Monday, January 21, 2008

Forgive me if this is a little sprawling and disjointed. It's been on my mind for awhile.

It's cliche to say that, as Christians (and worst of all, those Evangelical, American, Westernized Christians -- take a drink whenever a criticism of said Christians takes place without defining any of those adjectives) have our priorities unbalanced and tend to make Jesus in our own image. We get a lot wrong, and we're reminded of it daily. I can listen to the radio station I work at and the pastors and speakers on there will let us know in no uncertain terms what it wrong with all of us. The irony that each of them will tell us something different and occasionally contradictory is not lost on me.

So with that in mind, I had an example that I can't escape, and I wanted to zero in on my own life as an example without sounding too narcissistic.

Barring notable exceptions, we don't suffer for our faith - and we act like like this is the ideal way to live. We avoid suffering. I avoid suffering. Not in a masochistic way of one with a martyr complex would, but in a way that is inevitable.

For example, I live in the suburbs of a wonderful city and drive an Interstate 10 minutes to work in another suburb that is even less dangerous than this one (and I supposedly live in a "rough" 'burb). My church is 20 minutes away (same interstate, different direction) in what was the outskirts of the Metropolitan area just 10 years ago. You can see the cemetery and farm houses right next to the megachurch and tract housing - both standing firm in their attempts to remind people of what was once there. I can walk to the grocery store; I can even walk to one a little further away at 3am if I wanted to and nothing would happen to me. I can drive 20-30 miles in every direction and be covered in upper/middle class city. There will be a Target, Wal-Mart, Cub Foods, Super America, or Best Buy at every turn. I will be able to afford something at every one of them; I could probably buy a lot if I wanted to. Even if I couldn't afford it out of pocket, I could get someone at those stores to look at my credit and give me a decent rate on those things. If statistics dictate, I'll marry and have kids who will also see this kind of living as perfectly normal.

But it's not normal. It hasn't been for most of humanity for the past 2000 years since Christ was born - and it certainly wasn't before that. A world of desperate need where disabled people move by dragging themselves on the ground on a piece of cardboard and a stick is a plane ticket away. The poorest county in America is not even a three hour drive from where I grew up. I'm 10 minutes from the teenage pregnancy and AIDS capitol of the country.

For someone growing up with so much, we can easily lose sight of how much this culture throws itself at us, and how much as Christians we have bought into it. While we have a great country, I think we unquestionably buy into the belief that we are "endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." That may work for arguing against a domineering empire, but I think we Christians in America (and elsewhere no doubt -- I get Christian TV from around the world) tend to think that liberty and the pursuit of happiness are our rights. Somehow we are deserving of them.

My problem is this: our lives are not our own. Christ never promised us that happiness would follow our lives around. I know I'm guilty of a mentality that says I am to deny myself in one breath and then act as if seeking my own happiness is sanctioned by The Lord. Not that happiness is bad, but since we live in a country where this mentality is a cornerstone, we as Christians need to be constantly aware of what our culture and world calls success.

But what if what Christians in America need the most is the antithesis of our definition of success? I love our President (both out of desire and duty, and both political aisles are guilty of this so don't gloat too much!) but his plan for the recent downturn in the economy is to give people more money to buy more stuff. It was the plan after 9/11 made much of the markets shaky. The economy may be saved, but what does it say about our country if we think we need to consume more unnecessary materials to save ourselves? Doesn't that fly in the face of our faith?

I don't want to romanticize those who suffer and those who have poverty as a way of life. They're just as guilty as the rest of us - and history tells us that greed and covetousness know no income bracket. However, when Christ said to deny ourselves - am I doing this? Can I call this life overloaded with stuff denial? If I were unsure of where my next meal was, would I still call myself a follower? I was out of full-time work for 19 months and I was angry with God. I was homeless for a night and I was scared. As Christians in America, could we handle drought, economic crashes, persecution, and poverty with the same pretense of contentment we have now?

Again, sorry for the long, rambling, occasionally navel-gazing tone this has taken. Honestly, there are two competing thoughts in here -- or at least two main thoughts competing for dominance. I may flesh out some of it in the future, we'll see.


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