Man oh man, life is busy these days. My kayak is calling me and I don’t even have time to take it out.
The garage is a mess, the grass is ready to be cut, the garden shed still needs doors. Landscapers landed on site this week to re-grade the lawn and create a front walk, so obviously that excavator in front of the house needs my supervision.
Plus Cheryl and I are now double-vaccinated so we have an extensive list of family to hug and catch up with. Already we have a couple of grand-daughters visiting for the week and more family are scheduled for the weekend.
The good news is I haven’t had time to construct a long rambling blog. The bad news is I have written one anyway.
Something has been on my mind lately: things christians say. Frequently we say good, helpful things but occasionally we say bad, thoughtless things. Here are my first jottings.
“It’s not Xmas”
As letters of the alphabet go, most of us don’t like ‘X’. I get it, I really do: X is a disapproving and negative letter. When I was in school I learned the hard way that an assignment with a √ was better than the usual X. That was further re-enforced when I watched The Family Feud where a wrong answer would bring a loud, dissonant buzzer and a panicked X flashing on the screen.
So it makes sense that christians react negatively when they see ‘Xmas’ used here and there during Christmas season. Except, well … the letter X is the first letter in the Greek word Χριστός, which translates to Christos … Christ. For hundreds (likely thousands) of years, X has been used by believers to quickly or secretly express the things of Christ.
In one sense it’s okay if you hate on a letter of the alphabet but I wanted to be sure you were aware of the historic origins. We can be uptight about the use of Xmas but it’s unlikely Jesus is.
“We need God back in our schools”
I don’t know what that means.
Honestly, I can’t imagine that God abandons our children just because they walk into a school.
However if that sentence means mandating a teacher – christian or non-christian – to teach rote religious lessons to students, then no thanks. I’ll take a hard pass on that because we already have too many religious zealots/crazies telling others what to think.
I’m much more interested in christians teaching their own children about God through the beauty and service of their lives. That way, our children can be contagiously godly even when they are in a ‘godless’ school.
And just to be clear, God is everywhere. There is no place where God isn’t present because, you know … he’s God.
“God is on our side”
Christians have long assumed that God is on their side. Most christians accept that they are loved by God but some claim the extra distinction that God favours them over non-christians. From athletes to actors, from pastors to politicians, there are christians who claim God gives them extra protection or paves the way for their success.
That’s all well and good I suppose, but keep in mind this is not an either/or thing. God might be for us but that doesn’t mean he’s against them.
God is for you but not exclusively on your side – there is too much love that still needs to be spread around. Christians are to be people who surrender themselves, not elevate themselves, so they can be free to serve God and care for others.
“We’re a Bible-believing church”
Ever see a church proudly advertising itself as “Bible-believing”? Why is that the particular thing they want us to know about them?¹ Look, if a church has to announce they are Bible-believing, that is code for, “Trust us to tell you exactly what the Bible says about everything”.
I don’t want to complicate matters (yes I do) but lots of Bible-believing churches disagree with each other and use the Bible as proof for their ideas. As it turns out, people have used the Bible to justify pretty much everything: slavery/freedom, capitalism/socialism, war/peace, patriarchy/feminism, etc, etc, plus about a billion theological arguments.
However the Bible isn’t as restrictive or simplistic as they make it out to be. It is full of possibilities that can’t be easily defined, reigned in, or squeezed into a doctrine. It was written to share wisdom, to speak to our humanness, to explore the wonders of God with us. You can’t box that up.
Let’s admit it, there are parts of the Bible that are really hard to believe, prove, or even make sense of. Bible-believing is a restrictive idea but living biblically is something much more worthwhile.
“I’ll pray for you”
Sometimes christians feel unspoken pressure to say things. “I’ll pray for you” is a phrase we throw out easily to people who are hurting but what does it even mean? Is it a thought, a whisper, 5 seconds, 5 minutes? Will it be topical or general? And will we even remember to do it?
If someone asks for prayer then by all means do so but in the real world, proclaiming your intentions often makes people uncomfortable. It’s always best to say too little when you’re trying to be a comfort to someone. Don’t give easy answers or empty promises. It is more important to ‘be there’.
If you must say something, offer practical, physical support. Perhaps you could say something like, ‘What can I do to help?’ A questions like that is proactive, affirming, and non-intrusive.
The trouble they’re going through is not about you, so simply do the humble, inner work of loving them. If you sincerely care about the person and if you truly believe in prayer, then you will pray for them without having to share it.
“Everything happens for a reason”
Well, it’s complicated.
In one sense, most of us have never experienced the injustice of unrelenting poverty, starvation, slavery, imprisonment, war, or heart-breaking loss. Would those words make sense to a starving orphan in Yemen whose father, mother, and siblings died because of a war they had nothing to do with?
When we glibly say that to someone, it suggests there is a straight line between cause and effect, as if there is a formula or a karma to everything. ‘You don’t know it now but someday you’ll understand’. But it’s not that simple and those words minimize the pain a person is feeling now.
That sentence suggests that God is okay with conflict, disease, bankruptcy, disaster, and death in order to turn around and prevent other disease, conflict, bankruptcy, disaster, and death. That doesn’t sound productive.
Evil is rampant and relentless, and christianity doesn’t provide easy formulas as to why bad things happen. Instead we’re taught that our hardships break God’s heart precisely because they are senseless.
Does God create good circumstances from bad ones? Yes, that is what hope and faith are about but God doesn’t participate in the bad. The message of the Cross is that God walks with us in our pain and that God’s love will eventually heal and renew.
That’s an important distinction.
“What church do you go to?”
I mean, there are times when that question has a worthwhile purpose, but mostly it doesn’t. Those are words we use to assess and measure a person’s beliefs but they say little about how they’re doing or where they are in their journey.
Christians come in all shapes and sizes and so do their churches. In fact, lots of christians don’t even go to church. I know, I know, many of you disagree – I’ve heard the desperate arguments, seen the caustic memes, read the pithy Facebook posts – and they are not convincing.
Lots of christians don’t go to church. No, I’m not encouraging you to leave your church, we all need food and community; it’s just that church is not an important indicator of spiritual health.
Anyway, if you don’t know a person well enough to know where they attend, then you don’t know them well enough to be concerned about it.
“Brian, you say the stupidest things”
Yes. And so do many christians. Often we repeat things with no thought to depth or sensitivity, and we are almost always our own worst enemy.
You may not agree with everything in this post but my reminder is that christians should be thoughtful and helpful as we journey with others.
It might require effort, but so does everything in life that matters.
The tongue of the wise makes knowledge appealing,
but the mouth of a fool belches out foolishness. – Proverbs 15:2, NLT
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¹ My guess is either: A) it’s a marketing phrase that hooks new people who agree with them, or B) it’s a badge of honour as they defend their superior brand of faith.