This blog is written largely for a general audience, which means I try to stay away from the more inside-baseball aspects of Christianity. Somewhere in the Bible we are instructed to not air our dirty laundry of The Church in front of every one. Reading through the comments on an old blog entry here I was reminded why. One commenter, using a ‘church-language’ shorthand said something extremely offensive to a reader of another faith. While I thought the subsequent conversation about the issue was illuminating it hit me just how bad it is to conduct family business in the public square.
But I think this one conversation is probably ideal for this space because it addresses not only Christianity but my place in the secular world. And how to make it best work.
Much of the weekend at Mike Duran’s seemed to be consumed with Christians discussing the different approaches to writing fiction, which morphed into the different approaches to viewing and (ultimately) living life. It boiled down to how we all see the Biblical mandate of being “in the world but not of the world.”
There is no one verse which addresses this concept; there are five main verses which talk about the dichotomy (see halfway down the page here) , and of course the examples laid out in the four gospels and the book of the Acts of the apostles buttressed by the Pauline Epistles. In other words, pretty much the entire Christian Testament talks about the concept in a detail that can’t be boiled down succinctly into a bromide suitable for engraving on pencils.
I tend to be a lot less rigid on how I interpret the concept than some others. I watch R-rated movies, cable dramas about police and drug dealers and Romans and gunfighters building western towns. I read books about the same ideas and I listen to rock and roll music. I eat at restaurants which serve beer, wine and liquor, I wear pants and occasionally makeup. My ears are pierced. My dog is named after a Bob Dylan song, my house after a Warren Zevon lyric. (Given that Zevon died a Christian that may not count.)
But I’m a writer. We are many of us very practised at the idea of being here yet being on the fringes to watch the rest of the folk going about their business. My new friend Johne Cook does speculate that perhaps we become writers because our oddness stuck us on the fringe first. Given the fact that I was a fringe-dweller before I was out of the closet as a writer, he’s probably correct. Nevertheless, I’m quite used to the idea of not quite fitting in. (For what it’s worth, I don’t quite fit in the Church culture either. No kids=automatic outsider.)
So what do I think it means to live In the world but not Of it? To me it means weighing everything I hear and see against my head-knowledge and heart-knowledge of the faith. It means striving to always remember in every setting that my words and actions reflect on the beliefs I’ve proclaimed. Granted, it’s a lot easier to be Not Of This World if I never talk to non-Christians except to hector them for doing non-Christian things. But I find that lifestyle boring. I happen to think God gave me certain skills and gifts because God wanted me in specific places doing specific things. I’m sure there are others whose gifts dictate that their version of In, Not Of looks quite different from mine.
God made every person, and therefore every Christian, unique. So how we deal with our humanity is going to vary. The important thing is that at the end of the day the rest of the world know us for the Christians we claim to be AND don’t walk away from interacting with our Christian selves with a bad taste in their mouths.