“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
mountains.

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.

8 thoughts on ““Re-presenting” Christ: The Most Important Thing We Can Do

  1. What a beautiful reminder of what one’s faith can do not only for an individual, but for an entire group of people. It’s a great reminder of what the best of religion can do.

    I am not fond of sports analogies. I find them lazy and cliche. So, here comes one…

    The pastor’s call to ‘re-present’ Christ reminds me of a question my father once asked me when I was a high school football player (OK, go ahead and cue Springsteen’s “Glory Days” if you must). He wondered that while engaged on the field was I really swayed or distracted by the crowd’s cheers when good things happened for the team or boos when mistakes were made. Honestly, I never really heard either. Both expressions by the crowd were often a dull background hum either way when I was on the field. I was concentrating on what I needed to do as an individual member of the team and how I could make the team successful. It was when I was standing on the sidelines that I seemed to hear every cheer or chide as I was no longer engaged in the game at that moment.

    So, given the latest actions of a bonehead who represents himself as a Christian has made a mockery of his faith, I would hope that Christians who really do study and investigate The Bible and their faith can ignore the din of the media and non-Christians like me and follow Pastor Dahlstrom’s suggestion to focus on ‘re-presenting’ Christ and your faith. Stay on the field, stay involved and committed to your faith and don’t focus on the background noise.

    • Great sports analogy! It reminds me of skiing, which is my day off obsession in the winter. When I’m wearing skis I’m not at all conscious that my title lumps me in a crowd whose skills, attitudes, and motivations are wildly divergent. I don’t notice because I’m too focused on skiing. Maybe this is a Hebrews 12:1,2 thing – as I learn to fix my whole being on living and enjoying my calling and relationship with Christ, my worries over what others think fade.

  2. This is a great post! And here is another way to look at it.

    “Are you a Christian?”

    “Yes, but different.”

    “Different in what way?”

    Thus starts a dialog, a relationship. It opens the chambers of the hearts of the skeptics who thirst for the love of Christ but haven’t found anyone to give them a drink.

    If we hide that we are “Christians” we have no chance of redeeming the word to its meaning – that of being “little Christs.” This is not unlike what we have accomplished over the years with the word “Easter.” Is Easter a Christian or pagan holiday? Other than a few hold-overs in the form of bunnies and eggs, its original connection with the pagan fertility rites of Spring (and the goddess Ishtar/Astarte/Asherah) have largely been forgotten. Similarly, if we were to run from Easter Sunday and start calling it Resurrection Sunday instead, we begin undoing the redemptive work which has already been accomplished.

    When this dialog begins, we invite someone into a relationship with us. We share Jesus’ love for us by loving it forward into the heart and soul of someone we care about. We don’t just share mere beliefs, we share His love. And how can we do that? Because we “know” Jesus, not just “know of” or “know about” Him.

  3. I have pretty strong feelings about Christians dismissing Camping’s claims.

    First of all, I’m not sure how one picks and chooses what sensational claims one chooses to accept and disregard. I’m guessing that all of us that have taken the claims of scripture seriously, claims that promised healing etc, have been disappointed when things that scripture seemed to promise didn’t happen. When I was a young Christian I felt like God was calling me to pray for a young boy who was going blind in the church I attended. I wrestled with it for a long time because I didn’t want to look like a fool. I finally went to his family and told them what I felt God was calling me to do. We laid hands on their son and nothing happened. His family didn’t get angry with me but I can only imagine what they thought of me after that. I’m guessing we all have similar stories. What do we do with those experiences? People I’ve opened to about that in the past have talked about “spiritual healing” etc but that seems dismissive and too convenient. If we can’t trust that aspect of scripture then why should we trust anything else in it?

    Secondly, over and over again Camping has used gay folks as proof of the wickedness of the world and proof of the impending rapture. I’ve included two links below to document this – one from his post-judgment day press conference and a video his organization made earlier. There are a lot of Christians who believe this as well though not brave enough to declare it to the world. It’s sort of the Fred Phelps syndrome – a lot of Christians think just like him (certainly many Calvinists do) but, because they aren’t so in your face or use words like faggot (at least not out loud), they think they are different. This whole Camping event is a perfect opportunity for people in the church to stand up and say, “These are God’s people as well!” Sadly, I haven’t read one Christian responding to Camping’s claims address that. I’m a gay person and, to be frank, I’m sick of being the church’s boogeyman.

    Anyway, that’s just my thoughts. The Camping event can and should offer us an opportunity to ask ourselves why we believe what we claim to believe.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mk3ovpIfSz8
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/23/harold-camping-speaks_n_865867.html?ref=fb&src=sp

    • Hi Roy- I can only imagine that it must be incredibly frustrating and hurtful to feel like a boogeyman to a body of people that should be welcoming you. I’m sorry to hear about your experience, but thank you for sharing a bit of your story and insight, and I hope you’ll continue to do so here.

  4. That was a great sports analogy. As a baseball player I can fully attest to the fact that the crowd made little difference when up to bat. It was just you and the pitcher and all else faded into the distant background.

    The very same should be true of our walk with Christ: We should be so focuse on Him that the petty distraction should recede from before us as we go about His work. Part of that work is, however, being prepared to answer the questions that a post-modern society will bring to bear upon those of us naming the name of Christ

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