“Re-presenting” Christ: The Most Important Thing We Can Do
Photo Credit: flickr/JMC Photos
The following is a post written by my friend Richard Dahlstrom. His new book ‘The Colors of Hope’ is available now.
My friend was depressed when he called from the East Coast this morning, over the whole rapture thing. His problem isn’t that we’re still here. It’s that we’re still here, and that the label “Christian” is once again the object of mockery, scorn, or even worse, utter complacency. One poor soul is said to have divested $140,000 of his life savings
in advertising the May 21 end of the world in hopes of saving a few more. Both his gullibility, and Harold Camping’s abusive theology help fans the flames of the faith rejection fire. We who didn’t believe in Camping’s ability to read the tea-leaves, not even for two seconds, still feel the heat. By virtue of our identification with Jesus in any way at all, we’re herded into the cattle car of the intellectually dense and the culturally illiterate. We’re Christians. Camping and his followers were too. Enough said.
It’s enough to make me want to change my label. I have a friend who’s done work on Broadway. He tells me that if he’s to have any hope at all of conversing with his
friends about anything meaningful, he can’t tell them that he’s a Christian. He can tell them that he follows the teachings of Jesus, and all will be fine. But the word “Christian” has clear connotations: “Republican,” “homophobic,” “anti-intellectual.” The word “Christian,” it appears, has baggage.
What’s a follower of Jesus to do?
My answer came about after years of wrestling in a similar manner with the word “pastor.” I’d get on a plane and sit down, and when my seatmate would ask what I did for a living I’d usually say something like: “I’m a teacher,” which is true enough, but not very honest. I didn’t want to say “Pastor” in the 80’s because of the financial and sexual
scandals associated with the then new species called TV Evangelist. I got a pass for the first half of the 90’s because I truly was a teacher, running a study center in the
But when I became a pastor again in the 90’s, I remember reading an article (though I can’t remember the author’s name) about the importance of words and how part of our
calling is to help words recover their true meaning, especially the word “pastor” (no surprise, as that was the vocation of the author).
That was a turning point for me, which was a good thing, because I took up the pastoral mantle again, big time, in the mid-nineties. The article helped me realize that there
are two choices in these things: We either disengage and distance ourselves from a word or, by the lives we live, we offer an alternative definition. Though an argument can be made for either option, I’m leaning into the latter these days because to disengage
is a sort of surrender, and the tragedy inherent in surrendering words like “pastor” and “Christian” to the prevailing distortions is that these abused words become the reason many folk reject the living, vibrant, resurrected Jesus. What a tragedy that anyone would miss the real thing because the caricature was so ugly! Re-presenting the meaning of these words can be a part of our vocation as Christ followers.
Such work invites an authentic, thoughtful commitment to embody the reign of Jesus in small and big ways in our everyday lives. This requires loving God with our minds;
reading the Bible carefully, doing sound exegesis. This requires the humility to confess our sins, and acknowledge our brokenness. This requires (if that’s the right word) that we enjoy life, including things like good food, laughter, the smell of the woods after the rain, and so much more. This requires that we be at the forefront of breaking down social, racial, and economic barriers, and that we give voice to those who don’t have one. It requires that we care for the earth. It requires that we love our enemies. In short, the calling to “re-present” Jesus requires that we commit ourselves wholeheartedly to our citizenship in God’s kingdom.
It’s liberating to see this as one’s calling, for if this is the job to be done, I’m freed from the need to fire back at cynics, or live as a reactionary, responding to Christ’s detractors, or engaging in endless noisy debates about who’s theology is the coolest now. Instead, by committing to the primary colors of justice, mercy, and love, I can enjoy life in Christ
and rest in the knowledge that, though imperfectly, I’m offering a different interpretation of Christian than that which gets the loud media attention. And that’s good enough for me.
Richard Dahlstrom is the Senior Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, author of two books, and an international speaker through Torchbearers Fellowship. You can visit the church, look into his new book ‘The Colors of Hope,’ or check out his blog. He can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.