For and Against
Sitting in the corner of a crowded cafe watching a variety of colourful people laughing and chatting with one another, eating, drinking and reading magazines, I find myself wondering: what is their opinion of Christians, these so-called citizens of the 'post-Christian' world? What do people who are not Christians think of us? Who do they think we are?
I consider doing a spot of research, a small survey. What if I asked the approaching waitress a leading question? I screw up my courage. "Karma", (yes that really is her name) "What things do you think are important to Christian people? What do Christians stand for?" She blinks at me, long dark hair falling over her face. "I dunno", she says. A friendly girl, she wants to be helpful. Screwing up her face she thinks hard. "Nope. I can think of things they don't like. But I don't know what they do like. Sorry." She smiles and turns away. So . . . I am left wondering, what are the things we don't like then?
As it turns out, some answers to this question are revealed in various newspapers over the following two weeks. There are the letters to the editor of Wellington's community newspaper from Christians upset about talk of a possible law change which may prevent them from punishing their children by smacking.
A colourful story on the front page of the Evening Post tells how some Kapiti Coast Christians withdrew their children from the end of year production of the local modern dance school because of its Harry Potter theme. They were worried that their children would be "encouraged into sorcery, witchery and black magic". (Of interest was the parent who "didn't want to comment when contacted by the Evening Post . . . because he said Christians always ended up looking like 'dicks' in such situations".)1
The following week there are four letters in the Evening Post under the heading "There'll be plenty of room in Heaven" which are responding to the (previously published) letters of Christians condemning homosexuality. On the same page is a letter from a Christian woman saying "I hate Halloween. As a Christian the emphasis on witches, evil spirits and ghosts deeply concerns me."2
Whether or not the complaints of these Christians are valid isn't the point here. The point is that the emphasis is squarely on what Christians are against rather than on what we are 'for'.
It is human nature to put things in boxes; to classify: "This type of person (or activity) is good, this is bad". Christians are no exception. We see things in the world which are wrong and we want them put right. But protesting against the evils of the surrounding culture in a Christian manner is not easy. How did Jesus respond in similar circumstances?
Jesus was born into a devout society which had been invaded by heathen Romans. Many of us watching precious values slip into obscurity feel that our world also has been invaded. We fight to maintain the old standards. That is not wrong per se, what is important though is how we pursue the fight.
Jesus did not rail against the Roman culture. He did not become a Zealot in order to depose the Romans. Instead he called upon his own people to purify their hearts, to go the second mile, to offer the other cheek. In a 'them' and 'us' world Jesus encouraged hislisteners to focus on changing themselves, rather than calling on their oppressors for change.
Incidentally, it is interesting to note that the devout people of his day did not see Jesus as 'one of us', but as someone who was wrong and needed to be corrected. He ate with the wrong people3, he healed people on the wrong day,4 he didn't see to it that his disciples kept the fasts which others thought they should keep.5 A warning to us, perhaps, to ensure that in our piety we are fighting for the right things.
At Christmas we take the time to remember that God wants to communicate with his world - not just with Christians or Jews but with all the people he has made. He wants us to know what he is like. His sending of Jesus is an expression of his solidarity with us. God is 'for' us and if we are for God, then we have a major task before us: to show the world what God is like and what he stands for.
It is always easier to point out what is wrong than it is to exemplify what is right - but living out what is right is the narrow path Jesus invites us to walk with him. What are we for? We're for love, joy and peace. We're for patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Let's applaud these when we see them. Let's encourage them. Let's live them before a watching world.
We at Reality would like to thank you for sharing another year with us and to wish you a blessed and peaceful Christmas. May your festivities cause you to engage more deeply and align your life more fully with the one who loves us so much he came to be one of us.