On What Christianity Is and What it is Not

what Christianity is

What is Christianity?

Some say it is a tired, old, throwback.  It is the codification of the stunted desires of long dead prudes.  The anthem of the morally anal-retentive.

Others say it is the invention of the late-Roman world powers.  A grand trick of the rulers to keep the masses pacified and distracted.

Still others say it is the symbolic representation of the hopes and dreams of well-meaning, middle-class people.  Dreams that are fanciful- but the longings of nice neighbors, of Boy and Girl Scout types: you know, the good souls, who are sadly naïve.

Finally, others say that it is the unrecognized genius of the way things really, really are.  The True Science.  The What Really Is.  The thing that this world’s wealthy, educated, and beautiful people will be forced to finally confess as the ultimate reality at the Apocalypse.

All of these are wrong.

Christianity is, through faith, reaching for the True, the Good, and the Beautiful that lies within all of the ordinariness of everyday life.  It is pointing at the ray of the sun that sneaks past the foreboding clouds.  It is noticing the momentary wink of the eye of the crusty old man.  It is looking honestly at the ugliness that surrounds all of us and yet still knowing, that the best is yet to come.

Of course, preachers and writers and church leaders who are rhetorically skilled, offer numerous slogans that seem to work in a pinch.

Christianity is Jesus- not a religion.

Christianity is a relationship with Jesus– not a philosophy.

Christianity is embracing Jesus- not clinging to dogma.

All of these are wrong.  Or at least, partially wrong.  Why?  Because it all depends on which Jesus they are talking about.

We all know there are as many Jesus-es as there are cultures.  There is the blue-collar, carpenter Jesus.  There is the wise sage, Yoda Jesus.  There is the ever holy, morally pure Jesus.  There is the conservative ascetic, anti-liberal Jesus.  There is the political rebel, anti-establishment Jesus.  There is the nothing but love, therapeutic Jesus.  There is the charismatic, miracle working Jesus.  There is the down-trodden, wandering beggar Jesus.  There is the you can move mountains, God’s got a blessing coming for you Jesus.  And of course, there is the champion bible-quizzer Jesus.

Jesus can be whoever you want him to be.  And whoever your opponents fear he might be.

Christianity is a posture.  A way of seeing.  A way of noticing.  A redemptive form of imagination.  That yes, we intuit from Jesus.  Mind you, we do not learn it from him.  We catch it from him and through him.

That is why Jesus says he leaves us his Spirit.  You cannot learn Spirit.  You can only catch Spirit.  If you think you can learn the Spirit, you end up narrowing Jesus to one of the many options listed above.

When, through weeping and dread and fear (when you learn that your teenager daughter is pregnant) you pause, and crack a slight smile, imagining holding your grandbaby eight months from now: that is Jesus’s Christianity.

When, in the midst of all of the “what are we going to do” thoughts and worthless feelings that arise from receiving a pink slip, a beam of expectation hits your soul, and you gain a slight sense of anticipation, imagining that a better vocation may still lay ahead: that is Jesus’s Christianity.

When, in reading a NY Times article about people being sadistically slaughtered again in the Middle East, you know that there has to be a God, a Higher Something, who will finally right the scales of justice: that is Jesus’s Christianity.

Anyone can quite easily say what Christianity is not.  And 9 times out of 10, they will be correct in their denunciation.

But when they try to say what Christianity is, 9 times out of 10, they will be wrong.

Because it’s a pipe-dream?  Oh no!  Only the despots, and the managers, and the bourgeois, and the hell-bent revolutionaries would come to that bleak conclusion.

We are wrong, 9 times out of 10, because Christianity is too real in the present moment, and too future-oriented, for any concept to completely capture the essence of Jesus: the image of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful.

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