Like many who identify in some way with the man of the cross, my faith journey has been a hair-raising ride of ups and downs, rites and rebellions, crippling uncertainty and the usual generic confusion.
Interestingly, it has been the times when I’ve found myself most involved in church or missions that I have been most unsettled. Often, I am more comfortable out of the local Christian circle.
It may seem oxymoronic for one who tentatively ticks “Christian” on the census form, but I become increasingly uncomfortable with the words, statements and attitudes that pack themselves inside that label like holy sardines.
Sometimes, Christianity just stinks.
Many of us already have a collective aversion to rules and condemnation and right-turn-only lanes, but they are not the real issue.
The smell rises when such judgements become acceptable.
Let me illustrate by taking you into a struggling third world country where I lived and worked for a mere three years.
Here, daily bread means walking rubbish-filled streets, dodging daily violence and crime, and existing at a standard that the first world looks upon in fascinated horror. For those who live here, no internet, no cinemas or malls, bribing corrupt police and suffering under corrupt leadership is as common as the Typhoid that most people have.
But it isn’t the dread of water-borne disease, or the intrusion of cockroaches and rats, or the frustration of more power outages than loaves of bread on the supermarket shelves that slowly crush a country. Oh no – these are far too obvious to be the real rot that causes a society to wither away in bewildered innocence.
You see, like religious rules, the living inconveniences and political corruption, the rampant diseases and blatant lack of health care - are never the real issue. What really destroys a country is the grim belief that this is what life is all about.
And that’s not acceptable.
A child weeping in hunger, clutching a tatty shirt as his only garment is… acceptable?
A woman tortured by a crowd on the street, her gender her only downfall, is… acceptable?
Militia roaming outside a supermarket while families buy milk is… acceptable?
The tragedy of our broken world is that unacceptable realities have become accepted as the norm. They are never questioned, let alone addressed. There is weeping and dying and washing of faces with tears.
And the world pretends that this pain, this reality is somehow acceptable.
But it’s not acceptable at all.
Yet somehow, this acceptance of the unacceptable has infiltrated Christianity as well.
Telling someone they must attend Bible study, then telling them they’re less than ideal if they don’t is… acceptable?
Speaking grace and love, then belittling friends behind their backs is… acceptable?
Preaching diversity, then condemning those whose faith looks different is… acceptable?
The truth is not a weapon for us to wield in supposed righteousness.
We get so desperate to label and eradicate someone’s sin – it has us all hot under the collar – and we forget to simply love other people.
Love. Love love love. Whoever they are and whatever they may or may not be caught up in is not our prerogative.
In extending the label from “Christ” to “Christian”, we have also extended the parameters.
We open wide the doors of our faith but require people to step inside before they receive the promised embrace. We preach salvation and grace, in between spatting at each other like the Pharisees we love to hate.
Maybe that’s why Jesus’ sermons were so absent of excess requirements. As far as he was concerned, there was only one thing that was truly acceptable in his kingdom.
“For God’s sake, just love thy neighbour.”
And what if it is that simple?
What if we stopped using Scripture to highlight another’s uncertainty?
What if we stopped praying for someone to be smitten with guilt over their interpretation of Creation?
What if we stopped – STOPPED – pretending that we have arrived at the culmination of faith, and admitted that it’s a lifelong journey which we may never completely grasp?
It’s time to rearrange our understanding of acceptable.
Let’s make church mean openness and grace.
Let’s make Christianity mean kindness and love.
Let’s stop proclaiming the Bible’s words as the ultimate holiness, and simply walk in the wilderness with the Word himself.
Until the odour of Christianity transforms into a fresh breeze of hope. Until the places in which faith resides are sweetly scented with the acceptableness of Christ. Until his fragrance is all that can be sensed when we are near.
Emma is an Italian-South African with a New Zealand passport and an international heart. She spent years running a puppet ministry and directing student choirs, before going on to serve with Mission Aviation Fellowship in New Zealand (7 years) and Papua New Guinea (3 years). Currently a nomad living between various countries and towns, Emma's deep joy is in writing, music, hearing people’s stories and finding God in unexpected places.
Emma’s previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/emma-mcgeorge.html