In the early 1980s, when MTV was barely standing up in the crib and actually played music videos, a rather bizarre British music artist named Adam Ant had a popular video for his song “Goody Two Shoes.” The catchy chorus included the lyric, “Don’t drink. Don’t smoke. What do you do?”
Barely out of high school, I liked the hip beat and pretty girls in the clip the best; but, the chorus stuck with me – always has.
I could have been one of the Flying Wallendas!
I grew up on the balance beam. I lived in the middle tension of being the oldest son in a liberal, fun-loving, stein-rocking Germanic family. On the other side, I was a staunch allegiant to a highly conservative channel of Christianity. Polar opposites! But both somehow scratched a certain itch in me. I became really good on the beam. I adored and took great pride in my European heritage, along with its openness to all things fun and the people who would rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints (Billy Joel).
Yet, on the other side of the beam, and somehow equally enjoyable, was my engrainment in a channel of faith that took pride in its Spartan adherence to discipline and rule-following. I lived and walked in the daily tension of both – without a net! I was a sinner and a saint. I was a louse and a legalist. In one way I was the drunkard scandalously eating with Jesus. In the other, I was a snazzy-robed Pharisee, mocking Jesus’ choice of dining partners. Simply put, I was a hypocrite – legalism had blinded me to my ominous and metastasizing spiritual condition.
Christianity, in my earliest experience and understanding, was about following God’s “pool rules” meticulously, even when the rest of the screaming kids were running around the water’s edge without an adult. Being somehow pleasing to God, was about laws – He loved the obedient people who read the Bible and color only inside the lines. For me, because I was such a good fair-haired “church boy,” in my prideful opinion, I only needed a Nyquil cap of Jesus’ forgiving blood.
However, the other people who didn’t know what I knew, do what I did and worship the way I worshiped, all those hell-bound folks, well, they needed the hydrant! Religion was about appearance. It was about impressions. It was fluency in Christianese! It was about knowing the “nos” – don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t chew tobacco and don’t dance with girls who do! Thankfully, through God’s patience, grace and numerous humbling valley experiences throughout my life, I no longer base my righteousness in my flawed efforts and self-imposed righteousness; but instead in something so much better.
As a local pastor trying to help real people like myself, I find that we in the clergy and in nice churches peppered throughout Solano County are known too prominently for what we say “no” to, than what we say “yes” to. It’s abundantly clear what we Christians are really against – we’re professionals at making that crystal clear. But do the people around us know what we are really for?
I’m spit-balling, but could this be why so many hurting people, hemorrhaging from real wounds, avoid the help and message the church was created to offer? Could it stem from the fact that we preach only from the “anti” side of the ledger?
“Why would I darken the door of a local church? I know what they think about me – my struggles – my attractions – my propensities – my less-than-stellar past. I don’t fit neatly in their box of standards. Why bother?”
Could it be that we’ve specialized in what we’re against and have forgotten what we’re for? That somehow beating the ‘Thou Shalt Not” drum and extending a sturdy Heisman Trophy stiff arm shows the world the open nail-pierced hands of the savior? Instead, it keeps us in a defensive posture – keeping the bad guys out and the good guys in – and an unraveling world, it keeps us from seeing our own personal and congregational flaws and challenges up close.
Recently, I shared this quote I heard: “As Christians we despise people who sin differently than we do.” I agree.
If you’re a fundamental Christian reading this, I read the 66-book memo from headquarters too. I know what you’re against. Some of those things are very clear. Some of those things are founded in very gray areas of Scripture. But, my question is, what are you for?
I know I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one (John Lennon). I think that if the blood-washed would speak more discerningly, more articulately, more humbly, more gracefully and more lovingly about what we’re for – Who we’re for, what He is for – then perhaps more would see our churches not as cold iron-shrouded bastions of regulations and judgment, but instead what Jesus wants them to be: Welcoming hospitals for the spiritually sick.
Don’t drink. Don’t smoke. What do you do?
Steve Kiefer is the lead pastor at the First Christian Church in Suisun City. He can be reached at www.1stchristianchurch.org.