if you haven’t seen the trailer for Blue Like Jazz, it’s worth the 2 minutes. hit the jump and watch it because there were a few lines that captured my attention and i want you to explore them with me.
on a side note, i would recommend reading Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazzbefore you head to the theaters. you have some time, so go grab it, sit down with a nice cup of earl grey and enjoy. the book was a great read for me and i hope it’s the same for you. it was definitely something i needed when i picked it up. anywho, the trailer was intriguing and i’m fairly certain i will see the movie. on to the lines of intrigue.
there was a line at the end of the trailer where our lead character is dressed as an astronaut in a book store. he asks a female character,
“do i look stupid?” she responds, “no. you just look like you don’t belong.”
we could discuss the idea of “not belonging” for days so i’ll try and narrow it down a touch. what i will be talking about has nothing to do with the characters or plot of the movie or what that specific quote from the movie means. i haven’t seen the movie outside of this collection of snippets, so what i say pertains to an idea spoken in a simple answer “no. you just look like you don’t belong.”
there is a strange dichotomy playing out in me at what seems like a constant rate. i’m torn between the desire to be known as a person who loves Jesus and lives my life for him but at the same time i would like to distance myself form the label of “christian”.
i desire to belong, or exist in the midst of, a community of people that live for one purpose – to put others before themselves by lovingly serving others in a way that exhibits the love of Jesus. i want to be part of a community that is actively being the living, breathing manifestation of Christ in a way that brings people to Him instead pushing them away. this is a delicate balancing act but when actions are performed with the Love of Christ as the driving force without agenda or selfish ambition this balance can be achieved.
while desiring to part of this community who bring people closer to Jesus, the desire to distance myself from the label of “christian” still exist.
doesn’t make sense does it? let me unpack this thought. (and please read the rest of this blog before you decide i’m a closet unbeliever in need of serious prayer. although prayer on my behalf is always welcome.)
there was once a man who grew up in the greater Portland, Oregon area. this man spent his childhood years being saturated with racist propaganda in the 1920’s because his father’s heavy involvement with the Ku Klux Klan. his father was the man appointed to lead the members in the more “spiritual” side of meetings and beyond. growing up in this type of environment one can expect for the young boy to adhere to the principles he was taught, no matter how disturbing they were. to the young boy, this is life. this is what a good person believes. and growing up under the influence of his father, this is what a good christian looks like.
let’s skip ahead 15 years. the young man is now a grown adult and at age 30 he has not only experienced a good bit of life but in the mean time, he left Portland to attend college in Iowa, received his degree, and is hard at work on the east coast after being 2 years removed from the front-lines of WWII. he no longer associates with his father, who is still a major player in the KKK out west. something happened over the past 15 years.
after maturing and education set roots within him, he was uprooted and shipped overseas into the heart of battle. the more he pondered the ideas of his childhood, an unrest welled up in his soul. he couldn’t quite place why but it was not relenting. he struggled with what he learned and experienced as a boy and how it all was clashing with what he learned and experienced as a man no longer under his father’s roof. the battle within his soul is in full swing. then, he’s shipped off to a battle existing in physical form.
deep into the campaign, he was part of a battle that liberated a concentration camp. for the first time he saw with his eyes what hate does when brought from an idea to a physical act. he was broken, ashamed, and joyful all within the same moment. as the weeks went on after this victory he continued to process what he experienced. all that he could think about was how these men who killed thousands upon thousands of men, women, and children did so all in the name of hate and in the name of God. the young man became so angry with God that he began to despise the word christian. you see, growing up he knew christians only under the banner that hung above KKK meetings that read “Jesus Saves”. in fact, he helped his father make this banner. now years later in war fueled by hate and racism, this man now sees the effects of what these christians are capable of doing.
to this man, a christian is now something he wants nothing to do with. he actually has a hard time being around people who say they are christians because to him a christian is what he has experienced. you and i know that this is not the case. we know the beauty, freedom, love, joy, peace, and hope that comes from walking with Christ but he has yet to experience it. so by classifying yourself as a christian to this man, who is now 94, would be the one thing that could push him away from God.
i realize this story is tragic and unusual. but events on a much lesser scale of severity happen daily to countless people pushing them farther away from God. these things are also done in the name of Jesus. i hear and read of these types of stories far too often. it breaks my heart because the Jesus i know looks nothing like the Jesus being portrayed by so many we see on television or on the front lines of politics. i’ve met a good number of Christians who serve the world with a selfless love, but they don’t get air time on Fox News.
i mentioned earlier that i felt the desire to distance myself from the label of “christian”. when i meet a person, i don’t want to tell them i’m a christian because once they hear that word and that banner is hung, things change. this past year i spent time bartending at The 50 Yard Line (a great steakhouse in Lubbock). while there i decided to perform my own little experiment.
in this experiment i wanted to see how people would act around me, not knowing my history, especially the fact that i was once a pastor. then i would observe how they acted around my dear friend Sheldon. Sheldon had been serving at The 50 for longer than i hadand most people knew his degree was in religion and that he wanted to be involved in ministry in some fashion.
this is what i observed… i could intentionally ask people how they were doing and the answers came to me as a simple “great”, to long stories about partying too much the night before, which could include explicit details i cared not to hear. there was a specific instance i remember when i was talking with a guy (who we’ll call Ronald) and during the conversation Sheldon had walked up unnoticed. there was a point during Ronald’s story when choice curse words were used as very specific adjectives. while Ronald was in mid sentence he glanced over, saw Sheldon and immediately said, “oh shit man, i’m sorry. or crap i mean. sorry dude.”
Ronald then looks at me and says, “Sheldon’s a good dude and i don’t like to talk like that in front of him.”
my point with all of my rambling is this – i’m torn between the love i have for being in a community of men and women who serve Jesus and therefore the world with a selfless love, and my desire to distance myself from being known as a “christian” or as they knew Sheldon “the good dude”.
when people know you as “INSERT LABEL HERE” it immediately skews their perception of who you truly are.
the old story of the class misfit’s younger brother is a prime example. you know it. johnny’s older brother jimmy was a misfit, so now all of Johnny’s teachers assume he’s just like Jimmy even if he’s not.
instead of “Guilty by Association”, we are “Guilty by Label”.
i would rather be known by my actions and not by my label.
today, the word Christian isn’t a flattering term. if you think it is, you might want to travel more, speak to more people who don’t go to church, or just look at the news. we don’t have the greatest representation out there getting face time on camera. but secretly i kind of like the fact that guys like Shane Claiborne aren’t clamoring to be on TV. guys like Shane are simply being Jesus to the community of people (christian and non) around them.
lastly, to bring back what was touched on yesterday, JESUS FREED YOU from all of this, including the labels. it’s time to let them go.
today, may your labels be washed clean.
may your heart be consumed by the Grace, Love, Mercy, Hope and Peace that only comes from Jesus.
may the people around you not know you as a “christian” but rather as a woman/man that puts others before yourself.
may your life point people to Jesus.
may “you just look like you don’t belong.”
lose the name-tag. you have a new name.
Grace and Peace