To Take or To Receive? That Is The Question….

Anybody who thinks being Christian is easy has no idea what it means to be a Christian.

I’d describe myself as Christian-ish. I’ve found it impossible to completely separate myself from my upbringing despite my efforts, though these days I gag a little on the title “Christian”. It’s become a bumper sticker or an Internet meme: “Honk if you love Jesus”, or, “Let’s see how many people on Facebook believe in God”. Really??

There I go, judging again. See? It’s not easy.

Here’s the thing. People seem to think that following the Bible word for word is what it means to be Christian; follow the rules and learn the techniques and ye a Christian shall be. But I see the journey more the way Picasso described art: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

Christianity itself is an art and the whole point of art is to be able to represent in the simplest possible manner that which is incredibly complex. It was never meant to be a list of rules that we kept building on until we could say we’re an expert at the rules. It was meant to be the chipping away of an edifice so that eventually we become the barest essence of ourselves. Nothingness representing everythingness. Painting like a child. Lines on a paper with a bunch of scribbling in the background.

But maybe that’s just my take on it and that’s the complexity of Christianity. Jesus wanted each of us to get out of the box, step out of the boat, leave our comfort zones. He wasn’t saying “do exactly as I do or you will go the Hell”. Nope, he wanted us to stop being fearful of damnation so that we could experience our own divinity. He wanted us to find the child artist within.

Which brings me to the point of this post. I’ll use a strong word to describe how I feel when people (Christians) cheap out on Jesus and post things on the Internet that disparage those they see as faulty: liars, cheaters, stealers, fornicators, as though pointing a finger at them somehow grants the poster immunity. I hate seeing that stuff. I mean, who among us has never lied, cheated, stolen, or participated in relations we might have regretted later? Did we not experience our own journey of redemption?

The truth is, maybe we didn’t or just haven’t yet. Maybe we are still so stuck in our own self-condemnation that we can do little but shame others in order to bring them down to our level. That, to me, is the definition of Hell (I don’t really believe in Hell, but other people do, so I’m reframing it for their purposes) and as far from the point of Christianity as I can imagine.

One of the biggies on the list of Hell-memes I don’t like is the disparaging of the poor. Granted, we all know someone who has taken advantage of the system for their own gain. I once stole a roll of dimes off the desk of my friend’s father when I was in elementary school. I felt so guilty, I gave dimes to all my friends so they could buy Kool-pops at lunch time but that did little to assuage my guilt. I may have made a friend or two for a moment, but it was a short-term high, yet by committing that crime my own conscience was driven toward redemption and though I can’t say that was the last petty crime I committed in my youth nor the last time I justified my behavior by saying I was doing it for the greater good, it was something that taught me about the nature of being human and it allowed me to recognize and forgive that humanness in others.

Thus develops the healthy cycle of give and take. Or perhaps a better word than take is receive. How many of us are good at receiving? How many of us have been taught that to receive is to take? Maybe my stealing of those dimes was a manifestation of my feeling unworthy to ask, that I might receive. And so I took. We see that word a lot lately. “A nation of takers”, was uttered by one of our politicians in trying to justify cutting “entitlement” spending. Americans are moochers, he implied. We’re not following “the rules”. We’re not behaving like a Christian nation. But have we not all given for the sake of others that we might receive when our own time of need comes?

Who is watching when we offer our time to help someone in need or when we spare a dime to brighten someone’s day? We’ve developed organizations that keep track of our volunteer work so that the organization can receive credit from Caesar for their good works. We’ve created a system of accounting so that every bit of our giving is recognized. But is that what Jesus wanted us to do? Did he want us to go out and give in such a way as to be recognized by men? Even he understood that Caesar was ultimately responsible for the common good, for the upkeep of society, but it was in the quiet times, in the giving for the sake of giving, that he wanted us to just shut up and do it. It was none of Caesar’s business.

Christianity is hard because we want to be seen being Christian. We want to be recognized as virtuous and holy but that never really works, does it? The brighter the light from outside that shines on us, the longer the shadow it casts. Pretty soon, the shadow is bigger than we are. If the light is not glowing from within, it is not the light of divinity.

It’s become too easy for others to beat up on Christians. Too many are just asking for it so I find it hard to step in when a rumble starts and it makes me wonder if Jesus would have wanted to beat up a few of them too. But I can’t speak for him, and really, neither can anyone else.