I meet people in all kinds of settings. A few days ago, I was in a situation in which I was in a waiting area. There was only one other person waiting there with me and she started a conversation. As we spoke, I quickly became aware that she was not a local. She eventually asked me where I was from, and I responded by telling her that I grew up just down the road. She then asked what I did for a living. I responded by saying, “I’m a pastor.” Her facial expression changed…and the conversation then went in an interesting direction…
Her next question was the one of which I am not very fond…”What kind of church do you pastor?” Now, to many of you, it may seem odd that I would not like that question…so let me briefly explain. There are stereotypes that go along with denominations of Christianity. I won’t go into the various stereotypes of the others but only the Baptists (because that’s the kind of church I pastor). One of the most prevalent is that we are close-minded, angry, judgmental, ignorant lackeys of the republican party that are interested in nothing except making sure that no one in the world is having fun (this may be a bit of a caricature of the stereotype…but probably not too far off). My response was one of the hemming-and-hawing…wanting to tell her I was the pastor of a baptist church, but not wanting to be associated with the stereotype. As we got through that part of awkwardness in the conversation, she began to challenge the truth of Scripture…not in a combative way…but in a very resolved way. She said that the Bible was full of myth and folklore and that it was pretty much fiction. I began to take an argumentative attitude and try to debate with her…and then I asked myself why I would want to do that…and during those few seconds in my head…something alarming occurred to me…
The reason I wanted to debate with her was to “prove” to her that she was wrong and I was right. I wasn’t nearly as concerned with what was going on in her heart…I was concerned with being right…in order that I would not look like an ignoramus…so…what happened next was truly miraculous…I…listened…and…didn’t…argue. I know that is very hard for many of you to believe…but it’s true. I actually shut the big trap that is my mouth and just listened. As she challenged some of the Biblical narrative, I had all kinds of arguments swimming around in my head. She came to a stopping spot, and then asked my opinion about what she had said. I thought about it for a second, and then I settled on a reality…Christianity does sound crazy. The Bible is hard to believe. If I’m truly going to be a committed disciple of Jesus, then I have to be willing to accept that many people will think I’m a bit goofy…and I have to willing to accept that many people are going to think of the Bible as a book of myth…and then accept what they must think of me since I believe that it is a Book of Truth.
Finally, I simply told her in a non-argumentative way (another miracle) that I do believe in those stories, but I wasn’t interested in trying to prove the “facts.” She looked at me funny and wanted to know what I meant. I said, “Well, I think if we spend our time trying to determine timelines and facts from narratives then we may miss the best part of these narratives…” She said, “What is that?” I said, “We will miss the beauty of the truth of the story…the truth of a loving God…the truth of a providing God…the truth of our need for this God.” She just thought about that for a moment and then it was time for both of us to leave. She thanked me for the conversation…and said, “It’s nice to meet an open-minded pastor.” I grinned and thought of the irony of that statement…because I know of what goes in my own mind and heart…and I fear that typically I am only open minded when it is advantageous. “Thank you, and it was nice to meet you,” I said, and then I left.
I’ve thought about that for a few days now…and thought about how much I have to be willing to be thought of as a fool…and how much I don’t like that…because the more I think about it, the more I realize something…and that is the reality that I tend to care much more about what people think of me than I do about whether or not I am unapologetically and unwaveringly committed to Him and to His truth…regardless of how that affects what others think of me.
Someone asked me recently to say a prayer in a public setting…a setting in which I wasn’t sure about what people believed. What I mean is that it was a place in which I was concerned about alienating people if I was too “over-the-top” in my prayer…which is to say that I was concerned about being too “Christian,” and in so doing…once again…the stereotypes would be applied. As I considered my thoughts…once again…it was a total gut-check about this reality. This seems to be an ongoing struggle for me…and the irony is that I’m a Christian pastor…someone that is expected to think this way.
I struggle with the insecurity of how others think of me. I want to be considered as an intellectual thinker…someone deep…someone that is a force to be reckoned with. NONE of these things are bad…but they are also not things that He has asked of me (and they are probably not at all applicable to me anyway). He has asked me to follow Him. He has invited me into a journey that is, at times, quite unbelievable. He has never told me to be a genius. He has never told me to be anything…but…His disciple…a Christian.
I am a Christian. I don’t need to shy away from that nor do I need to be at all ashamed of it. People will think what they will…and some of it may be well deserved…but that’s okay…because I am a Christian…and yes…it’s kinda crazy.