Saturday, January 8, 2011

Same coin, different side

Do all things without grumbling or questioning,
that you may be blameless and innocent, 
children of God without blemish
in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation,
among whom you shine as lights in the world.
                         - Philippians 2:14~15

Have you ever seen that episode of "The Mentalist" where he wins a bet by flipping a coin 20 times and making it come up heads every time? Turns out it was a trick. Had to be. All real coins have two sides.  

And so it is with this topic.

I want to continue along the same lines as last week, because the idea that God wants Christians to stand out from the world around them has two equally important sides.

Last week's blod subtly focused on what our being unique and visible can do for others who are still in darkness. 

We are to be the light, the goodness, the kindness, the comfort, the truth, the hope, the peace, the strength, the community that draws others to our Lord. If we speak, act, react and think just like everyone else around us, we will draw no one. Probably instead we'll push many away. 

The fact is, we have to be different from the world for the world to ask us what makes us different, and then want whatever it is that makes us that way.

So one side of this coin is that we must stand out for the sake of the people around us.

The other side - a side I seldom ever think about - is that we also must stand out for our own good.  We really can't live, mature or rejoice as Christians if we are indistinguishable from everyone else.

This concept is completely biblical (God commanded the Jews to be separate from the nations around them for just this reason) and extremely important, even if nearly forgotten.

One of the best illustrations of this point I've ever heard comes from the novel, The Penitent, by Isaac Bashevis Singer.  

It's the story of Joseph Shapiro, an entirely modern and worldly Jew who suddenly finds himself unbearably disgusted with the life of lies, sex and compromise he's been living. He decides to escape and return to his roots, leaving everything and everyone behind. He literally runs from his home, boards a flight to Israel, and commits himself completely to a life of penance and purity. As the plane takes off, he is hopeful and relieved. Until an attractive young woman sits down next to him. He knows he must be very careful with her, but when the cabin lights go off for the night, things quickly get out of hand. Luckily, the design of the airplane seats prevents consummation of their ultimate goal, but Shaprio is momentarily shattered. After only hours he has already failed. Suddenly, the difficulty of his new life becomes terribly clear. 

After we realized that what we were tying to do wouldn't work out, we were left sitting there like two whipped dogs, ashamed before each other....  My journey had now become as meaningless as everything else about me. I began to think about buying a ticket back to New York when I got to Rome. Since I couldn't be a Jew, I must be a pagan. Since I couldn't live in purity, I must sink deeper into the slime. Suddenly a man walked by me. He wore a rabbinical hat, had a wide blond beard, long earlocks, and the front of his coat was open to display a ritual garment with fringes. My neighbor looked at him and grimaced. Her eyes reflected embarrassment and scorn. I realized at that moment that without earlocks and a ritual garment one cannot be a real Jew....  Had I worn such an outfit that night, I wouldn't have been exposed to those tempatations.... If [a Jew] doesn't display a sign, if he doesn't broadcast to the whole world who and what he is, he leaves himself open to transgressions that cannot be resisted.

I'm not suggesting we need to wear ritual garments or earlocks to avoid airplane naughties, but what a wonderful idea it is to make absolutely sure that everyone who sees us knows immediately where we stand. I can think of several great benefits this kind of identification could provide:

  1. We would face fewer unnecessary temptations (like a man in a bar with a wedding ring on)
  2. We would find it easier to walk away from temptations (like a jockey in full gear wouldn't place a bet at the track)
  3. We would have a constant reminder to live what we believe (there's nothing like a "uniform" to remind you who you are)
  4. We would probably find it much easier to speak our faith (since our "cover" is already "blown" anyway)
  5. We would recognize other disciples and know we're not alone

Sadly, cross necklaces & "Jesus Fish" have been rendered meaningless by their adoption into mainstream culture. But I'm sure that, with a little thought, each one of us can come up with a way to make our allegiance perfectly and immediately clear.