On Behavior and Belief

your-beliefs-dont-make-you-a-better-person.jpg                Are you a cat person or dog person?

                Who do you root for, Michigan or State?

                Are you an introvert or extrovert?

                Do you have a specific political affiliation?

                What’s your favorite movie genre?

                People like categories. We like to be able to label things and build our understanding of this person or thing around this label, it makes us feel safe. It makes us feel like we have a better understanding based on these labels. And labels aren’t always bad; they can give us a sense of belonging or make us feel like we’re better understood by others like ourselves. It can give us a healthy sense of competition. However, labels can also isolate people, they can hurt, and they can instill an us vs. them mentality.

                On my way to work this week I saw a bumper sticker that, at first, made me feel pretty good. It fit the category of Christian I belong to and it said something good about them. The bumper sticker read “Real Men Love Jesus.” At first it made me feel really good because sometimes loving Jesus isn’t seen as very manly, often it’s seen as a weakness, I think. And I’ll be honest, before I met Riq I often lamented the fact that there aren’t as many men that took their faith seriously as women, at least not that I had seen.

                But after I looked at that sticker a second it started making me feel bad. It started making me think of all the men I know that are very good people, doing great things for this world and their fellow man, and they don’t believe in Jesus. It made me think of a few people I know that claimed to really love Jesus and to be working in His name, but did terrible monstrous things to others. I suddenly realized that if I wasn’t a Christian this bumper sticker would have made me feel terrible, even angry.

                As a Christian I want to love everyone, I want to make the world a better place and show other’s God’s love. This bumper sticker made a bold statement, and one that I feel really serves to isolate and hurt those who don’t fit under its label. If you don’t love Jesus, you’re not a “real man?” That seemed to be the message I was getting after a moment. It wasn’t feel good, it wasn’t inclusive, I felt like it was very harshly dividing men into two categories. If you don’t love Jesus, you’re not a real man. You don’t fit in with us real men. Jesus doesn’t have room for you in His family, and why would you want to be part of it? With a statement like that, I wouldn’t think that it was a religion about love, caring for those who don’t fit in, or like I would be accepted. What other things lie on this check list? I can’t be a worthwhile person if I don’t love Jesus? I can’t be a good parent or altruistic individual? “Good Parents Love Jesus,” as if you can’t be a good parent without loving Jesus, or all parents who love Jesus are automatically good.

                This is not what loving Jesus is all about. The religious zealots at the time weren’t who Jesus spent His time with. It wasn’t the Pharisees, it was the tax collectors, and prostitutes, and fishermen. He called some Pharisees a den of vipers, but they claimed to love God, so wouldn’t that make them real men? They dedicated their lives to follow God’s commands and knowing His word, yet when God’s son came He said he came for the sick, the children, and all those rejected.

                Yes, there are “real men” that love Jesus, there are volatile men that claim to love Jesus as well. There are “real men” that are Buddhist and Muslim, too. Christianity is not about being in-or-out, it’s not “are you good enough,” because none of us are, that was the whole point of Jesus coming in the first place. Christianity isn’t supposed to be a feel good club, looking out at everyone else and turning our noses up. “You’re not a real man, a good parent, or a devoted friend because you don’t love Jesus.” Sometimes I look at people that have never stepped foot in a church and am humbled by how much more faithful and loving they are than me.

                I don’t believe that in-or-out statements like this would make Jesus happy, I think He would remind us that we are all sinful, and that we all belong to the same human family, and that He loves us all the same. Instead of a sticker saying “I’m better than you for what I believe” why not put one up that says “You are loved.” Isn’t that what our faith is supposed to be about? Loving others? Isn’t that what Jesus calls us to do if we really love Him?

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