Lately, I’ve been reading a book by Steve Brown called “A Scandalous Freedom: The Radical Nature of the Gospel”. In it, Brown says that we are burdened with a standard of behavior forced on us by other Christians that God, himself, doesn’t require. We are free, he says, to screw up massively and God will continue to love us. That there is nothing we can do to lose that love. Steve also tells us that we’ll never get better by trying to be better. That no matter how hard we try, the bar is set impossibly high and there’s no way we can clear on our own. The only way to get better is to give up trying and immerse ourselves in God’s love. I like that and it sounds like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? I mean, isn’t that what we’ve always been told? That we are vile, corrupt sinners and that we can’t even realize that we need grace without God’s help? If that’s true, why do we keep trying to do it on our own? You know what I’m talking about. We, as Christians, are notorious for secretly obsessing over the log in our own eye while pointing out the speck in our neighbor’s. I not even going into the damage we do to unbelievers with this attitude, that’ll be in the next post. But, what do we do to our brothers and sisters in Christ with this?
In any Christian gathering, group, church, etc. certain standards of behavior expected. And, if someone doesn’t meet those standards, sometimes people aren’t so understanding. Think about it for minute. Remember a time when you or someone you know said or did something that went against the prevailing wisdom of your church. What happened? I’m guessing an awkward silence followed by a quick change of subject at the very least. Even that relatively mild reaction would make you question your acceptance within your peer group. And, we all know it doesn’t always go that well. So, what happens then? As Brown says “When the requirement for acceptance in any particular group is to think certain thoughts, to act in certain ways, and to fit certain molds ~ and we don’t think or act that way, or fit the mold ~ we tend to fake it. We put on a mask that says, ‘I’m just like you. Now, will you please love me and accept me?’ I can think of hardly anything that will kill your joy and freedom more than wearing a mask geared to get others to accept you because you’re acting like them.” Ever since I read that, I’ve been thinking about what kind masks I wear, at church, at work and at home.
The character of the church I attend, Knightdale United Methodist, is pretty standard. Many in the congregation are like most Americans, fiscally conservative. Some are more liberal than others, especially when it comes to social issues, but everyone believes in helping those who can’t help themselves. But, there are several things about me that would definitely bring about that awkward silence, if not get me fired as a youth leader. You see, I don’t think homosexuality is a sin. I believe the passages concerning sex have been misunderstood for who knows how long. I also have a secret: I’m an addict. I won’t say what kind, because it doesn’t really matter, an addict is an addict. And, it’s like a pair of ugly sunglasses: no matter what you do, you can’t get rid of it. But, I manage it, with His help. The point of this is that I’m a horrible sinner and, rightly or wrongly, I don’t reveal any of this because I’m afraid of what my church family will think. Which is stupid, really, because if you can’t be honest at church, where can you be honest?
I wear mask at work, too. I’ve been a firefighter for 20 years and I remain deathly afraid that my co-workers will find I’m kind of a geek. The man the fire service draws is an action-oriented sports fan and outdoorsman. A guy that’s really into whatever sport is being played, that likes fishing and hunting, a real guy’s guy. While I like some of those things, they’re not top on my list. Frankly, I’d much rather spend my free time reading, goofing around on the computer or listening to music. But, I don’t say that. I put on the boisterous front and act like I’m into all that stuff, because I don’t want to be the “weird” guy at the station. Truth is, anyone who’s worked a few tours with me knows exactly who I am. I’m the dude who always has a book in his duty bag, the one who knows how to spell the hard words and most spectacularly, the guy that can kick ass when Jeopardy’s on. The only person I’m fooling is myself.
At home, I’m Superdad. Acting like I can fix anything, cook dinner, clean up, help with homework and solve all my children’s problems. In reality, the only thing I do well is cook dinner, I’m smokin’ in the kitchen (hey, I’m cutting myself up pretty good here, I deserve to brag a little). I’m just good enough as a parent to get myself into trouble. Just when I think I’ve got it goin’ on, something yanks the rug out from under me. The worst part of this mask is that my children believe it. They think I know I what I’m doing because I’m Dad. Truth is, I’m making it up as I go along. A lot of the time, I have no idea what to do. I make mistakes and, from now on, I’m not hiding them from my children. They need to know it’s okay to screw up now and then.
I’m done with masks, I’m done with rules and I’m done with what others think of me. The only one who matters is God and, strangely enough, he loves me just the way I am.