Tuesday, April 2, 2013

But Today I Raised my Hand

Some 27 years ago I was going through Marine Corps Infantry Officer's Course in Quantico, VA.  It was eight weeks long and tough, wedged between 6 months of Basic School and 58 days of U.S. Army Ranger School.  When we were not actually in the field, the classes were taught in a quonset hut.  And you can google "quonset hut" and get an idea of the environment.  The only decoration in the classroom was a big poster of two guys fighting with pugil sticks and a caption that said, "We're looking for a few good men . . . to beat each other to death with pugil sticks."  Go ahead.  Google "pugil sticks."    We had one instructor, a Captain who was especially fearsome and ill-tempered.  At some point in one class he glared around the room and said, "We don´t have any Christians in here, do we?"  And I, immersed in this environment where I was presumably taught to have moral courage and stand up for what I believe in . . . what did I do?  I did not move a muscle, did not raise my hand.  I was going to avoid the wrath of this maniac, cooperate and graduate.

And for 27 years when I recall that moment I feel like Peter denying Christ, there rubbing my hands together before the warming fire with the lackeys of the court of the High Priest, concerned for my own safety.  

Today I attended a reading on campus by a well-known author, dynamic speaker and National Book Award Winner.  The Glasscock Center Library has a capacity for 70 people but we probably had 90 people in there. His talk was excellent and very worthwhile.  His message was very anti-war (which I generally dig) and he was trying to make the point that taking another person´s life violates the Ten Commandments.  And in making his point he glared around the room and said, "Do we have any Christians in here?" and he spat out the word "Christians" with absolute disdain, as if it were a more offensive word than the f-bombs he occasionally sprinkled through his lecture and Q&A session.  

It´s a curious word: Christian. Some terrible things have been done in the name of Christianity and to self identify as a Christian now, even in the Bible belt, is to increasingly identify oneself with intolerance, ignorance and closed-mindedness.  

But today I raised my hand.  I raised it all the way and felt my elbow lock.  And I left it up there long enough for him to see.  I didn´t see any other hands raised and I don´t care if there were any.  Because for all the baggage that comes with the term "Christian" I must claim that I am a needy follower of Christ.  And if I get sneered at, and that´s what passes for persecution in the U.S. in 2013 I´ll take it.  By saying I´m a Christian I´m admitting that I totally buy into something I can´t prove and I am accepting all the negative baggage and stereotypes that accompany a label with a complicated history.  I am not proclaiming that I´m better.  I´m admitting that I´m worse.  And in my insufficiency I claim Him.  Not as "fire insurance," but as a connection to truth.   

If my admitting I´m a Christian hooks me up to a bunch of negative baggage in your eyes, then get to know me and give me a chance to show you it´s not about judgment or being better or even about being good.  It´s just about recognizing insufficiency and reaching for completeness; acknowledgment of woeful imperfection and reaching for pure truth.  I didn´t do anything noteworthy.  I just raised my hand.