Thursday, August 04, 2011

Young Christians in Tabor

Western Seminary basks in the sunset
Yesterday, as I returned home from my constitutional up Mount Tabor, I passed a group of about a dozen youths sitting in the grass by the soapbox derby track. They were good-looking kids, in their middle-to-late teens, clean cut and open-faced. They were dressed for summer, in shorts and tee shirts and sandals. They lounged on either side of the path, their teenage diffidence revealing itself in the way the boys sullenly prostrated themselves in the grass; in the way the girls humbly hugged their knees under their chins.

A young man, a bit older than the rest, stood in their midst, speaking.  I listened as I passed through.

"... it's about who you follow," he said.  He held his hands before him, palms to the fading sky. He spoke earnestly.  He spoke honestly. To the west, the sun painted the horizon pink.  "If you choose to follow Jesus, you become part of a family," he said.  "You're automatically just as important as anyone else."  

I found it impossible not to like the kids.  All of them.  Who can resist the innocence and oblivious beauty of youth?  Especially youth motivated by the desire to do good, to be good, to contribute to society in a positive way?

But, of course, being the angst-ridden hair-splitter that I am, I was troubled by the young man's statement.

Not the bit about being part of a family when you follow Christ.  That is one of the aspects of religion that I admire most:  the way that it encourages and promotes community, the way that it brings people together, the way it encourages a morality that, frankly, elevates us above brute existence. 

But the youth's second sentence:  "[If you are Christian] you're automatically just as important as anyone else."  I found that troubling.

Why?  Because there is an implication that, if you are not Christian, you may not be as important as anyone else.  Or, putting it another way:  The only way to be sure you are as important as anyone else is to be a Christian.

As the husband of a devout Muslim, of course, this is going to chafe.  But, to the extent that I understand Christian dogma, isn't it contradictory?  After all, didn't Christ say:  “Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence. Love others as well as you love yourself”? 

Or this:  "Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble"?

Or this:  "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another"?

That well-intentioned young man on the path in Mount Tabor, I am sure, had no inkling of the un-Christ-like implications of the second part of his statement.  A glance at his sincere expression revealed as much.

But, if I could have done so without intruding, I might have said to him:  "Son, no one is any more important than anyone else.  I can't say I'm a Christian, but I've always believed that.  And, you know, I think that may be what Christ preached."

N'est-ce pas?


Binmoredaniel said...

I have found it quite shocking once in the USA (for I almost never discussed religion in the UK, where it is of far less significance) to find out how little many Christians know about their religion or the Bible.  For most people Christianity IS about community and as with almost all communities feeling therefore superior to those in other communities.  Just think about how you perceive being an Oregonian amongst Oregonians rather than those who are proud to be Texan.

Laher said...

Hey brother Dade:

I read this post late last night and wanted to come back after a little think through.

I absolutely agree with you on the Christian value to love all and make no exceptions.  "Who among you is without sin ... " the acceptance the Jesus (pbuh) teaches and the inclusion is wide reaching.

In purely historical terms Jesus was not a Christian but a Jew pressing those around him to see the value of acceptance and inclusion.  Also forgiveness.

It is an unfortunate part that so much of religion, any religion, can tend toward the opposite of these values. 

I live among Christians and have done so all my life.  Only in a few rare instances over the course of my life have I felt excluded.

In fact in my community there are minarets and calls to prayer five times a day and not once has any Christian raised a complaint and the same is true for the bells that call Christians and Hindus to prayer.

It is these aspects of moral and ethical enlightenment that makes me grateful to live in a diverse community of believers in these troubled times.

And it is especially now that it is necessary to value tolerance and acceptance even more.

And I say this as someone who is not particularly religious in the formal sense of practice.

Excellent post brother.

Peace to you,

Phil said...

I think it's possible that you're misinterpreting the speaker's point. You were there and I wasn't so I'm not completely discounting your take but, at least from my perspective, it seems to me the speaker was noting a lack of earthly hierarchy within the family of Christians.

I believe the speaker was pointing out one of the tenets of the Christian community; not the world at large.