Where Are the Christians?

To anyone upset by my absence of the last few days, I apologize.  But, even hacks like me need a break now and then.  I took one and spent the holiday at my parent’s house in Virginia.  Beautiful scenery, great weather, fantastic food and being surrounded by those I love (well, some of them.  A few couldn’t make it) was just the tonic I needed.  And, I even picked up a topic for a blog post.  Score!

Twice, while talking to my brother, I heard him say that if you wanted to find people following the way of Christ, don’t look in the Christian church; you’re more likely to find them among the Buddhists and Hindus.  Sadly, he’s right.  Not that many Christians actually follow the path laid out by Jesus.  Instead, they’re on one that excludes, demonizes, judges and separates us all.  In past posts, I’ve talked about ways that “Christians” (and, I use that term loosely) do all the things I just listed and I’m not going back over again.  What I want to address tonight is the statement that you won’t find Christians in Christ’s own church.  You know me and definitions, so let’s start with one.  According to Dictionary.com, a “Christian” is a person who exemplifies in his or her life the teachings of Christ (there are others, but it’s my blog and I like this one).  How do you that?  I’d say the following exchange from the book of Matthew says a lot:

” Then someone came to him and said, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’ 17And he said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.’ 18He said to him, ‘Which ones?’ And Jesus said, ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; 19Honour your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ 20The young man said to him, ‘I have kept all these;* what do I still lack?’ 21Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money* to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ 22When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.”

Why do I think this passage sums up Jesus’ message better than any?  Several reasons; well, really only one.  But, it’s a good one.  It’s about loving your neighbor and if you boil Jesus’ message down to its essence, that’s what it’s about.  God loves us and they way we respond is by loving each other.  I can hear you now: “Wait a minute!  The word “love” was never mentioned in that entire passage!  What makes you think it’s about love?”  Because, he tells the young man asking the questions to stop caring only for himself and care for his neighbor.  And, who is his neighbor (and, by extension, ours)?  Everyone, everywhere, in every situation is my neighbor.  When someone asked Jesus this question, he responded with the story of the Good Samaritan.  So, a Christian is someone who exemplifies the teachings of Christ in their life.  And, how many of us do that? 

I know I don’t.  I call myself a “Christian” and I don’t come close the standard in that definition.  Why is that?  Why is it so hard to put aside the things we want and embrace what’s good for us all.  The Buddhists say it’s because we crave things.  Not just material things, either.  Things like sensual pleasures ( that doesn’t just mean sex), respect, power and the loss of these things for our enemies.  Truth be told, more bad acts are committed to satisfy these cravings than to sate ones desire for stuff.  Lose these cravings, say the Buddhists, and we’ll stop suffering.  I don’t know if they’re right or not, but I suspect they’re on to something.  Buddhist monks have done some amazing things over the years, like setting themselves on fire in protest of the way they were being treated.  They were willing to suffer a hideous death to gain the freedom to worship the way they saw fit.  Much like the early Christians in the arena.  I hate to keep asking this question, but how many of us could do that?

So, is my brother right, do the Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, etc. do a better job with Jesus’ message than we do?  Yes and no, I think.  Yes, because they’re more accepting of others, warts and all, than we’ve ever been (There some inroads being made in this area by the Emergents, but the mainline and evangelical church continue to suck at it).  No, because with the exception of Judaism, most eastern religions are focused inward.  The message Jesus brought was outward-focused.  It was about actively taking care of our fellow-man, not just doing them no harm.  Instead of spending our time sequestered in monasteries meditating and working toward Nirvana, Jesus directed his followers to be in the world (while not being “of the world”.  Neat trick if you can manage it.), spreading his love to anyone and everyone.  Now if only we could practice what we preach.