It’s easy to focus on the negative, especially when it comes to Christianity. The world would be excused for thinking of Christianity as a faulty product that fails to live up to its promises. Face facts, we fail a lot and we fail spectacularly sometimes. From the high profile failures that make all the papers to the grass roots pettiness in your local congregation there is a lot of things not to be proud of. However I don’t think those failures define us. Even though there are a lot of failures there is also a lot of success, people who do follow Jesus and who do it well. They aren’t always as vocal as the bad examples and they rarely make any sort of splash in the media but they are there and they are being the salt and light that Jesus commanded us to be. I know that I have focused on a lot of the ugliness of Christianity in this blog and I think it’s high time I look at some of the good.
There are a lot of people out there that prove that Christianity is not a failed product. There are people who follow the example and teachings of Jesus and in doing so make this world a more pleasant place to live in. These are the people who actually care for the poor, the hungry and the abandoned. These are the people who, when you spend time with them, make you realize that Jesus would have hung out with you and liked you too. These people are everywhere. They keep me from giving up on Christianity because their lives show practically that following Jesus can make a real difference for the better. Now most of these really great people aren’t well known, in fact you will never hear about the vast majority of them. (Thanks to the blogosphere however it has become possible to meet more really intelligent, cool and interesting people who are also Christians, people who can discuss their faith in a way that makes you want to be a part of it – Gumby, Plucky you guys are a credit to the faith!) As much as I would like to include every good Christian I have ever come across that would be virtually impossible so I have chosen just 3 people who have had an enormous positive influence on my faith. None of these guys are perfect and if you are looking for reasons to dislike them I’m sure you could find plenty. But that doesn’t change the fact that these guys have been a significant force for good not only in the world but also in my life.
Firstly there is Billy Graham. His life has made a significant impact on mine for the simple reason that he shows that it can be done, you can be a Christian without screwing it all up. A lot of high profile Christians has fallen from grace in spectacular ways but Billy Graham has never even been close to being one of those. Right at the start of his ministry he made some decisions to keep himself honest, for instance he made all the ministry finances completely transparent and he never let himself be alone in a room with a woman that he wasn’t related to. Now this may seem like overkill but it sure has been effective. I can’t help but respect his commitment to keeping himself and his ministry above reproach. That’s not the only reasons that I like him though. I like him because he includes people. Many have used the Gospel as a reason to exclude people but he was nothing like that, he used the Gospel to include and welcome people. He was against racial segregation and inter-denominational (and inter-faith) dialogue long before it was cool. He started removing the “whites only” and “blacks only” demarcations from his meetings back when the rest of the church was still giving vocal support to racial segregation. He has reached out to other denominations, Catholics and Jews despite the fact that other Church leaders labeled him the anti-Christ for doing it. I’m not so fond of his political side, he always seems to be hanging out with the president of the US and I’m not a big fan of Christianity mixing with politics. However there is one thing here that did greatly increase my respect for the man. When Richard Nixon fell from grace Billy Graham was shocked and hurt BUT he didn’t abandon the man. He was a friend to the president before the Watergate scandal and he remained friends with him afterward even though he could have gotten a lot of cheers for dumping Nixon in public. I may not be a great supporter of faith and politics mixing but I think that by refusing to abandon an unpopular friend, Billy Graham showed that he was nothing like a politician. Really the thing I like and respect most about this man is that he consistently chose doing what was right over doing what was popular.
Then there is Rob Bell. It is hard to put into words how much he has meant to me and how big an impact he has had on my faith. He pretty much saved my faith when I was ready to give up. His work reminded me that Christianity was real and good and true, despite all the damage that fundamentalism has done. Here was someone telling me to wrestle with the Scriptures, to question the Bible, to ask questions – things I’ve been dying to do for years but had been taught was wrong and evil. In doing this he reawakened my love for Jesus and the Scriptures. Now for saying things like “what would you do if you found out Jesus had an earthly father named Larry” the fundies hate Rob with a burning passion. Honestly I doubt if you could find any discussion of him without someone popping up to tell everyone what a heretic Rob Bell really is. Which is really sad because if these people ever bothered to actually listen to him they would have realized that he is far more serious about the Bible and the teachings in it than they are most of the time. I like Rob Bell because he is humble, because he loves God and it shows. His church is into doing real good in this world, making a real difference. I loved that he had a “doubt night” at his church where he just allowed everyone to voice their doubts about God and Christianity. I like that he is not afraid to question and to wrestle with his faith, I like that he is honest and I like that he is kind of a dork. I love the way he draws you in with love and goodness – he doesn’t scare people into believing by threatening them with hellfire, instead he makes you want to be a disciple of Jesus by showing you just how kind and good and welcoming Jesus really is.
Last but not least there is Donald Miller. I like him because he is a really good writer, because he is honest and real and doesn’t try to hide his flaws to make himself look good. I like that he sees the good and the interesting in people that most of us would probably avoid. I don’t know how well I would get along with him if I ever met him because I can’t help but get the impression that he can be kind of an ass at times. Then of course there is the fact that he is a smoker and I’m really not a fan of tobacco. Yet, of everyone mentioned here I can relate to him the most. We have so much in common – we both have a deep dislike for fundamentalist Christianity and the idea that gays, liberals and everyone different is “the enemy”. He freely admits to not being good at sharing his faith or making disciples and he is also candid about the fact that he doesn’t always find it easy to believe in God. He struggles with his self image and he is terrible at relationships and he likes beer. He grew up in the church, went through a lot of pendulum swings from rabid fundamentalism to near faithlessness. I can relate to all of that. When he talked about having a leadership position in the church and leading a regular Bible study and ending up feeling like a total phony I knew exactly what he was talking about. This is also why he gives me a lot of hope, because he ended up doing a lot of good and influencing a lot of people in a positive way. I can’t help but think that if someone that has so many of my faults can be a force for good then so can I. Obviously we are not the same person, we differ in a great many ways but I can’t help but be inspired by him. Maybe I won’t make a dent in a place like Reed University, but maybe I could still make a difference to someone, somewhere in my world. Just like Rob Bell he is often maligned for his views by the religious right but once again I can’t help but notice from his work that he takes the Bible a lot more seriously than most of them do.