I have had the privilege of solemnising a wedding in Scotland. What a delight! The skirl of the pipes, the crisp northern air, friendly and hospitable people, and of course, the giddy enthusiasm of newlyweds on their great day.
In one of the few quiet moments that weekend I remembered watching the New Year’s TV specials from Scotland when I was a boy. Now, you must understand that I learned all the Scottish culture I know from two sources – watching those Hogmanay shows and reading the comic strip “Oor Wullie” in the Sunday Post on visits to my grandmother. Those caricatures and comic stereotypes never came close to showing me the reality of everyday life north of the border.
We as Christians are also seen in caricatures and stereotypes by those outside our faith. Being meek is frequently confused with being weak, tithing and charity are sometimes derided as “fleecing the sheep,” and ordinary, modest Christian behaviour is chalked up to “following a set of arbitrary rules” or being a hypocrite.
The question is, how can we as true believers daily present ourselves to people that imagine us through the comic strip of unreal preconceptions? How can we step out of the stereotypes?
One key is integrity: being the same on the inside as we proclaim to be on the outside. A friend once told me “Christians are like toothpaste – you never know what’s inside until they’re squeezed.” When the squeeze is on, when we’re under pressure, what do people see? Do we fall back on the old ways: lashing out in anger, lying to cover our own tails, cheating, brooding for pay-back, quick with impatient sarcasm at the supermarket check-out, prone to road-rage, sneaking around in the darkness of the fallen world? Or do we hear Paul’s exhortation to walk in the light, as children of light (Ephesians 5:8)? Do the fruits of the light (goodness, righteousness and truth) shine in us even when life is hard? That’s what neighbours notice, that’s what workmates pay attention to, that’s what our children see.
A fake smile and simpering “everything is fine” is not the answer, because they all know that trick from comic strip Christianity. But showing a firm, dignified faith through times of illness, tragedy or turmoil speaks volumes about the reality of our kingdom, and about how good and pleasant it is to be called a child of the King.
New Year’s has come and gone, even in Scotland, where they like to linger over it. Many a resolution has already fallen away. But here is one resolution we must strive for – to live out our faith in honesty and strength of purpose, to show it to be real in our day-to-day lives – not just on Sundays, and not just in the right company. Resolved: to not walk in the TV special, comic strip kind of Christianity, but to step out in real, robust, life-changing faith.