I didn’t want to be Christian. Who would? Everybody that I saw who said they were Christian were jerks. They are rude, self-centered, self-assured. Sometimes they seem like zombies – they just do what they are told by their pastor. They all dress the same and talk the same. They get all twirly-eyed when they talk about their “Savior and Lord”. And worst of all – they read “safe” books and listen to “family-friendly” music.
Even now that I am a Christian, it is kind of embarrassing to admit that I am a follower of Jesus, because there are so many other people who wear the same badge who are flat out rude or crazy. Why would I want to be associated with them?
I don’t, really. I want to follow Jesus. I don’t follow the followers. When I read the New Testament, I’m careful to make sure who said what. The apostle Paul said a lot of really amazing things that help build up the early church, but he also said some pretty judgmental things about anybody who wasn’t a straight male. According to his letters, if you were female, you’d better be quiet in church and subservient to your husband. If you were gay, well, forget it. Pretty much, he excluded anybody who wasn’t him – and that seems to be the trend today. “If you don’t do things my way, you are doing it wrong”, seems to be the way a lot of Christians think.
But Jesus didn’t say anything like that. Jesus said a whole lot about loving (he was for it) and a whole lot about judging (he was against it).
Before I became a Christian, I’d read a lot of books about other faiths. I’d learned a lot about Buddhism, and Sikhism, and Taoism. If it was a world religion, I was there. But then I thought that I was not being fair. If I’m going to give equal time to all these other ways of understanding The Big Questions, then I need to see who this Jesus guy is and what he says.
I decided to give the Episcopal Church a try. My parents had raised me as an Episcopalian but they quit going when I was very young. The service was familiar, if a little confusing. Turns out I’d picked up the service bulletin for the week before in my desire to get there early and settled in. So I had the wrong readings, and the hymns were off, but the rest of the service was straight from the Book of Common Prayer and that was familiar enough. After the service I cornered a priest with this statement – “Buddha is awesome, Gandhi is with the program, and Lao-Tsu also has it figured out.” This was a make-it-or-break-it moment right here. I knew I’d found truth in their teachings. If he dismissed them, then I knew I was done with this foray. So he surprised me. He said “Cool!” with a huge smile. OK, now we were talking. He wasn’t part of a church that acted like it had a monopoly on the Divine.
I then decided to read the Bible. Well, let’s be honest. Very few people can wade through the entire Bible. There are a lot of “begats” that slow most folks down. And there is all that interior decorating micromanagement going on with building the first Temple. So I skipped to the Gospels.
The more I read of the Gospels, the more I wanted to quote from the movie Princess Bride to the folks who said they were Christians but didn’t act like it. “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” They kept saying Jesus, but turning it into a dirty word. Their Jesus was hateful and judgmental. Their Jesus was all about getting a ticket to heaven and you were done. Their Jesus was closed-minded and thoughtless. This wasn’t the Jesus I was discovering. The Jesus I was discovering was about love, and more importantly, showing love through service to others.
What would Jesus do? I’d think he’d be totally down with the idea of having friends from all different religions. And I don’t mean having friends just so he can try to convert them. I think he’d learn how to say “thank you” in a bunch of different languages. I think he’d volunteer at a food bank. I think he’d carry around extra bottles of water so he could give them out to folks he saw. I think he’d encourage people and raise them up.
I think being a Christian is about service. It is about living the life of Jesus. It is about taking up the yoke. Sometimes people need a sandwich, not a sermon. I think “being Christian” means to be Christ in this world – to take up where he left off. Saint Theresa of Avila tells us “Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” Go forth. Be Jesus, and be the nice one. Be the one that heals and feeds and clothes.
(I have now turned off comments for this post, and updated my comment policy in my About section.)