When I am reading Christian books in public, I am more conscious about “acting Christian” than at any other time. I fear increasing the scorn most people feel for the hypocrisy of Christianity. I don’t want to make it harder for them to approach God themselves because I appeared hypocritical.
Currently, I am reading Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Salvation on the Small Screen, which is about the 24 hours that she spent watching the Trinity Broadcasting Network with various other pastors, biblical scholars, atheist friends, and others. I’ve met Nadia and the picture on the cover does not do her justice. She’s an amazon of a woman: tall, gorgeous with long, thick, dark hair, dramatic pale-skin-dark-lips-and-eyebrows coloring, and great tattoos on both arms. On the book cover, she’s seated cross-legged on the floor, holding a tv in front of her face.
But she’s wearing a clerical collar (she’s a Lutheran pastor) and a big cross at her sternum, and the title has the word “salvation” in it, so I have to act right while I’m carrying it.
Is this why people wear crosses?
So, when the woman with the oddly-shaped face with the scotched-tape nose sat down on the bench to wait for the train with me, I laughed good-naturedly when she apologize for having made myself and the other woman next to me move because she was so fat. I said, “That’s nothing to apologize for. We’re happy to have you.”
But then I went back to reading my Christian book.
Because she was probably crazy.
And I don’t like talking to crazy people.
They say odd things that are often offensive and I don’t know whether it is more loving to challenge them, like I would someone from my family or if it more loving to humor them, which would infuriate me if I were the recipient of the pity. Plus, engaging folks who say obviously provocative thing usually leads to more uncomfortable and crazy conversation.
Best to avoid contact.
For example, once, Jacob was waiting for me in front of the Ladies Fountain outside of the Art Institute. I walked right up to him and kissed him without saying a word and he responded by embracing me and kissing me for awhile. It was very cinematic. A little later, when we were catching our breath and smiling at each other as we exchanged pleasantries, a man walked over to us and told us how beautiful it was to see that. We laughed and thanked him and turned back to one another.
But he continued.
“I mean, it was really beautiful. I thought to myself as she passed that I might try to get her number but then I saw that she was all yours and that’s a really beautiful thing.”
OK, only slightly creepy. But manageable. But he continued.
“Now, if it were a man and another man, that would not be beautiful. That would be disgusting.”
At that point, I smiled, took Jacob by the hand and pulled him away.
I just wasn’t going to get into it with this intrusive guy. People are intrusive for a reason. And it’s usually because they want something from you: change, to change you, a fight, attention, to feel valuable, to feel superior.
And I wasn’t going to give it to him.
But what would Jesus do?
I honestly don’t know. Maybe he would have smiled, taken Peter’s hand and firmly pulled him away. Maybe he would have healed the man. Maybe he would have given him whatever it was he wanted.
Rthetorically, it’s easy to end on that last sentence and leave it hanging there to imply that I, too, should have the grace and peace necessary to give this man what he wanted.
But I don’t always get what I want. And I’ve come to believe that that’s a good thing. (Don’t tell my dad, though.)
So, I usually follow my instinct and then look back to see if my instinct was right. I believe this kind of introspection will actually change my instinctual responses over time. You know, all Gladwellian and Blinky-style.
But when I’m reading a Christian book, the rules change. Now, it’s not just about what kind of person I am and have to live with. Now, it’s also about being an obstacle on someone else’s journey.
Now, don’t give me some claptrap about everyone’s journey is their own responsibility, so I shouldn’t worry because my hypocrisy might be part of the greater plan. Although I acknowledge that might be true, it doesn’t change the fact that if I am an obstacle, that becomes part of my identity, and I have to live with being that new, slightly changed person.
My relationship with God is about liking the person I see in the mirror, both through trying to remember that I’m worth God’s unconditional love AND by trying to make choices that will sit well with my soul.
But when the woman with the sunken right cheek began to laugh out loud at the little sheet of magazine that she had torn out of a magazine from the doctor’s office she had just been visiting (too much information about health information early on in the conversation is also a good sign that the topics of conversation will ultimately be uncomfortable), I continued to read my book, although I kept a welcoming smile on my face so she wouldn’t feel completely ignored.
“I’m just sitting here dong my thing, not because I’m ignoring you but because this is the thing I was doing when you sat down,” I practically whistled to telegraph my innocence.
I knew I was affecting this posture the whole time I was reading about Joyce Meyer’s use of the “Amplified” Bible to create her own “study” Bible that she then refers to as a spiritual authority in our lives, despite the fact the original Greek and Hebrew have been stepped on so many times that only spiritual junkies should pay money for it.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” a still, small voice whispers to me as I read. But I keep reading because that same still, small voice is whispering to Nadia and I want to experience her growing humility as she finds kinship with the other sinners in this country who send part of their Social Security checks to Creflo Dollar in order to save souls.
But the voice points out the woman next to me and realize that my own humility – and therefore peace – is at stake.
So, the next time, she announces something in the air, “Well, it looks like they’re starting to rush the door,” I close my book and confirm her observation. We share a couple more exchanges and I laugh at her joke, which didn’t make me at all uncomfortable.
Luckily, she wanted to be close to first on the train, so she didn’t try to wait for me so we could sit together on the train.
I’m not that good a Christian, yet.
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