Christians get rankled about lotsa stuff, but not all of our rankling is worthwhile. Sometimes we're guilty of straining at gnats and swallowing camels.
Not long ago, I submitted a short story to one of my writer's loops. This was the opening line:
How in the hell do you drown in the desert?
That's a decent opening line, don't you think? Kind of intriguing. The story was being entered in theFaith in Fiction contest. Well, I subbed it to the group and, immediately, some people pointed out the dreaded curse word. In fact, a couple folks went so far as to say it would incur immediate disqualification. Hmm. Maybe I could navigate some ways around it. So I submitted these four alternatives:
1.) How in the heck do you drown in the desert?
2.) How in the world do you drown in the desert?
3.) How in God's name do you drown in the desert?
4.) How do you drown in the desert?
The votes poured in. Okay, six or seven people responded. Someone offered tarnation, another How in God's green earth. One person suggested, How in blazes do you drown in the desert and another added blue blazes. That was a little different. I began contemplating the blazes options, when someone noted that blazes and blue blazes actually meant hell and should be avoided; furthermore, How in God's name was taking the Lord's name in vain. At this stage, holy hangnail seemed like a viable option. After more gnat-straining, my friend Ane Mulligan finally settled the matter. She said, "Go with your gut."
So I stayed with my original line... hell and all.
The story was a finalist. Apparently, Dave Long, the big cheese at FiF, wasn't that concerned about the four-letter word. Wish I could say that for everyone.
Fact is, Christians get their panties bunched for all kinds of things. But sometimes it's hard to tell which gripes, objections and concerns are legitimate, and which are simply a result of personal preference or snooty separatism.
Joe Aldrich, in his book Lifestyle Evangelism, suggests that the biggest obstacle to sharing the Gospel and penetrating the secular marketplace of ideas, is not unbelievers, but Christians. Unsaved, non-religious folks do not share our standards... and shouldn't be expected to. In fact, their lifestyles often contain the very things we are trying to distance ourselves from. Nevertheless, in order to win their hearts we must develop common ground. But finding common ground with the carnal, the crude, the hopeless and blind, requires some concessions.
Not long ago, some young men came through our neighborhood, bibles in hand, sharing the Gospel. Or at least, what they said was the Gospel. One of my sons spoke to them and afterwards asked, "Dad, will someone go to hell for getting a tattoo?" I laughed and said, "God's more concerned with the inside, than the outside." Then he pointed out an obscure scripture from the Book of Leviticus that the young evangelists used to make their point. Apparantly, the Gospel according to these men was, Repent and believe in Jesus... and for heavens sake, remove those tattoos.
Over the years, Christians have added a lot to the Gospel. Now it's, Repent and believe and... fill in the blank: stop cussing, drinking, dressing like a sleaze, watching R-rated movies, playing cards and gambling. And for heavens sake, remove those tattoos.
But somewhere along the way, we got lost compiling lists of do's and dont's, establishing codes of conduct, ethics and dress, instead of just loving people.
Maybe the preacher was right. The world is going to hell and most of us don't give a damn. But what's even sadder, is that some people are more concerned about the word 'damn,' than that people are going to hell.