Labels - Part 3

After a busy music season with our Celtic band, I am settling back into some writing ventures. Writing is a tedious and laborious task to master during our stunted Rocky Mountain springs and our diminutive summers. I need my sunshine as much as anyone else: perhaps more so, being a fair-skinned Celt. But, I am encouraged and given consent to be a seasonal writer when I read these words of Nathaniel Hawthorne to his publisher, “I sha’nt have the new story ready by November for I am never good for anything in the literary way till after the first autumnal frost, which has somewhat such an effect on my imagination that is does on the foliage here about me - multiplying and brightening its hues.”  I think what he was getting at was something like…“ I don’t like to sit still and write when it is nice outside.” I have found that it is always helpful to quote a genius when proffering excuses.

I believe that we were talking about labels and my well-nurtured abhorrence of them. I have not yet exhausted the depths of my despising, so on we go. Think of it as writing therapy.

Let’s look at the word, “Christian.”  When I was in college, a very strident non-Christian professor – in fact, a self-proclaimed atheist – was discussing the subject of absolutes and axiomatic philosophy when he asked this question: “So, I would like to hear the opinion of a “good little Christian” on this topic.” He waited…We waited… No one raised their hand. He had stuck a couple of explosive adjectives in front of the word Christian and I was left to micro-process the following thoughts: 1) Was I, in fact, a “good little” Christian? 2) If I raised my hand, would I then be thought of as haughty and self-righteous by the professor and my classmates? 3) If I didn’t raise my hand would Jesus hang His head in shame?  The silence lingered. He then said, “What? There are no “good little” Christians in this class? Okay, (chuckle, chuckle) are there any “bad little” Christians in this class?”  That question wasn’t any less volatile than the first. The silence continued. He then became very agitated. “You are telling me that there are no good little Christians or bad little Christians in this class?”  Evidently, by our silence, the answer was no. (I would like to report one small victory in this otherwise sad tale. When the professor made the statement, “There is no such thing as absolute truth!” I did ask, “Absolutely?”  Cha-ching!) 

I am not sure if the age in which we are living is any more or any less stressful for the word “Christian” than other ages. I can only report the view from the fields as I have experienced them. My report is this: the label Christian carries much baggage by way of association. Whether or not the associations are fair is somewhat immaterial. It is what it is. But, I have a suspicion that some of the baggage has been well earned.

The late Senator Mark Hatfield, “a good little Christian,” once wrote a book about his life in politics entitled, Between A Rock And A Hard Place. The book was, I feel, a rather noble attempt to think through how Jesus would do politics. To say he was vilified by one sector of the Christian community would be quite accurate. His book was a counter-weight to much of the noise and popularity issuing forth from Jerry Falwell, Jim Bakker and Pat Robertson at the time. I do not have the space to parse either side in this essay, but I will make this observation: I live under the label of other people’s representation of what it means to be a Christian. As I move about in the world of ideas and artists and musicians, I find certain assumptions being made about my beliefs and practices because of the attention that has been garnered by media-driven Christianity. The conjecture is made that all Christians must share the same DNA, the same politics, and the same point of view as the notables. To fight through such presuppositions, to earn the right to be speak, to give Jesus a chance to be heard in His own words and by His own actions – this is the true work of ministry…at least this ministry.

© Patrick Crossing 2015