came up to him and showered him with warmth and hospitality. When he asked them why they were being so kind to him, they replied, “We are people of the elephant. Our religion teaches us to stand with integrity and power for the good things in life. We are taught to welcome outsiders as long lost family, and we always circle around the vulnerable and protect just like any loving family should. Come, you must meet our shaman, our priest.”
And so they brought him to the home of their shaman. The entire outside was painted and decorated with elephants of all shapes and sizes. Upon entering, he found the whole abode to be full of elephant statues and tapestries. Little figurines and rugs in the process of being made could be found near a workbench. Then, the shaman appeared from a back room, bid the townspeople their leave and sat down in front of the explorer.
Over the next few moments, the explorer realized that the shaman was incredibly unkind. Just downright rude. He never offered the explorer a place to sit, something to drink, and instead just ate his own dinner right in front of the man.
Confounded, the explorer asked, “Are you the elephant shaman? Don’t you people value hospitality, protecting the weak, and creating family ties with those who are not blood family?”
The shaman stared back expressionless. At this, the explorer left the elephant shaman’s home.
The townspeople were shocked to see the explorer in such an unhappy mood. He voiced his thoughts, “Your shaman is incredibly rude, and clearly is not one to be leading your people in the way of the elephant. He knows nothing of those teachings. He is less of a shaman and more of a charlatan.” At this, the townspeople replied, “Oh no, traveller, you are mistaken. He isn’t unkind, he has many elephants in his home, he has filled his life with them. He spins us rugs of elephants, and paints his home in them. He clearly is a man of the elephant.”
Jesus also spoke of this type of charlatan in Luke 18:9-14,
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner. “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
The mark of a Christian is not how many Christian symbols they have in their lives. These can be symbols such as jewelry, art, ritual and even audible symbols such as vocabulary. The only thing that truly matters is if they are the presence of Christ in the world, if they carry the aroma of the Divine, if they are the image or likeness of the Messiah present in everyday activities.
That being said, I care very little if you use Christian lingo. In fact, I get nervous when I hear too much of it coming from someone. Every one of us have the ability to be like the shaman, to fill our lives with the whole spectrum or types of religious symbols and completely miss the spirit of it all. Let your symbols point you in the right direction, and not be your identity.
And how can I say this?
Because it is entirely possible to be “too Christian” in the ways that don’t matter and yet “not Christian enough” in the ways that do.