Saturday, September 21, 2013

I want to be different.

Recently, someone very close to me was lambasted for getting a tattoo. Family members hurled insults at her, questioned the soundness of her judgement, and worst of all, accused her of openly defying God. The last part scared me a bit because I take the brazen disobedience of God pretty seriously, and my skin also has some ink on it. Worried my trip to a tattoo parlor in Copenhagen two years ago had somehow condemned me, I asked her where her accusers were getting their biblical argument. She asked them, and they couldn't name any verses, but they were certain some preacher at some point in time had told them tattoos were evil. So I looked for myself, and shockingly, I found something.

Leviticus 19:28 says: "Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord." I also discovered I am duly screwed because, much to my chagrin, the directly preceding verse says: "Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard" and I prefer to keep my facial hair nice and trim. Yet given the number of god-fearing men I know who are clean-shaven, I had a hankering suspicion these verses needed some context. I love the Old Testament, and I think it's immensely relevant to God's grand narrative and where we fit in that story, but sometimes we have a habit of splicing together verses with no context and create our own religions in the process. Sometimes we pervert God into some kind of genie meant only to bring us toys and constant bliss (Jeremiah 29:11 is probably the most infamous example of this), and sometimes we twist scripture to judge others. Both scenarios are pretty horrible, in my opinion.

According to Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (first published in 1871 by 3 British theologians, their commentary has been well-respected across denominational lines for many generations), beard-scaping, self mutilation, and primitive tattooing were all practices Egyptians followed in accordance with their idol worshiping religions. A squared-off beard was said to honor an idol god, cutting your flesh was a "propitiatory offering to the deities who presided over death," and imprinting your skin with an idol's symbol via hot iron or ink was also a way of honoring that idol. The Israelites had picked up on these traditions while under Egyptian rule, and had continued practicing them even after God delivered them out of slavery. This wasn't kosher with the Lord, who calls Himself a "jealous God" and doesn't want His people frolicking about with false idols. The Jews were God's chosen people, and He wanted them to be different. He wanted them to stand out, in obvious and physical ways, as a beacon of the Most High.
my tattoo

Since the shapes of beards and tattoos are no longer associated with idol worship in our current culture, I don't believe they are forbidden by God. However, this didn't bring me much comfort. My mind kept going back to the underlying issue of God wanting His people to stand out from the crowds of non-believers, and the question "What makes you so different, Jay?" haunted my psyche. Some Christians set themselves apart by only using polite language, but I think Cards Against Humanity is hilarious. Other Christians abstain from using alcohol and tobacco, but I host a weekly drinking and smoking party. Some Christians put fish emblems on their cars, but I'm afraid my driving habits would draw disdain towards that symbol.

When I reflect on how I should be different, I remember a dialogue in the book of John where Jesus knows He's about to die on the cross, and wants to share some final lessons with His disciples. He tells them:  “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34,35). Frankly, I used to find this passage offensive. For some reason, I thought it implied people who weren't disciples of Jesus were incapable of loving one another, which contradicted my personal experience with scores of wonderful, charitable, and loving people who aren't Christians. Yet now I realize I was just misinterpreting Jesus's words. He wasn't questioning the capabilities of non-Christians, but rather commanding the love of the disciples to be different and extraordinary.
I love smoking pipes with friends.

Earlier in John 13, Jesus demonstrates His extraordinary love by taking the role of a servant, even though He is God, and washing the disciples' filthy feet. So when Jesus says "As I have loved you," I think the disciples got the point - their love needed to be so different, so amazing, that it would set them apart from everyone else and be the reputation that let others know they were followers of Christ. We see examples of this humble, sacrificial, and different love throughout the early church - from Christians voluntarily giving away their possessions to willingly submit to communal living (Acts 4:32-36) to lovingly praying for and forgiving the people who stoned them to death (Acts 7:54-60). I fully believe their love was so different and so amazing that people knew it couldn't come from human will alone, and had to be of God.

I want my love of others to be genuine, unique, and extraordinary. I want my home to be a place oozing with love, where everyone knows they can come and be cherished. I want to find a way to serve every waitress who serves me. I want my love to be real and without agenda. I want to love others so well that no words of trash talk ever come from my lips. I want to treat all of my possessions as temporary blessings from God for me to use to love others. I want to love my colleagues so much that I put their career development over my own. I want my love for others to be so humble and so sacrificial that people know it isn't coming from me, it's coming from Jesus. I want to be known for my love, but I don't think I am, and that is the most tragic sin I've ever confessed.

What I'm listening to during this post:

1 comment:

  1. I see in you Jesus. His love, His compassion for people. You have wisdom beyond your years.