The last month or so of my life has been insane in the most fulfilling way. I finished my internship at Fairfax (which I will speak more of in the coming weeks), began training as an RA with ACU Res Life (which I’m sure will bring many more stories for me to learn from and share), helped out with Welcome Week for the new Freshman class, and have now started my actual academic semester. To give you a snapshot of my semester, I’ll be juggling being an RA with 18 hours of classes (including Greek II, so, as the Greeks would say: crap), being secretary of Trojans Social Club, having my other job in payroll (for pocket cash, cuz ya boi’s still gotta put bread on the table), keeping up with my writing, and last but decidedly far from least, keeping up with that “relationship” thing I’ve got going.
With all that in mind, I hope you’re not surprised when I tell you that my thought for this week will be along the lines of short and sweet.
In the week’s limbo I had between RA training and Welcome Week, my good pal Calvin was gonna come and visit me, but due to extenuating circumstances, ended up being unable to visit after all. Which was a huge bummer because if there’s one thing I’ve been notably lacking recently, it’s presence and availability to my friends from back home. What made it worse is that Calvin attends college in New York, so this was legitimately our only chance to see each other until Christmas.
Calvin’s one of those guys I list as my brother on facebook despite having no blood relation. We met in 6th grade when he moved onto my street, finally severing the long depression I’d been experiencing since moving from a culdesac populated almost entirely by children to a circle that almost literally reeked of tapioca and Wheel of Fortune. We carpooled and walked to/from school together, and he told me about his life in Africa as his parents (and he) were missionaries. We got into trouble sometimes, watched Twilight Zone most times, but I’ve been blessed to have a friend like Calvin in my life during some of my most formative years, blessed to see him go through different seasons as I went through some myself.
With the prospect of his visiting, I started thinking about a conversation we had a couple years ago over Christmas break after getting some Coldstone Creamery. We talked about baptism and everything that sort of surrounds that topic. Why it’s necessary, why people believe it may not be, do you sprinkle or do you dunk, and all that. This was right at the beginning of my career as a Bible major, so I felt like I was equipped to speak with authority on this topic, though what I’ve been realizing more and more is that being a Bible major doesn’t make you the Bible Trivia Master with all the answers, but rather answers some questions and then raises many, many more.
It’s a blessing, but at times a frustrating one.
So I was reflecting on that conversation and recalled another one I’d been a part of in class about when the Holy Spirit comes in baptism, focusing mainly on a passage in Acts in which it appears that for some the Holy Spirit was received before baptism, and then for others it was received afterward. Of course this stirred the pot some, but hey, that’s what we were there to do.
But my experience with baptism and what it brings goes a little outside the Scriptures and reaches into my experience in the church. Growing up, the term “Christian” was reserved exclusively for those who were baptized. And I’m not sure when that became a thing, but it never really sat well with me.
I waded my way through 12 years of life before getting baptized and it took fewer years than that for someone outside of church to ask me if I was a Christian. Did I believe in Jesus? Did I go to church every Sunday and Wednesday? Was I a bad kid like the people who didn’t go to church? Yes, yes, and no. I had the answers that Sunday School had given me.
But did that make me a Christian? As far as I’d been told, no, because I hadn’t been baptized yet. Maybe you’ve had an experience like that before, and if you haven’t you can still imagine the effect that might have on a 12 year old (I talk a little about that in my poem The Grown Up Table).
Anyway, I don’t agree with this train of thought. And here’s at least one reason why, a thought I had last week while milling over all this.
Matthew 25:34-40. This is a passage we like to use a lot to talk about how to treat those in need. And it is a wonderful passage, I think written for that. But I think we miss a pretty important element in it pretty consistently.
If there’s one thing we love to do, it’s pat ourselves on the back. We can say we don’t but that’s very consistently a defensive answer. We are the rich young rulers, approaching the rabbi, expecting praise when we’re holding onto idols. And I think the way that that plays out in this case is our perspective in helping the poor. Here Christ clearly calls us to tend to those in need and to do so graciously, joyfully.
But somewhere along the way, we’ve decided that in doing that, the focus of that benefit is in our own becoming more Christlike. Jesus gave and Jesus healed, so when we reach out like that, we are more like Jesus and good for us! Post a selfie with our latest project so that people know we’re answering the call and being more like Christ. Then post it again on a Throwback Thursday to remind people.
Cynical? Sure. But I sincerely believe we’ve set a self-aggrandizing tone with this sort of thing, which is tragic because in this illustration in Matthew, we are not where Christ is present.
Christ’s presence is in the least of these.
That’s where I think we get that wrong. Does following Christ’s call to service make us more like him? Absolutely. But is it healthier to focus on that, or to focus on the fact that when we are face to face with the least of these, we are face to face with Christ?
It is not about us. It never has been in any other arena, so why would it be now?
That’s a hard beast to tackle, but I’m confident it can be. That’s why I’m uncomfortable with the verbiage of “Christian” in the way I grew up knowing it. I’m not saying that Christ working through someone instantly makes them a Christian, because I know He’s worked through some who were decidedly not. But something about that title and the standard we have in applying it makes it more difficult to see where He is working all around us.
What if we tried a little less to be Christ (especially if it’s for our own sake) and tried harder to see Christ.
What a beautiful world it would be if we could shed that pride and acknowledge the King, huddled and in need, waiting for us to look Him in the face and be lost in it.