Potluck | December 2, 2016

Remember what it means to be Christian

Image by John Hain

We come into this Christmas season following what may have been the worst election cycle in our nation’s history. We prepare for the future with the “I’m not excited but that person was better than the other one” mindset. And yet, we must remember that Christmas is the exact opposite. Christmas is about birth, and fresh starts and second chances.

As we enter into this Christmas season, we finish out what has been a tumultuous year. There is constant unrest and uneasiness. We are scared to be in community. We judge quickly before we bother to listen, analyze, and work to understand. We scream rather than talk, and we answer rather than listen. But the question is, am I describing our actions as a church, or from a secular point of view—or both?

Maybe this season we will remember that our lives are gifts—the ultimate gifts. They are blessings for whatever amount of time we are allowed to have them. In some cases we get extended use, and in others life is far too short. Our calling as Christians is to live a Christ-like life. We are supposed to model our beliefs and actions after Jesus, who turned his back on no one, even his persecutors.

US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, a man with whom I likely do not agree on anything, said recently, “I think that we have decided that rather than confront the disagreement and differences of opinion, we’ll just simply annihilate the person who disagrees with us.” I believe this sums up our relationships with each other, both inside and outside of the church.

We should reflect on this year because it’s been rough. While there are always bright spots along the way, we have found that we cannot even have a conversation about sexuality, let alone come together and agree on much about it. We still cannot have an open and honest conversation about race after seeing Black man after Black man lynched by the people who are sworn to protect them. We have questioned each other’s religiosity and spirituality, and we have questioned each other’s patriotism and right to protest injustice. We even question the legality of being human.

Again, where does the church end and society begin? The lines are as blurred as they ever have been. There is no one uniting voice or presence to which we all are willing to listen. We are so caught up in our individual spaces that we have forgotten our greater purpose of serving humanity and God. We have tarnished the Golden Rule.

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets,” says Matthew 7:12. We’ve not been provided good examples by our political leaders in how to display civility. They call each other names, and some even encourage their constituents to punch people who disagree with them. Are our church leaders much different, minus the punching part? Or is their incivility displayed by verbal “punching” or, worse yet, silence? As Christians we are not necessarily providing the best example to those whom we encourage to join us. We are not providing a great example to the next generation of Christians.

The birth of the baby boy brought kings to a stable, and had them sitting with animals on their knees to witness a miracle under the light of a bright star. As we slow down and reflect on our past and our present and our future this Christmas season, it’s time to search for that bright star and remember what it means to be Christian.

Eric Bishop was moderator of the 2015 Pacific Southwest district conference, which had the theme “Called To Be Just Christians.” A member of La Verne (California) Church of the Brethren, Bishop works at Chaffey College and is a lecturer at the University of La Verne. He recently completed a term on the Annual Conference Program and Arrangements Committee.