Tuesday, May 27, 2014

How to Be a Christian

Two years ago, my oldest daughter gave me Baratunde Thurston’s book How to Be Black for my birthday. When I wrote about it back in 2012, I said that this was one of the best books I’d ever read, and one that I could’ve used when I was an adolescent. That’s because back then, I suffered from regular accusations of “not being black enough,” or of being an “Oreo” (black on the outside, white on the inside) because I liked the Beatles, and wasn’t as totally into black culture as I was “supposed to be.” This book points out, through interviews with other African-Americans who grew up everywhere from inner-city DC to rural Maryland that there are as many ways to be black as there are people who are black; and no one can say that you’re not really black because you like classical music and know how to correctly pronounce the word “ask.”

I think there needs to be a book called How to Be Christian, and here’s why: I’m just wayyy tired of the term “Christian” being hijacked to refer to only a certain type of Evangelical Christian, as if we Lutherans, Episcopalians, Catholics, and Methodists were chopped liver (and weren’t here first). I’m also wayyy tired of the term “religious” being used the same way.

I think I’ve always been annoyed by the use of “Christian” to mean a specific type of Christian, in an us vs them way that the rest of us would never use. I mean, we might think you’re a little weird, we might think that your interpretations and practices are a little off, but we’d still consider you to be part of the "family."

The first time I remember running into this attitude was a good 35 years ago, as an undergrad, when a stranger, upon seeing the cross pin on my lapel, asked if I was a real Christian. That got my hackles up right there. As if I was only a “real” Christian if I met her definition of what a Christian was, and shared her exact same beliefs and practices.

In the years since, I’ve heard of many media figures who won’t do certain things because he or she “is a Christian,” and I want to say, “What kind of Christian? I know plenty of Catholics who will do that! They’re Christians aren’t they?” I hate the fact that when the average non-religious person hears the term “Christian,” they think of those people, rather than the rest of us, who are at least specific about what branch of Christianity we belong to when giving it as a reason for holding a specific belief, or not wanting to be involved in a certain activity.

Say you’re Pentecostal if you want to, say you belong to the Assemblies of God, say you’re a Southern Baptist; those at least give the hearer enough specificity to imply that maybe not all Christians share that belief or do things that way. But for Pete’s sake, don’t go around saying that you won’t sing certain types of songs or play certain roles because you’re a Christian, because I’m sure I can find a Presbyterian or a Lutheran who’ll have no problem with them.

So remember, there are as many different ways of being a Christian as there are people who claim the name.

Which reminds me…do you know why Southern Baptists don’t have sex standing up?

It might lead to dancing.

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