On being in a relationship with the villain of the story…
If there’s one thing I learned while at a Christian college, it’s this: there’s no such thing as a “typical” Christian.
(I’m pretty sure I hear at least a few of my professors in the distance, hitting their heads against their desks and wondering if their many hours standing in front of my classes were all for naught. Don’t worry, guys, I still know how to cite sources in three different formats, and I still remember all twelve theories of personality and more than a few different schools of thought concerning counseling. That B.A. in Psychology is probably the most expensive piece of paper I own.)
Despite the fact that there really is no “typical” Christian, Christian and non-Christian folks alike seem pretty content to act like there is some model that all Christians are supposed to be following. We form an image in our mind of what a Christian should do, say, think, and look like, and have a bad habit of becoming judgemental when that model is not followed by any given believer. People that don’t follow the model are too often looked down upon by believers and non-believers alike, to the tune of, “But… You’re a Christian!”
What does that model look like? People seem to have a slightly different versions in their mind that they like to compare Christians (which sometimes means themselves) to. The one I encountered most often growing up seemed to be Clark Kent minus the superpowers—if Clark Kent went to church three times a week, that is. Mild-mannered, unassuming, likes to help everyone every chance they get. Shows up at church three times a week: once for Sunday services, then a second time on Sunday to help out in children’s church, with youth group on Wednesdays. They would inevitably wind up joining the leadership team in their youth group (or in children’s church). They look forward to leading Bible studies, life groups, missions trips, and book groups when they get to be a bit older. Overall, the shining example of what a young Christian should be: someone who struggles with certain things (those things could never be TOO serious, though) but ultimately comes out on top, waving their teen NIV Bible victoriously while skateboarding off into the sunset.
-Pause here and note that I am not knocking anyone who fits this model. Points to you if you do. Keep on truckin’, kid.-
Obviously, not everyone at church fit the model. But most of them stuck close enough to it that no one else seemed to mind. They might branch out and get a tattoo, or maybe date someone who didn’t go to the same youth group. No one really seemed to know what to do with people who went further than that, though.
Like the girl with the bright red hair who wore all black and listened to Eminem.
Or the guy with the baggy pants and an axe to grind concerning the church, which hadn’t always been kind to him.
Or the petite girl in the back row who no one talked to on her first night at youth group, because she hadn’t grown up with the rest of them.
The list goes on and on. You get the idea, though: these were people that stood just outside the invisible line that marked how different you could be while still remaining acceptable. Most people who subscribed to the model described earlier weren’t sure how to interact with those of us “on the outside”. So they did what they could: smiled politely, and tried their best to reconcile us with the image in their head of what a Christian should look like.
Not everyone was so polite however. I can’t count the number of times I was informed of the ever growing list of things that Good Christian Girls (or as I call them, GCG’s) don’t do:
-GCG’s don’t listen to rap/metal/screamo/secular pop music.
What was I to do? Luckily, I had a small band of friends who didn’t quite fit the model either. We banded together throughout middle school and high school. We tried as best we could to bolster each others beliefs when we took fire from both sides: non-believers couldn’t believe we were Christians, and believers too often thought we weren’t Christian enough. And we hoped beyond all hope that, despite what everyone else told us, that we were capable of receiving God’s love too.
Going to a Christian university was a game changer for me. I certainly ran into my fair share of the previous type of Christian, who may or may not have been convinced that my collection of German metal music was going to land me in hell someday. But I also ran into plenty of Christians who could not care less what I wore, or listened to, or watched. They didn’t flinch at the fact that I read Eragon over breakfast instead of my Bible, or that I didn’t always volunteer to lead prayer. And they took all the more serious issues that I struggled with, and responded with love, instead of a, “You just need to pray about it. And maybe read your Bible more.”
My point here is not that every person who does fit the model is a pretentious jerk, or that we shouldn’t call out Christians who are doing things that are morally wrong. My point is that there’s no physical stamp, no mold from which all Christians need to be cast. So we need to get that model out of our heads, and stop beating up others, or ourselves, for not fitting it. Stop playing the comparison game with each other, and start holding ourselves up to God’s standard instead. Love first, reserve judgment, and remember that you’re part of a church that’s representing Christ. We might not be able to keep Christians from being looked down on by non-believers, but we can certainly stop looking down on our fellow Christians.
Because if there’s one thing I learned while at a Christian college, it’s this: there’s no such thing as a “typical” Christian. And there’s room for every Christian in God’s kingdom, even if not everyone can see it.
and if he wants to leave
then let him leave
you are terrifying
and strange and beautiful
something not everyone knows how to love