Apr 12, 2014

Just How Weird Do Christians Need to Be?

By Anna Ilona Mussmann

The world is full of really weird Christians, Christians who try not to be weird, and pagans who, no matter what, will always think that Christians are weird. Let us define “being weird” as “being different from secular culture.” The question is, just how different from mainstream society ought a Christian to be? Should our opinions be un-moderated by modern culture? Should our clothes stick out in a crowd? Should we look blank when someone starts quoting Lady Gaga?

Throughout the history of the church, we Christians have tried different degrees of separation from the world. Some have chosen to retire into the desert for a life of ascetic celibacy. Others have partied with the best of them but shown up in church for that service with the white lilies. It is easy to criticize these extremes. Desert celibacy may be a true calling for a few people, but it would put a rather abrupt end to the Christian population, not to mention the lack of opportunity to serve one’s neighbor. In contrast, when one sees the once-a-year Christians, one cannot help fearing for their Word-starved souls and remembering James’s comment about dead faith. Yet between the ascetic and the debaucher lies a vast wilderness of debatable choices and PG-13 movies.  

If we fear to appear weird and let this fear lead us to try to fit in with our gluttonous, gossiping, shameless neighbors, we give the devil a nice handle to use against us. We cannot be Christians if we are not willing to hate sin and to flee temptation. This is not because Christians can avoid all sin. We struggle daily with our old Adam. However, unrepentant sin separates us from Christ. It cuts us off from mercy, grace, and life. It is death. Knowing this and knowing our weakness, the response of Christian faith is to seek to avoid those things which we know will be stumbling blocks. This is a constant struggle. Sin says, “Hey, I know I shouldn’t be a glutton for food or facebook, but it won’t hurt to eat one more Dorito while I re-check everyone’s status. Heck, it’s part of my Christian liberty.” Or, “So, maybe men do eye me up when I wear this miniskirt combo, but that’s their problem. What are you, a Puritan?” Yet faith says, "Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner." Faith is weird. Repenting of things like gluttony and vanity is weird. It’s enough to make us stick out like a purple thumb, and that is a good thing, because such repentance is also a witness to the world that Christians live for a different purpose and for a different hope. It makes us a walking advertisement for the idea that there is more to life than the brief pleasures of sin.

Being weird, being different, and sticking out is a good thing. It is a necessary thing and a hard thing. Yet, because we live in a fallen world, our efforts to live virtuously can lead us too far into the desert and can distance us from our neighbors. We may end up seeming so ignorant of life's dark side that no one will come to us for help. Our quest for purity might make it tough to understand the challenges faced by someone with a sex addiction, history of abuse, or life as a single mother. In addition, our lifestyle can become a stumbling block to non-Christians. They might see us wearing calf-length skirts, and think they would need to burn their jeggings to join the church. They might make a Lady Gaga reference, see our blank look, and feel that they cannot communicate with us. They might think that we won’t want to talk with them because they can’t help swearing every few words (or worse, might stop trying to talk to us because they see the look of shock and horror that we display each time they swear). All of these problems will be magnified if we give the impression that we feel superior to the ordinary sinners who fail to shun evil like we do.

Knowledge of the sinful world can be dangerous to our souls. Ignorance of it can be damaging to our witness.

How are we to live righteously while staying in touch with our neighbors? I wish there was a clear line somewhere, perhaps in the sand of the desert. Yet I suspect that no single answer exists. Different Christians are more (or less) vulnerable to different temptations. Besides, among the people of the world are lost souls with every kind of taste, background, and personality, and surely it is good that there are Christians from a range of cultural positions to talk to them. Surely we need polished urbanite Christians, hippy Christians, sheltered Christians, and Christians with troubled and painful backgrounds. Even if some or all of us are drawing our lines in the wrong places, God works through His Word, and we are privileged to share that Word with our neighbors.

Yet whether I am an urbanite or a hippy, I still bear the responsibility of considering the weirdness question for myself. As a parent my responsibility is even greater. How can I teach my children to be in the world, but not of it, and how can I try to live that life myself? I think that the following points are helpful.

Jesus Loves Sinners

As my husband and I raise our children (currently, our little son) to seek out the good, the true, and the beautiful, we also want him to treat the ugly and the lost with compassion. We want our own attitude to model love for the lost. One way to do this is to seek out ways to help people who look and think very differently from ourselves. Another is to watch our tone of voice and our attitudes when we talk (or pray) about people who are doing something wrong. We can try to show that even if we live differently, that does not mean that we think we are therefore better or more important than our non-Christian neighbors. After all, we are avoiding sinful culture because of our own weakness, not because of our supposed personal superiority.

Glorification of Sin is Different from Knowledge of Sin

As our over-sexualized, consumerist culture descends into an abnormal understanding of what is “normal,” we do not want the world to shape our son’s budding interpretation of life (or to slowly reshape ours). I think the two things will help. One: we will keep an eye on the proportions in which we ingest material that is hostile to our faith. Two: we will seek our knowledge of the world through mediums that are less likely to tempt us. Getting to know real, broken people who struggle with the consequences of sin is very different from watching supposedly glamorous sinners on the big screen. Reading real literature that explores human nature in a truthful, even if non-Christian, manner is very different from turning our brains off and digging into a pile of trashy magazines or foolish novels. It is useful to know something about popular culture, and so we will enjoy some movies, books, and other popular entertainment. At other times we will just read the summaries on Wikipedia.

We want to pay attention to the effect that the world is having on our home (in case we need to tone it down) and the effect that our standards are having on our neighbors (in case we need to reach out more, or to appear less weird in unessential things). Unfortunately, we know that we won’t always get the balance right. That is when we need to be truly weird. We will repent daily of our errors and receive God’s mercy. It’s a good thing He loves us no matter how weird we fail to be.


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Anna writes as often as she can, although sometimes it is with only one hand because her baby son requires the other. After graduating from Concordia Wisconsin she taught in Lutheran schools for several years and became so enthusiastic about Classical Education that she will talk about it to whomever will listen. She is a big fan of Jane Austen, dark chocolate, and the Oxford comma. Anna and her husband live in Pennsylvania. Anna's personal blog is Don't Forget the Avocados.


Title Image: "Daniel's Answer to the King," by Briton Rivière (1890)

8 comments:

  1. Well said about being aware of the different forms of temptation that we're each vulnerable to and being careful about how we interact with the culture around us in light of that awareness. In particular, it's easy to assume that movies, TV, and other primarily visual media are "worse" in this way, especially in our Christian ghetto that tends to focus on particular forms of sexual temptation and sin, but there are strong temptations in books and newspapers too -- I can think of a lot of examples involving pride, envy, or greed.

    Something about the formulation of "it is useful to know about popular culture, and so we will enjoy some popular entertainment" rubs me the wrong way. I can't articulate why precisely -- maybe I'm being oversensitive to the moralistic "if it's fun it can't be very good for you" subcurrent we sometimes encounter.

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    Replies
    1. Dieter,

      Yeah, I can see how the phrasing you mentioned could seem condescending. I guess I tend to dislike a lot of popular entertainment (in part because I happen to find it insufficiently entertaining), but I do think that we should make and enjoy good art, including popular art like movies/novels/etc. I'm all for having fun.

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    2. I don't think it's condescension that gets me, it's a devaluation of enjoyment and pleasure. Like: everything must be justified in terms of its Moral Hygiene and Spiritual Health, because just enjoying something isn't a good enough reason to do it. "It is useful, so I can enjoy it" invoked that flavor of utilitarianism in my mind.

      It's clear from context that this isn't what you meant, though. I appreciate the reminder to be deliberate about where I spend my time and energy all the more specifically because it isn't that sort of cloaked admonition to stop having fun.

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    3. You might like some of Joshua Gibb's articles. He talks about how sometimes Christians approach fiction/movies/etc. with a fallacious "plunder the Egyptians" approach. Here are two:

      http://www.circeinstitute.org/blog/tyranny-finding-something-clever-say

      http://www.circeinstitute.org/blog/my-kid-mature-enough-handle-movie-plundering-egyptians-fails-again

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    4. Yes. And from the other direction, this is the sort of attitude I find dismaying:

      http://www.faithandfire.org/stories/Stories89.html

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    5. Better "weird" than worldling. In my pre-Christian days, tried to "fit in" with the world, but they wouldn't accept me. Could these decades of trying and failing been a hedge from the Holy Spirit to protect me from developing a hard heart? Anyway, being a follower of Christ is liberating - don't have to go around wearing a mask. Masks NEVER fit right; they're stuffy and uncomfortable and to much like high maintenance. Blessings.

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    6. Dieter,

      Yes, that's a whole different approach. If one applied that attitude consistently, one couldn't allow oneself to talk even to oneself-- because oneself has so many sinful ideas.

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  2. Sue,

    I agree that following Christ is liberating!

    ReplyDelete

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