Different?

The question I have been wrestling with for the past few years deals with two aspects of my faith. For one, what about my faith makes me different than those without faith (or of a different faith?) For a long time, I was taught a lie that said Christians are better, more honest, more dependable people, but it didn’t take me long to realize that was not the case. Actually, the first chapter of Ronald Sider’s book essentially maps out how Christians live just like the rest of the world. Nothing is setting us apart. I’m a minister for crying out loud, and I cringe at the very question. Different? I don’t know that I’m any different than any of my neighbors. I try to do the right thing . . . so do they. I pray . . . so do most of them. I try to be a good neighbor . . . so do they. My neighbors lend a hand if I need it, they share their things with me if I need them, they are pretty much good people. “It takes more than being a good person to get into heaven,” I can almost hear my Sunday school years audibly in my mind now. Glad that verse is in the Bible . . . oh wait. It’s not!
That brings my question front and center again. What sets us apart? The related question, I think directs us to where we might find the answer. What did it cost us? That’s a question I’m really battling right now. What have I given up to “take up my cross and follow daily?” The truth is . . . not alot. Not anything. I’ve given up Sundays for the rest of my life, but other than that, what? Pay? I could have made a lot more money doing something else, but so could teachers, social workers, and disc jockeys. My quandry goes on. What has it cost me?
These are tough questions that more suburban Christians need to wrestle with. In the midst of soccer practice, baseball games, vacatations, college savings plans, retirement funds, and all of our other suburban idols, we must struggle through the question: What has it cost me?
I think there is a direct correlation to this topic and the dogmatic rhetoric of conservative evangelical churches. We have simplified salvation to a simple prayer (or in my tradition, a simple rite), and have left it at that. Sider states that we expect nothing more. They’ve said their prayer, they’ve gone through the baptismal rite, now hold on for heaven. That a horrible reduction of the Gospel! The Hebrew writer thought he had some immature CHristians . . . think of what he would say to our churches.
I really appreciated Sider’s discussion of personal sin vs. social sin. From his perception (and surely he’s on to something), conservative churches have tended to emphasize personal sins (lying, stealing, cheating, murdering, lusting, divorce, homosexuality, etc.) while more liberal churches have emphasized social sins (racism, classism, etc.). The truth is not found in one or the other. The Bible doesn’t favor one or the other. Both are valid and real opponents of the Gospel. In our consertative veined churches, we are so often unaware of the -isms that are tearing apart our world. It’s largely because there is no difference in the way we live our lives and those around us. Why would they be attracted to something they already live?
My family’s struggle with this question of difference and sacrifice goes on. Where is the sacrifice? Cutting cable? Only using one car? Living in an inner city neighborhood? The answer is not the same for everyone, but my thinking is that there is an answer for everyone, and it probably isn’t one we’d be happy to hear. Too often all we hear at church are things that get us excited (as indeed they should), but there is another tune that has to be sung. What if, when Jesus told the rich man to sell all he had, he meant it? What if he’s telling us that today?

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