I’ve never been one to fit the stereotypes.
My Mama always told me that I was the most difficult child. I was the stubborn one, overly-confident, very honest, and a go-getter. I didn’t let mere things or circumstances stand in the way of what I wanted. I would tell you whatever was on my mind. And yes, I was good at sneaking around the rules and lying to cover up the disobedience. Quite the handful, as you can imagine.
As a teenager, I graduated two years before my peers, ignored the stares whenever all seven of me and my siblings would walk into a church or store, and I got used to seeing the shocked faces of people when I told them that I had been homeschooled because apparently I “didn’t act like a homeschooler.” (This must’ve come from their unfortunate encounter with socially awkward Bill Gothard cult followers. Poor things.)
What I’m getting at here is, like I said, I don’t fit stereotypes. Never have. And this, dear readers, is why I’m publicly announcing that I am choosing not to be a Christian prototype anymore.
And yes, I use the word “anymore” because for the longest time, I had this assumption (whether planted there or simply thought to be true based on what I observed in the environment I lived in/church I attended) that, as a self-proclaiming Christian, I had to have a distinctive appearance, give a certain kind of impression, fit into a specific mold: the definition of what today’s Christian is and looks like. And believe it or not, I actually tried to. Crazy, right? After me just telling you that I don’t go with the flow of things, I’m admitting that I attempted to mimic the crowd calling themselves “Christians.”
No, I’m not going to tell you a sob story about how imperfect I am. Or how one day, I realized that I could never reach the standard of a “good Christian.” And no, it’s not because I had some crazy revelation that I didn’t have to try anymore. I simply chose not to.
And here is why…
I remember once talking to someone I had recently met. He candidly asked me if I was a Christian.
“Yes,” I replied. “Why do you ask?”
“You act like one,” he said. “But you don’t talk like one.”
When I asked him to elaborate on what drew him to this conclusion, he said that my tattoos and piercings threw him off, and the fact that I had spiritual reasons behind each of them. My “casual yet edgy” fashion statement was also similar to how I expressed myself with words. “But the way you mention Jesus or church, it’s like those are natural parts of your life. You’re not forcing yourself to look spiritual.”
I guess I could understand his intrigue. The most common feedback I’ve heard from non-Christians is how fake claiming Christians seem to appear. “It’s as if they have their life all together and they don’t have any relatable issues.” I’ve had non-believing friends tell me that I am approachable about my faith because I don’t try to force it down anyone’s throat. I guess I’m unlike many Christians because I don’t have a goal of how many people I must lead to Christ every year. If you do, more power to you, but in my eyes, reaching the lost and hurting shouldn’t be a race to see how many eggs we can get in a basket. It should be a loving connection-based and nurtured relationship viewpoint because, honestly, how many of us jump feet first into a life-changing decision unless we’ve weighed the pros and cons, feel comfortable and connected to whatever we’re choosing to allow be a part of our lives forever? I believe that I am simply called to live like Christ. He will open doors of opportunity for me. He will lead me to the people He wants me to influence and talk to and befriend. And then He will do the rest.
The fact is, I’m not that great.
Yes, I lead worship at my church. Yes, I love to lead prayers. Yes, I have a very intimate spiritual relationship with my Jesus. I know I am called to be like Him, but ultimately, you shouldn’t be looking at how I’m living. You should strive to look more like Christ in your own life. We are all convicted differently. You may not feel His blessing to get a tattoo or piercing, whereas I have seven piercings and 16 tattoos. (And those very things have opened doors of opportunity to share His good news with people who also have tattoos and piercings!) You may not feel His blessing to wear any type of pants, but I wear jeans, shorts, capris, and leggings. We’re all unique in our personalities and characters and yes, our relationships with Him. Each person’s spiritual life is theirs and His, not theirs, His and yours too. It shouldn’t be about looking like the person in your life who fills you with inspiration and wonder. It should be rather – “What about my role model imitates Christ and how can I look more like Him through following their example?”
All I know, though, is that the Jesus of the Bible wasn’t some holier-than-thou guy with a standoffish attitude who spoke with a deep monotone voice talking all about how God is going to punish everyone who goes against His commands. But He didn’t beat around the bush either. He said the truth and the truth wasn’t always pretty, but wow was He real. He loved. He forgave. He healed because He could and wanted to. He hung out with the people no one else wanted to be seen or associated with: thieves, beggars, whores, loud children, single mothers. He Himself was homeless, He wasn’t super educated (according to some), came from a humble and hardworking family, and I bet you anything, He smelled like fish most of the time. He called people out on their crap, flipped tables, called religious leaders poisonous snakes, washed dirty feet like a mere slave. He knew the very definition of the word “suffer” like no one else has or ever will. Some guy, huh? Not the typical model person you would mold a leader after and decide to follow with your whole heart. But oh, He’s my biggest role model. I hope I look like Him, at least in some areas. I wish in all. I want to be known for rocking the boat, speaking out for the lost and broken, taking that extra second to speak life into someone’s world of hurt, to hang out with people the Christians of today’s mold wouldn’t want to be associated with.
You see, molds are man-made. Molds can be broken. Molds aren’t eternal.
I think today’s culture is so fixated on titles and cliques that even Christians get caught up in the labels and create subcultures of perfectionism when in reality, it’s not about who is doctrinally sound, who worships the “right way,” which pastor speaks better, who prays the most eloquently, which church building is the biggest. If you took all that away from the average church-goer, what do you think you would have left? I know that for me, if you took away the complexity of it all, you’d be left with a 20-something-year-old woman who struggles day to day to silence the enemy’s lies, who is always fighting private battles, who has a battered and bruised heart, a powerful story of redemption, 16 tattoos, seven piercings, who practices meditation, douses herself in essential oils, uses crystals and nature as a way to recharge, who cusses sometimes, who has some songs labeled “explicit” in her iTunes, who strives every day to touch just one person with words of life and love and hope, who tries to become a better human, in any and every day attempting to mimic the life and walk of a Man who lived on this earth 2,000 years ago but Who is eternal and reaches through time just to touch my soul and remind me that I am wholly, fully, and completely loved.
“When someone asks me about tattoos, cussing, and parties, I’m more bothered that we’re not bothered by greed, poverty, dichotomies, and self-idolatry. Jesus navigates the caves in our hearts before the cracks in our behavior. Love saves us into truth, not the other way around.”
– J.S. Park
No, I don’t have all the answers. I’m not claiming to “know the way to draw people to Christ.” I do believe that living out our faith by example is the greatest show of vulnerability and the way to be the most relatable and appealing. We have enough things in this world forcing us to be better, be more perfect, be sexier, be more in shape, be more attractive. What about the people, like myself, who feel like they fall short of that? Where can they look for realism and encouragement?
All of my faith is based on a deep knowledge in my soul that what I choose to believe is the truth. And I believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. The same God who made this universe, who knit me together in my Mama’s womb, who knew all the mistakes I would make, all the days I would screw up, all the times I would knowingly go against Him, and yet He chose to sacrifice Himself for me in spite of it all. And because I have been shown the greatest example of love, only through this can I say that I will love people no matter who they are or their background or what they believe. I don’t talk to people for the sole purpose of converting them. I talk to people to grow connections and to show them through my example, through my life, through how I live, that I serve this awesome Spiritual Being who made them and desires to have a personal relationship with them. Our souls are what we have in common with God. They’re eternal and made in the very image of their Creator. This is why I can say that I see His art in and through everything.
I’m not saying that I’ve rejected Christianity and I despise churches and everyone who attends them. Or that people who claim to be Christians are fake, or that the door-to-door evangelist is doing it all wrong. What I am saying is that God won’t be found in anything that tries to put on a show, whether that be your life or a church sanctuary. We aren’t here to bring attention to ourselves. We’re here to live out this wonderful one-time thing called “life,” to live it fully, and for His glory. If someone asks where we get this living water from, then, by all means, we should share this crazy amazing story of forgiveness and hope that we all have planted in us. But let’s not go up to someone and try to drown them with it through labels and pointing fingers and judgment. Because that’s not how Jesus won any souls. Throughout the whole Bible, there is story after story of God using super messed up people to accomplish some of His greatest displays of love, hope, redemption, and grace. He used someone who got blackout drunk partying one night to repopulate the entire world. He used an adulterer and murderer to restore justice to His chosen people. He used a man who had 700 wives and 300 concubines to design and build His holy temple. He used a hooker to be part of the lineage of that would bring His Son into the world. He chose people who made mistakes, caused pain, tore families apart, doubted, disobeyed, questioned who He was. He can use anybody.
And this is why I can look at myself and know that if He can use those people, He can use me somewhere in this mere breath of eternity.