Display It Through Your Actions

Over the weekend my post The Bait and Switch of Contemporary Christianity bounced around the Internet again (posts do this from time to time), mostly burning through Facebook.

The comments are more than I can keep up with. I did, however, if you missed the activity on this post, want to point you to the most "liked" comment over the last few days. It's a story from Mac:

A few weeks ago I was doing a community clean up in my neighborhood. I rode to the sign-in area with a neighbor, who was also the block captain. His SUV had a giant "Jesus Saves, Obama Spends" sticker on the window. When I got in the car, I had to move the enormous bible off the seat to make room. Clearly they were "gawd fearin' Christians".

Halfway through the clean up I approached a leaf-covered yard that others seemed to be skipping. I started to rake and the block captain ran up to me, pulled me aside and started speaking in a hushed voice.

"We're not doing that yard," he said.


"Because when my wife went looking for volunteers, he said he didn't want to participate in 'this crap'."


"So he isn't getting his yard raked by us."

I took a look down the street, at all the nicely raked lawns, and then at my neighbors truck, with the obnoxious window decal.

"You know what," I said, "I'll rake the yard, and if he wants to yell at someone for doing it, he can yell at me. His house is still part of the neighborhood."

My neighbor, with his huge bible, bumper sticker and absurd blow-up nativity scene shook his head and left me to rake the yard alone.

If you're going to publicly display your faith, display it through your actions.
Thanks Mac. Convicting story. Reminds me of this:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

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13 thoughts on “Display It Through Your Actions”

  1. Excellent story! I love the original post as well. In InterVarsity we have a senior staff name Neil Rendall who was known for his "freight train" analogy that resembles your list. His final point was that our only goal is to declare the reign of God. We do that in different ways in different spheres of life, but it is our one task.

  2. Does a Light decide upon what it will shine upon? 
    Does a Light hide under a bushel basket, reflecting upon its own Self?
     Why are self-proclaimed Christians so difficult to love?

  3. Here's my problem. Let's say I tell a story in which I'm a really, really good guy and help rake an obnoxious guy's yard. Let's say I ride with someone who doesn't want to rake the yard because the owner's obnoxious. So far, so good.
    When I tell the story, should I make it a point to mention that the won't-rake-the-yard neighbor votes for Democrats? Should I emphasize it if he's black? Should I emphasize it if he's a red-head? Should I emphasize it if he's a homosexual? Or should I only emphasize it if he happens to belong to the one subgroup that our culture loves to vilify at the slightest pretext, for such high crimes as burning witches and not raking the yards of those who don't seem to want their yards raked?

    Let your light shine. Display it through your actions. Try not to be an S.O.B. These are, I suppose, good pieces of advice. But I worry when they all seem to serve the purpose of telling one subgroup to never, never, never make themselves conspicuous--to never, never, never use bumper stickers, or even put bibles in their cars, because someone MIGHT catch them making a questionable decision and BAM!

    The story reminds me of another real jerk, not very tolerant at all, who once went around doing good (like the neighbor with the Bible) but just couldn't keep his mouth shut. He'd call people names. He'd tell a shamed and traumatized woman who barely escaped mob violence that she should stop sinning. And he also said this: "If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet before you leave that home or town. People like that will receive judgment--judgment like fire falling from heaven on Sodom and on Gomorrah." What a jerk.

  4. I had thought about editing the bumper sticker part out of Mac's story. I would have if it had been just an anti-Obama sticker. But I pondered the theological conflation of "Jesus Saves" with "Obama Spends." I ultimately left it in as I felt conflating Golgotha with worries about socialism to be worthy of critique.

  5. Yeah. I know you're not anti-Repub. But you are anti-something--a something which we sometimes call "evangelicalism" (for shorthand), a subculture that is "irremedial" and which combines fiscal conservatism with honoring Jesus. And I think it takes harder hits than, say, a culture that might conflate Golgotha with a "prophetic" message about the need to spend more public money rather than less.

    I get the message--you aren't interested in calling out sub-cultures in general (consciously, anyway), but rather calling out Christ's church, getting us all to live the gospel more faithfully. But I do think there is something predictable (and unfair) about hammering the tacky-bumper-sticker-and-selectively-serving-neighbors Christian, which is an inverse problem from the traditional fundamentalist jeremiad against the silent-about-Jesus-and-gets-drunk-on-weekends Christian. There are plenty of both kinds of Christian, and both kinds of Christian need to grow up--but I catch a slightly self-serving and other-shaming tone to the attacks on both. On this forum, that means I'll stand up for the tacky-bumper-sticker, while on fundy forums, I'll stand up for the drunk-on-weekends.

  6. That's fair. The only thing I worry about in this regard, when people adopt the role as "corrective" and gadfly, is that it corrupts their online persona, coming across as negative all the time. Bad feelings build up as there are no occasions of mutuality and solidarity. People (myself included) start passing over your comments as we already know what you're going to say. If people want to be listened to they have to show they listen to others. I always like to point to qb as the model commenter in this regard. He and I disagree sharply at times on politics but have great conversations on topics of mutual concern.

    And for what it's worth, I've never written a bad thing about a Republican on this blog. It's funny how people, if I say semi-charitable things about Obama, assume that I necessarily have to be a Republican hater. I guess that's the way it works in the world. But I'm not that way. I'm a registered Independent who has voted for Republicans, Democrats and third party candidates in elections. I pick my poison.

  7. I doesn't seem like the cranky neighbor wanted his lawn raked. How is this helping your enemy? It seems like Mac became disgusted with the SUV, bumper sticker neighbor and retaliated.

  8. Point taken. And I assume that it goes both ways--I haven't been following you long, but how many of your recent posts have been, by your own words, intended from the start as "corrective" and "gadfly" toward conservative Christian culture ("marriage is failure," "evangelicals are bigots," etc.). Of course, this is your blog! But I was guessing that you were being provocative to, well, provoke. Your posts that don't strike me as over the top are great (and I've recommended them to multiple friends)--but I had nothing to comment about them!

    Oddly enough, my whole role in much of my (academia-centered) life has been as a "gadfly" and "corrective" from what I see as a positive perspective. I'll be the spoke in the wheels of the general anti-evangelical snarkiness, not because I'm a negative devil's advocate, but because I have warm fuzzy feelings toward Focus on the Family (doing great things to strengthen Christian marriage), toward guys with Jesus-and-politics bumper stickers (trying to integrating their faith with reasoned political protest about the limits of government), and toward traditional Calvinists and non-Calvinists (who aren't, in my judgment, particularly naive about human volition or narrative identity).

    I can understand why you'd want to critique all of these groups, of course. I just keep wondering whether I can help people like you (passionate, articulate, academic) truly "get"--and, therefore, be genuinely fond of--the people you're choosing to write about.

    Now, when I'm being snarky about Christian liberalism, I need to remember to truly "get" and be genuinely fond of the people who think that "Jesus saves, so vote to spend more money on welfare" is redemptive Christocentric compassion (rather than a veiled claim that only Democrats truly love their neighbors).

  9. Interesting take. If you're right, who's the enemy, and how do we love that enemy, in this story? If you're right, how do we get off of the merry-go-round of self-righteousness and retaliation, and then self-righteousness and retaliation against the self-righteous retaliator? (Are the comments you and I have posted "negative" retaliation against Mac, or even Richard?)

    Is there a way (however difficult) to believe the best about the SUV driver and believe the best about his critics, Mac and Richard? Is there a way (however difficult) to believe the best about kate and me?

  10. If it helps any, I think your larger point--that I should begin "occasions of mutuality and solidarity"--is not only true, but a sort of mega-truth. (My wife would read my sentence about not bothering to comment when I agreed with you, look me in the eye, and say, "And that's your sin.")

    And I see you doing lots of mutuality and solidarity even in your gadflyness. Very constructive, and positive. That's my intention too, even if I'm not very good at it.

  11. Richard, I was convicted when I first read "The Bait and Switch of Contemporary Christianity" a year or two ago when I first was introduced to your blog. The points you made in that first post, and this one are uncomfortable realities those of us reared in evangelical and/or fundamentalist churches must wrestle with. We must wrestle with these realities because that is exactly what they are... realities that, for the thoughtful Christian, manifest themselves in the disconnect between what is taught and sung in church with the operation of daily life. To question the disconnect is taboo, and will be rebuffed in myriad ways with varying degrees of convincing arguments from all of those convicted by our questions. But you've hit the nail on the head square on with these posts.

    I grew up in the "c"hurch of Christ. We had the right doctrine, and did worship the right way, and our literal understanding of the Bible was correct. Yet on many levels it was, and remains somewhat, Pharisee-like. The love preached from scripture was not the love shown to the "least of these." As a "liberal" church of Christ, we gave money to charities and we brought food to funeral dinners, and we prayed for folks, but to walk someone through the literal trenches of their problems didn't happen. My mom was diagnosed as bipolar when I was about 9 or 10 years old, and she (and we) had suffered through a lot of emotional issues. She shared this with a womens group at the church, and wasn't exactly embraced. In fact, a year or two later when she had stopped going to this church altogether, the friends who stood by her were not from our church. Years later when I was still going there, I asked a couple of the women that mom knew if they would mind inviting her to eat, she'd probably go and this would go a long way towards her coming back to church. That must have been too much to ask. The invite never came.  That's unfortunate, because it was their loss.

    Looking back, in light of these posts, and in light of all my experiences with faith, and in light of who Christ is, I doubt that it was mom's mental illness that scared them off. She was easy to dismiss as having emotional problems, but her criticism and observation was a little too close for comfort. And it threatened to expose a reality nobody wanted to face - the disconnect between what was taught and what was practiced. And now, as an adult, I suspect her mental illness was exacerbated by the family and church dysfunction that surrounded her.  Occasionally I still struggle with unforgiveness because a group of people who were supposed to hold the deed of correct doctrine did nothing to lift a burden that could have been lightened by simply giving a damn.

    So the "Bait and Switch" that exchanges right actions for right beliefs, is a dangerous thing. Because when Jesus tells us to laugh with those who laugh and weep with those who weep, I think he means it to be genuine. And genuine is the result of His Spirit, not from adherence to the letter of the law.

    Thanks for your posts.

  12. Oh my goodness, my heart is with you. I got mixed up in a "c"hurch of Christ when I got to college. I can't believe I got out of that spiritually abusive and willfully ignorant mess alive.

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