Monday, August 08, 2005

Not the person I thought you were

The expression, "You can't judge a book by it's cover," is so incredibly overused yet at the same time so accurate. While looking through some old elementary school yearbooks this weekend, I was reminded of a few people I had misjudged. One kid was named Andy. He had been born without arms. Actually his arms ended around the elbows. One arm had a fleshy ball grown from the place where the forearm would have extended normally. The other arm featured a short "hand" which looked a bit more like the claw on a crab than anything which should grow on a human being.

Andy first came to my school in second grade. My best friend at the time, whose main interest in life was basketball, saw Andy walk through the classroom door and whispered into my ear, "Uh oh. A weak man." He was thinking only of the new kid's contribution to our elite second grade recess hoops squad. But I was no deeper. "Yup," I agreed, nodding my head. We saw the disability and stopped.

Over the next couple of years, I got to know Andy a lot better. It turns out that he wasn't the "weak man" my friend thought he was. Well, basketball wasn't Andy's game, but he was pretty good at baseball. I stood and watched him swing a bat in amazement more than once. Throwing was still a bit of a challenge, but Andy was fun to be around. Around fifth grade, I realized another talent of Andy's. The kid could draw. I'm not talking just the goofy stick people and houses with circles of smoke coming out of the chimneys that I could handle. Andy did sketches with a pencil wedged between the crab claw on one arm and the fleshy ball on the other. Beautiful stuff. I've always wanted to be able to draw like that and here was a kid with nothing below the elbows who had artistic talent dripping out of his ears. But looking at Andy that first day of second grade, I never would have realized what he was like.

I saw this article at about tsunami relief efforts in the heart of the Islam world. A tip of the old ball cap goes to Kevin at Short Attention Span who wrote a great post springing from this quote in the article:
“We are watching carefully to see how out of the ashes could come some remarkable opportunities to demonstrate God’s love,” says Stafford. “The people who are in the refugee camps are saying they never knew Christians. They told us, ‘We only knew what we were being taught and we thought that you were very different than you are. You are very loving people; we want to hear more about what you believe.’”
Those refugees obviously had heard a lot of faulty information. Christians aren't really the monsters those people had heard about. Well, most of us aren't anyway. But until there was objective proof that their beliefs were wrong, these folks were not going to change their minds about Christianity. In short, they would not change their perceptions until there was something different to perceive.

I get frustrated at the stereotypes of Christians which are accepted so often as truth. Perhaps the reason I get so frustrated is that I keep running into people who reinforce the stereotype. Take televangelists for example. One common stereotype is expressed in this joke:
"Televangelists are just like teenagers. Either way, all you get is a hand in your wallet and a goofy haircut!"
A quick check of the religious television channels does nothing to discourage this stereotype. Now I fully realize that a bald man has little solid ground from which to criticize another man's hair. And I am aware that a television ministry costs a significant amount of money. But program after program reinforces the "give me money and pray that God will heal my hair" stereotype. Perceived truth becomes accepted truth without evidence to the contrary.

In the same fashion, Christians are portrayed as hateful, so in steps the Rev. Fred Phelps who will go so far as to protest at a serviceman's funeral to spread his "message" about homosexuality. Perceived truth becomes accepted truth. Yet our job as Christians is to live up to our commitment to Christ and in doing that providing evidence to shatter that sterotype.

Christians are said to be hypocritical. And if you define hypocrisy as saying one thing and doing another, then there isn't a Christian who wouldn't qualify as a hypocrite -- after all we all do some things we willingly admit we shouldn't do. The perceived truth becomes accepted truth. Yet as believers we are to practice what we preach through the strength provided by the Holy Spirit. And when we fail we aren't to make excuses and try to justify our actions; we are to be honest, confess our sins and make restitution where possible. The other part of shattering the "hypocrite" stereotype comes with the way we deal with sinfulness in others. We cannot condemn as if our hands aren't stained with our own sins. We are to explain how God defines sin and offer help brother to brother and sister to sister -- not superior to inferior.

Christians are brushed off as lazy, gullible and easily manipulated, accepting anything they hear, especially in a church building. Again there are multiple examples of people who buy into anything simply because someone they respect says it is so. With heads nodding, weird theory and false interpretation become fact because too many Christians don't know how and don't have the inclination to be Bereans and check out the truth. The eyes of the world see Christians believing nonsensical rumors that Joshua's 24 hours of daylight has been found by scientists or that in Russia they've bored a hole into hell. And once again, perceived truth becomes accepted truth. Yet if Christians would have some passion in their relationship with Jesus Christ, they would disprove the stereotype of the lazy, manipulated Christian each and every day.

The list of stereotypes are endless. Christians are stupid. Judgmental. They gather on Sunday to reassure each other to keep believing the myth. They only care about the people in their church. They send missionaries to make themselves feel better. They don't believe in science. They want to destroy the earth to hasten Christ's return. You've probably heard a bunch more. Some of them are so ridiculous that they are hard to disprove. Yet our Christian walk is supposed to focus the light of Jesus Christ in such a way that others will see the Truth and toss the stereotypes in the dumpster. Just as the Master proclaimed that the world would know us as His disciples by the way we love one another, it should also be apparent to the world that their stereotypes are wrong by the way we live our lives. Our faith isn't our own private affair. It's living proof that we're not the people the world thinks we are.

Am I the person the unbeliever thinks I am? What am I doing to shatter the stereotype? Do I allow those people to see Jesus shining through me or am I content with letting them mutter "Uh oh. Weak man," beneath their breath? It comes down to the way I live my life - in public and when no one is looking but God. After all, I'm not the hateful, hypocritical, lazy, gullible, stupid, judgemental person that they think I am. At least I hope not.

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