Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What's in a name

I need to clear up one more thing from yesterday's conversation. I wanted to add it then, but that would have made the blog way too long, and I'm sure people would start to get distracted and cut out four paragraphs in and switch to their facebook or twitter pages, because I'm already long winded as it is. Still, I think this is important, at least it is to me.

I say I'm not a Christian writer, for reasons stated in my last blog. Maybe to some people that statement is clear, but to many, maybe just the inclusion of the word Christian is confusing. Christian, particularly Christianity, bears in mind different images to just about every person, it seems, so when people ask me if I'm a Christian and I hesitate a little before I say yes, it's only because I don't know what definition of Christian is being used. I love how Donald Miller, who wrote the candid book Blue like jazz, approached this kind of question in an interview:

"In a recent radio interview I was sternly asked by the host, who did not consider himself a Christian, to defend Christianity. I told him that I couldn't do it, and moreover, that I didn't want to defend the term. He asked me if I was a Christian, and I told him yes. 'Then why don't you want to defend Christianity?' he asked, confused. I told him I know longer knew what the term meant. Of the hundreds of thousands of people listening to this show that day, some of them had terrible experiences with Christianity; they may have been yelled at by a teacher in a Christian school, abused by a minister, or browbeaten by a Christian parent. To them, the term Christianity meant something that no Christian I know would defend. By fortifying the term, I am only making them more and more angry. I won't do it. Stop ten people on the street and ask them what they think of when they hear the word Christianity, and they will give you ten different answers. How can I defend a term that means ten different things to ten different people? I told the radio host that I would rather talk about Jesus and how I came to believe that Jesus exists and that he likes me."

I'm borrowing his words because I've never been clever enough in a moment to give that kind of response. But I love it. When I first read it, I wanted to yell out, "Yes!" but I think I was probably in some quiet coffee shop at the time, so I just whispered it to myself.

Being a Christian is certainly not as straightforward as it used to be. And that's a huge, sad problem. But while I'm not very clear on what Christianity is these days, I'm clear on Jesus, because we can't muck Jesus up with our human failings. This is the beauty I hope to convey in my writing, but more so in my life; the foundation of beautiful rubbish.

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