What the heck does the word bring to mind for you? What does it make you feel? Do you think "crusades," "intolerant," or "gay-haters"? Or how about "freaky summer camps," "won't tip servers," "has annoying fishy things on bumpers"?
I sure hope these aren't the things that come to mind, but I'd understand if they do. And let me apologize if that is the case. For what it's worth, on behalf of Christianity I'm truly sorry. We've dropped the ball many times to say the least. I've noticed that some who consider themselves Christians can be leery of dropping the c-word. Some have even suggested that we may need a different word, that saying "Christian" has too much baggage.
But I want to hang on to the word. It's actually pretty neat when you boil it down. It was first used with regard to early believers in Antioch. If you followed the way of Jesus, then you were labeled a Christian. A Christ-one. Neat.
So, put simply, a Christian is meant to behave just like Christ, follow Him in a way that's recognizable. Unfortunately, that ends up being a bit of a problem, because ever since Jesus graced the earth humans have tried, struggled and failed to live up to His example. But I hope we don't jettison the word just because humans are messed up. See, everyday bits of me look like Christ and bits of me don't. It's a journey, a fight, a struggle at times. But I need to be aimed at something. I need a mark of some sort. So, that is why I'm okay being called a "Christian." I'm directing my life — however messed up — at everything, and no less than who Jesus is.
We could, if we wanted, jump ship and pick a new word every time the Christianity idea got a bit muddy, but we'd have probably have to change the word too often — every decade, or more. So, I respect you if you want to say something else, or if you don't like saying it unless you're REALLY sure you know the other person knows what you mean. But I think it would be better to keep the word and when Christians are out of line say "Hey! That's not like Christ. Let's not do that anymore."
Before we go any further, let me tell you that I feel the tension of being affilliated with so much crap, historical and current. In an interview, John Mayer relayed his frustration with introductions. His point was that he doesn't really get a clean slate when he meets someone, because people already have an idea of who John Mayer is (womanizer, arrogant, etc). He has to work just to get back to zero. I feel that. If I say "Hi, I'm Joshua. I'm a Christian," then there's no telling what that will mean for somebody. I hate that. And twice for emphasis, I hate that. It makes me shy about saying "Christian."
It reminds me also of being homeschooled. See, I know some strange folks have emerged out of the homeschooling culture, many I don't want to identify with. But when people ask where I went to school, I don't comment vaguely about my journey towards scholasticism. I tell them I was homeschooled. I own it. And I've had this response countless times: "Oh you were homeschooled? But you seem so normal." I'm not exactly sure what "normal" means, but I think it means, at least, "not a nutcase." So I hope I create little paradigm shifts each time, showing that not all people who were educated at home are completely out of touch with reality.
I suggest that we Christians need to do the same. We need to do be honest, own the "Christian" thing and hopefully show that we are not all nuts.
"I'm not about labels". Okay. Sure. Don't label someone something derogatory like "loser" or "trailer-trash" or "fag". That's not helpful. But labels are really useful and necessary at times. Imagine you went to the grocery store looking for ketchup and found that nothing was labeled. Not cool. Imagine you asked a professional football player what team he played for and he responded "Hey man, you can't label me. I just throw that ball around, you know."
So, I submit that folks who subscribe to the whole following Jesus thing ought to keep on saying "Christian". I'm not saying you have to like all the things that have been done in the name of Christianity. In fact, you may be like me and are actually super embarrassed about some of that junk. But let's be brave and try to rescue to word.
But let's also be like Christ, yes? And let's believe that although we'll wreck it at times, it's not a lost cause.
Before I go, here's a handful of examples of what it means to look like Jesus:
Loving God and people
Defending the weak and vulnerable
Having a special anger for misused religion, particularly towards those in power
Only saying what is beautiful, helpful and true
Guarding human life vehemently
Saying uncomfortable stuff out of love
Standing for conviction even in the face disapproval
Wielding power and influence with humility
And that is what it means to be "Christian" as well.
If you've experienced anything from Christianity other than that above, then I'm real sorry. It's not what Christians are supposed to look like and I hope that you can make just a tiny bit of room in your heart for the "Christian" idea. And to my fellow believers, let's work hard at looking like Jesus and salvaging this "Christian" word.