Being Christian is less "light switch" and more "language"

For reasons that I cannot fully understand, for many people, being Christian is like a light switch. That is to say you either are a Christian or you are not. You are on or you are off. Others have noted the light switch metaphor is not helpful and suggest a "dimmer" switch to be better metaphor. That is we are rarely all the way on or all the way off. Being Christian is being in flux.

For years the dimmer switch metaphor has been helpful for me to talk about evangelism as well as my own understanding of the Christian life. The more I sit with it the more I settle into a different metaphor - being Christian is like learning a language.

  1. It takes time. Humans may have a propensity for language but it still takes time to learn language. We make mistakes. We learn the nuances. We have difficulties making new sounds. Learning any language takes time, learning the language of God in Christ takes time. 
  2. We build on the past. Language builds on the communities of people over time. For instance, English is indebted to at least the German and Anglo-Frisian communities. Being Christian requires that we take seriously the past and understands the debt we owe to the Sinners and Saints that came before us. 
  3. We evolve. Language evolves. The word nice has evolved over time and what it meant to be nice today is different than years ago. Being Christian today might look a little different than it did years ago there is not ONE universal never changing way to be Christian. We are all learning how to be Christian together. 
  4. Yelling louder to non-speakers does not help. You know that old joke where the English man is trying to communicate with the Frenchwoman by just speaking English louder? It does not help. Yelling Christian language louder to others who do not speak the language does not help. 
  5. We do not have to fear mixing. In Texas there is another language called "Spanglish" which is mix of Spanish and English. Being Christian means that we are able to mix different ideas with Christianity without fear of "losing our religion". Instead we are helping to create a new generation of people who can speak Christian. Finding ways to mix the message of Christ with other faith traditions only makes each tradition more dynamic and accessible for new people.
  6. We are not able to speak it perfectly. No one has perfect grasp of language and no one has perfect grasp on being Christian. We are all learning and trying the best we can. This is in part why grace is important in both communicating and being Christian. 
  7. There are some universals. It seems there are universals in language. For instance shaking a head universally means "no". There is even suggestions that politeness in language is universal. Being Christian recognizes the universals between the message of Jesus and Shintoism to Sikhism. It is in the universals that we can communicate and build relationships.
  8. It is the best we have. Language is great but even language falls short on being able to describe the mysteries of the world. How do you describe the color blue or the feeling of rage? Metaphor, story, parable and simile are the best we have. How do you describe the love of God or how to be in relationship with others? Christians know that Christianity is not perfect but it is the best that we know of. This does not mean it is supreme, just like one dialect is not supreme, it is the one that we have found that continues to be the best we personally have.
  9.  It helps to learn about others. In order to better understand the world around us as well as build relationships it helps to learn about other languages. Likewise, it is helpful to learn about other religious traditions in order to better understand our neighbor. 
  10. Some people just know more than we do. Shakespeare had a better understanding of how to use words than I do. It does not mean I am a fool, I understand that some people are gifted in language in a way that I want to learn from them and even mimic them. There are some people who know more about being faithful to God than I do, for instance Jesus. It does not mean I am a fool, I understand that there are some people who are gifted in the way that I want to learn from them and even (gasp!) mimic them.

How are you practicing being a Christian?