Don’t let the title of this post fool you. If you’re thrown off by this image and the title then chances are you have never heard of the show from the early 2000s based on the life of comedian Chris Rock as a teenager. The show was entitled “Everybody Hates Chris” and chronicled the awkward misadventures of young Chris as he navigated the challenges of growing up and trying to find his place in the world. Well-intentioned, but prone to making mistakes, Chris often found himself in a mess of his own making. But as he matured he learned from his mistakes and grew to be a very insightful person.
I was inspired to parody the title–which is an obvious parody of Everybody Loves Raymond–because recently I’ve had several conversations with people about their frustrations with Christianity that eerily sounded like parents who are frustrated with their teens. Having found myself frustrated as well at times, I began explaining to people how I have chosen to see Christianity as a relative young religion in the grand scheme of things and that as a Body, we are still maturing and have not yet lived up to our full potential. I know that some of my fellow Christians wouldn’t like hearing this, but when you look at how long we’ve been around in relation to eternity, one has to admit that we are pretty young. I don’t know if this helps others, but when I frame it this way, I am more capable of understanding why so many of us still struggle with “elementary principles” as the author of Hebrews says.
Some of the complaints I hear about Christians is our seeming inability to practice what we preach. People think–and I have thought–that after 2000 years we should have ushered in a heavenly kingdom by now filled with people as awesome as Jesus all loving and forgiving and blessing the world. I now realize that that logic makes no sense. For one thing, it’s not like “Christian” is a single entity that has had two millennia to mature and is just slow to learn. What we’re really talking about is 2000 years of individuals collectivizing and trying to establish a standard of being in the world that pretty much runs contrary to our very instincts as humans who tend to focus on our own or our group’s survival and well-being. No wonder it is so hard.
Here’s an example of what I mean. I once had someone tell me that they didn’t appreciate me talking about forgiveness so much in church. They told me that they preferred much more the message in the Bible of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” because they were not in the business of forgiving the people who harmed them. This person had been in the church longer than I had been alive and somehow they never heard the sayings attributed to Jesus such as:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you…”
There was a time when that person’s comment would have annoyed me, because I felt like they should have learned this in Sunday school. But now I don’t hold this against Christians who lean this way. That person was just riding the wave of their survival instincts like so many of us. That’s why I do my best to put everything I encounter into its proper context. And let’s face it, in the American context that person’s opinion is quite normal in terms of Christian attitudes toward those with whom we disagree–even the most liberal among us. It is just the way it is; because it’s human. Another time I had a Christian brother write me an angry letter when I posted something online about my preference to work on myself before telling others about themselves. In other words, I try not to judge people knowing that I am still being worked on. My inspiration for this concept was drawn from Matthew 7 which says:
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
In response, this brother called me a “prophet of the wishy-washy gospel” and predicted that because I was so weak to say this that one day someone might do harm to my family and he just wanted me to stand there and not judge like the coward that he thought I was. Pretty rough stuff huh? And you know, he was right for a while, because when I read his message I felt a desire to be like my “eye for an eye” friend and wanted to judge the brother. But thankfully, I had the time to get past it and let his comment go. Am I a master at this? No. And that’s why I don’t judge much. I’m too busy pulling planks out of my own eyes to count the specks in other people’s.
Plank-pulling is enough work for a lifetime and I think that’s why even people who know that these teachings come from the Christian tradition don’t want to hear them. Why? Because they are inconvenient and they always point our fingers back at ourselves. It’s really uncomfortable. So what do we do? We try to get the discomfort off of us by finding someone else to project it onto. We look for someone to hate. And it doesn’t matter if that person we hate is a so called “insider” or “outsider”. All we know is that anyone who threatens our mental, physical, or psychological comfort is the enemy. Forget about the fact that those of us who claim Christ are supposed to love our enemies and pray for them. And so many of us find ourselves living in a perpetual state of hypocrisy which leads to us being hated.
Yes. Hate might be a strong word in some places, but I’ve seen a number of polls about people’s perception of Christians and religious folk in general and I’ll tell you that hypocritical and judgmental comes up a lot to describe us. Surprisingly, Jesus still seems very much appreciated by the churched and the unchurched alike and he is even respected by many other religions that make various claims on him as well. But his professed followers? Well let’s just say that generally speaking we are considered annoying at best. Even Christians are annoyed with other Christians and many of us don’t even want to openly share that aspect of our identity for fear of being thought of as one of “those Christians”–whatever that means to us. For one thing, there are so many varieties of us–many of which would deny that the other is a “real Christian”–that for people looking in from the outside we look like we’re all kinds of confused. Hence why I say that collectively we are comparable to many teenagers still trying to figure ourselves out.
The question is, is this a bad thing? I used to think so, but I’m starting to think differently. I say this partially because I think that we are finally starting to get the whole humble thing down. Speaking in terms of the Church as a teenager, I think after being accepted by the status quo back in the Roman Empire days, the religion got a little cocky. As any high school movie will teach you, being popular is often the enemy of progress and I think that is what happened to Christianity in many ways. But now that we are losing favor in a lot of places and are being seen as irrelevant to many people, we are starting to come around like the former nerd turned cool kid who realizes that they weren’t as accepted by the cool kids as they thought they were a la films like “Can’t Buy Me Love” from the 80s. As a result of our being humbled, I think that we are really looking more to how we can serve the world rather than the old paradigm of trying to conquer it. At least that’s my hope anyway. But obviously only time will tell. In the meantime, I will just speak for me.
I love the Way of Jesus as I understand it. And, I want to live it. Not because I am afraid that if I don’t he is going to destroy my soul, but because he is the Way Love Is. Even when I tried to get away from the church, I could not get away from that desire to know that Love he professes. Now that I am back in the Church, I see every single person in it–even the ones who would call me enemy or not a “real Christian”–as part of the same Body I am a part of. I chalk us not understanding each other up to matters of maturity and having different functions in the Body. This is something I hold myself accountable to. Others must work out their own salvation as it says in Philippians 2:12. But I do believe that one day we will see and when we do we will serve the world in Unity, Humility, and Love. And even if it’s 10,000 years from now that we reach our full maturity, I believe it will be worth the wait.
For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.For in fact the body is not one member but many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”
If the way I express this doesn’t sit right with you, perhaps Derek Minor’s expression will. Though I suspect we’re from different parts of the body I love this song called Dear Mr. Christian which addresses some of what I’m saying.