I grew up in the church. And I mean that almost literally. It wasn’t until I was 30 years old that I ever lived in a house not owned by the church it was located directly next to. So, when I talk about growing up in the shadow of the church, you can know for certain that I know of which I speak.
I’m a Christian. But I didn’t choose Christianity. Well, not at first. Quite decidely, Christianity chose me. I was born to two parents who love the Lord. They are Christians. So quite naturally, they brought me up to know, understand, and embrace the tenets of Christianity. I grew up learning the stories, reciting the Bible verses, attending church services everytime the church doors were open, memorizing Scripture, knowing the answers when asked a question in Sunday school class, eating regularly at “potluck” dinners, singing the hymns of our theology and faith, and all the other varied activities of “church people.” I had a wonderful upbringing and I credit my parents with passing on the Truth about God, sin, heaven, hell, Jesus, forgiveness, and purpose. Some might say, “Poor kid. You were brainwashed.” But I don’t look at it that way at all. I never have. Because I wasn’t.
Like I said, I didn’t choose Christianity. I instead chose to love the God who created me, who knows me, who loves me, and who died in my place so that I can have the ability to choose Him. And I do. I choose God. But not just any God. THE God. The God of the Bible; not the Torah, not the Qu’ran, not the Book of Mormon, not the Vedas, or any other religious book. I don’t choose a religion. I choose a reunion. I choose a reconnection made possible by the gracious gift of Jesus, the only One born who’s birth was significant enough to turn BC into AD. Ask anyone what year it is…then ask why.
So, I become saddened when I start to think that I’m lumped together with religious kooks like the pastor in Florida who thinks he should burn copies of the Qu’ran. The only thing I can find as distasteful is building a mosque at ground zero in NYC. I don’t consider myself a religious person, as ironic as that might sound coming from a pastor. Reverent? Yes. Religious? I don’t think so.
I’m not trying to create a distance between myself and “organized Christianity” (which to me is a contradiction in terms, given its beginning); I’m only trying to clarify what I feel has become increasingly muddy waters when it comes to who a Christian is and who a Christian isn’t. I recently was flipping through all 5 of my television channels and found a short clip of the stand-up comedian George Carlin. He was in the middle of doing a comedy bit on the Ten Commandments whereby he was using his logic to narrow the ten (one-by-one) down to just 2, and then finally to one. Was it funny? No, not really. It was poignant, telling, and jagged with cynicism. While I absolutely defend and respect Mr. Carlin’s right (and yours) to take pot-shots at religion, I most certainly had to laugh at the ignorance shown in his closing statement when he said “Keep thy religion to thyself!” and walked off the stage to an uproarious applause handed over by what must have been an equally ignorant audience.
What Carlin fails to recognize is that “religion” (Christianity as he was referring to) cannot be separated from its engrained mandate to spread, to share, to pass on, to give, and even–dare I say it–evangelize. What Mr. Carlin is requesting is that the people just as free as he is should separate their beliefs from their behavior. In essence, us “religious people” should keep our mouths shut, even though doing so would go against the very instructions of the God we love, follow, and live for. What then? Would we gain his or anyone else’s respect? How could we since we would then lack integrity; believing we should share good news and yet not share it, and saying we believe the Bible and yet not doing what it says. Why would we give hearty approval to Madonna for being true to herself and her beliefs, or Tom Cruise and his lucritive dealings with the Church of Scientology, or Richard Gere for his quiet peace-loving Buddhism, or the Dalai Lama, or Deepak Chopra for cryin’ out loud–and yet spit in the face of any Jesus follower who dares speak of humanity’s need for forgiveness and redemption–including their own? It seems that we need to rethink what we call “tolerance” which seems so en vogue in our time.
The reason for the imbalance is clear. And not suprisingly, Jesus gives it to us in Luke 6:22 (among many other places): “Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.”
While the world and even popular culture at large may equate Christianity with “Churchianity” and therefore full of religious nut-jobs who need to be dismissed as lunatics, I stand firmly on my decision to follow Jesus…no matter what.