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Green Hair, Mustard Seeds, and Me

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It’s been a couple weeks now, and my green hair is starting to fade. My light brown roots are peeking through, and since I don’t go many places, most people who will see me have seen me. And while I tweeted a short explanation, I haven’t gotten too detailed when explaining why my hair is green. Mostly because I was (am) angry, and it was hard to talk about it without being mean. And that rationale is sorta the whole point.

In order to really understand my green hair, however, you need to understand me a bit. I don’t really talk about my faith much publicly these days, and that’s been on purpose. Largely because what “Christian” seems to mean in society these days doesn’t really align with what it means to me personally. But also partially because I’m not a man of great faith. When I see Jesus talk (twice) about having faith as tiny as a mustard seed, my first thought is something like, “um, what about people with the faith of a basil seed?” (full disclosure: I haven’t gardened very much, basil seeds are probably not the smallest, they’re just the smallest I’m familiar with, and MUCH smaller than mustard seeds)

Shawn, Let Me Explain Matthew 17:20…

Please don’t. I already know. I really do. I’ve taught bible class, led youth group, served on deacon/elder boards, and heck even preached Sunday sermons. I’m familiar with conventional wisdom on the metaphor, and I’m not claiming that I’ve discovered some new, deeper, more holy meaning. No, when I consider the notion of small faith affecting change, I’m encouraged in spite of the biblical focus. Jesus was stressing that God is so great, even the smallest sliver of infinity is still infinity. (See? Old habits die hard. Here I am preaching…)

But what if my small faith is combined with weak belief and mountains of uncertainty? Is my basil seed of faith still enough to move mountains? Maybe. And, maybe not. The thing is, I still need to live my life in a way that seems right. And let’s be frank here, when I say “weak belief”, I’m not just throwing out church-y phrases. Do I believe in God? Sure, usually. I guess. But pretending to have a rock solid faith for the sake of saving church ladies from “the vapors” seems a bit un-Christian. Heh.

Bro, Do You Even Christian?

Yes. Yes, I consider myself a Christian. But only because Jesus seems to be someone worth following. Whether you think Jesus was/is the creator of the universe, becoming a man to redeem the world, or just a rebellious lover of humanity — he was a really awesome guy. I want to be like him, because he cared about the outcast, taught people to think instead of blindly obeying, valued people over anything else, and got furious at the exploitation of human beings by those in power. And Jesus was kind. He must have been, or the children wouldn’t have flocked around him.

So yes, while in many, many ways I do not identify with the modern, American version of “Christianity”, I do consider myself Christian. Maybe not a “good” Christian. Maybe not even a good representation of “Christ-like”, but inasmuch as I’m anything, I’m a person trying to be like Jesus. And most days, that’s enough for me. To be clear, that’s not enough for many folks, and so many will not consider me a Christian. That’s OK.

But Dude, if You’re Wrong [Insert Crackling Fire Sounds]

Yeah, so if you’re a Christian to avoid burning in Hell, you’ve missed the point. Maybe Hell is a place of fire and pain, maybe it’s a metaphor for separation from God. And maybe it’s simply a description of the empty worthlessness a life lived for selfish gain gets a person. I honestly don’t know. But I also don’t need to know.

The way I strive to live my life is not predicated on a promise of future reward. I don’t choose kindness so that someday I’m given an oceanfront view in heaven. Empathy is not a vehicle to riches, in this world or the next. And my motivation for helping others is not accrue favor from a higher being, but rather to, you know, help someone because they need help.

For what it’s worth, this is also why I’m far less concerned about people who aren’t Christians than traditional Christianity would dictate. And here is where I lose a lot of folks who were mostly ok with my particular take on living a Christ-like life. That’s OK. I’m not starting my own religion, and I’m not telling anyone they should “Christian” like I do. But here’s the thing, Jesus didn’t seem to be a guy overly concerned about technicalities. If there is an afterlife, and some metaphorical pearly gates, it seems like a pretty low-rent heaven that would allow douchebags with the proper punch card into eternal glory, and send caring, compassionate Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Atheists, etc., into eternal torture.

Does that mean I’m trying to do some magic hand-wavy trick to turn “the way, the truth, and the life” into a moralistic litmus test for heaven? Um, no. I don’t feel a need to do that. Again, my motivation for how I live my life is not a future reward. In fact I’ve always been suspect of folks who need that carrot in order to do the right thing. My little basil seed of faith is apparently sufficient to follow the example of Jesus, even if he doesn’t want to be friends with me afterward.

Ok. You’re Outta the Club

I know. No, seriously, I know. Writing this and posting it publicly will actually be sufficient cause to prevent me from holding a role as teacher or leader in a church. It will be a rationale for people who have been uncomfortable with my brand of living life to finally put me in the “other” camp. It might sever friendships, and it will disappoint people who thought I was someone else.

But that’s OK too.

I am a Christian, because I think Christ is someone worth following. I think the modern Christian Church resembles the Pharisees in the bible far more than it represents Jesus and his gang. And I can’t pretend to be something I’m not in order to fit in. That really doesn’t seem like the sort of thing Jesus did either. My faith might be tiny, but my resolve is not.

That Was a Lot. But, Why is Your Hair Green?

Heh. You still want to know? Cool. It’s difficult to explain without painting some folks in an unflattering light, but my hair is green because my daughter was treated poorly for dyeing her own hair. She was a volunteer assistant coach at the Christian school from which she graduated. Partway through the season, when she dyed her hair bright red, she was told she could no longer represent the school in public. There was a new rule, which she hadn’t been told about, that volunteers were not allowed to have unnaturally colored hair.

The rub, however, is that she was still allowed to help in practice, just not sit on the bench during games, or get announced as a coach during the pre-game. Her “look” was appropriate enough to exploit for free labor, but not “good enough” for the public to associate with the school in an official role. And she was gutted. So I dyed my hair in solidarity.

So What Now?

I dunno, coffee? I mean, it’s not like I’ve suddenly changed who I am, and my life is on a different trajectory. If I haven’t been living my life loud enough that people are shocked to learn I was a heathen all along, well, maybe things change for them. As for me, I’ll continue to live life the best way I know how. When presented with new information, I’ll change my views accordingly. If given a choice between kindness and and cruelty, I’ll strive for the former, while rallying against the latter. And with all my shortcomings, failings, poor choices, and inevitable mistakes: I’ll try to leave this world a little better than I found it. Regardless of where my next stop might be.

17 thoughts on “Green Hair, Mustard Seeds, and Me”

  1. It shouldn’t take bravery and cost you relationships to make a statement like this, but unfortunately it does. People who put rules in place like those your daughter ran afoul of may consider themselves Christian, but they’re not doing it because of their faith – they’re doing it because they have some small measure of power, and they’re trying to make the world in their own image. They use their Christianity as a bludgeon to try to get others to behave the way they want.

    It’s really a shame that so many have lost their way, and feel that everyone conforming is what their faith demands. The world is a much better place when everyone is able to be their own individual. If you believe God made us as we are, trying to force others to conform to your own ideals is telling God that he’s wrong – what hubris.

    I’m a lot less religious than you are, having been driven away from the church by those sorts of attitudes at a young age. It’s refreshing to hear someone thinking a little more rationally about their beliefs, and how those beliefs guide your life. Son of God, or just a really cool dude, Jesus would approve.

    Reply
  2. I just read my own thoughts. I do despair over the tribalism that seems to have taken hold of so many Christian churches that value control & conformity over doing good works. I’m trying to live a life that values others & probably fail more often than not.
    Thank you for writing this.

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  3. Thank you for this. You’re a Christian after my own heart. I’ve always taught my kids to live their lives by 3 words: decency (kindness), dignity and respect. For themselves and others.

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  4. I was thinking this morning that Christianity has morphed enough that it should have subdivisions. Christianity would refer to Christ’s view and, to identify the view that makes so many of us scratch our head or be appalled, Fatherism.
    Fatherism would include salvation, because everyone likes that for themselves, but would include the vindictive, hard-hearted God of the old testament who turned His eyes from the parents trying to hold their crying children above the waters of the rising Flood. Fatherism doesn’t require you to be tolerant, or forgiving, or kind. It welcomes the destination of hell for those not like you. It’s keen on on “thou shalt not”.
    I’m reminded of the division in Islam. Sufis are mystical, like ideas, and seem to have a sense of humor. Then, there’s the Taliban.
    Fatherism, frankly, is easier to practice. It’s like cooking with a cookbook. Christianity is cooking with lots of ingredients, some with which we are unfamiliar. You can’t just read some rules, you have to ask yourself how would Jesus cook this?
    Actually, this version Christianity isn’t so hard to understand. To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, knowing what we should do is usually pretty clear. Doing it is the hard part.
    When I find myself doing an act of kindness for someone I don’t particularly like, I know I’m on solid ground. When I don’t perform the act of kindness because “they don’t deserve it,”, I’m worshipping in the church of Fatherism.
    Thanks for your post. I found it heartwarming and I believe Christ did too.

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  5. Shawn,
    You pretty much have echoed exactly what I have been thinking the past few years in regards to Christianity. I, personally, at times, am ashamed to associate myself with modern Christianity due to the fact that everything I have seen by those who call themselves “Christian” have so much hate, intolerance, bigotry and racism in their heart that I definitely want to distance myself entirely. Being raised a Baptist I was always taught the term Christian is to be Christ-like. However, everything I have seen, from the teachings I have read in the Bible about Christ, does not show examples of “Christians” being Christ-like. And, let me state that I hate to judge because we all know the Bible we trust and try to follow even states that we shouldn’t judge. However, it is difficult at times. And, I also understand that no one is perfect. But, needless to say, I will practice as best I can to be the best person I can by not displaying hate, being tolerant, considerate, respectful, and loving to every single human on Earth, despite color, race, religious belief, sexual orientation, etc. without labeling myself a Christian.
    And as far as your stand with your daughter, high praise. That is so awesome. You tell your daughter a stranger on the internet said that “your Dad is amazing”. And I only hope that if I was in your situation that I would do the same thing for my daughter. I’m pretty sure I would but it does take a lot of guts and bravery for someone to do something like that who is also in the public eye on the interwebs.
    By the way, I follow you on Twitter as @edwardcrosby and I had been following your post on this matter. At the time when I first saw your hair change to green it was just a thought that “Cool. Green hair”. But when I heard the reason you dyed your hair my thought immediately changed to, “Okay, that’s really cool. You Go, Powers family”.

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  6. I was so disaffected by the behavior in my church that I sought out more information about it and found that it’s history was not even remotely what I had been taught. To the point that the history we taught about ourselves was a blatant lie. I lost my faith and found solace in being an atheist. I don’t proclaim my atheism or try to get other people to be atheist, but for me it was the answer. The purpose and need for religion was explained far more convincingly to me through psychological and survival terms. But I always maintained an affinity for Jesus. I didn’t think he was a demigod with magic powers, but I did believe that his example of charity, kindness, and sacrifice were worthy of being a guide to my life. How this post even remotely puts your membership in the tribe at risk shows how far away from it all I am. I cannot fathom how this is even remotely controversial. You seem like a good dude, and a Christian I would have no problem associating with. Thank you for this post. It really made me feel better about my relationship with Jesus.

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  7. This is why I left Christianity 33 years ago and never looked back. I never stopped idolizing Jesus, but I sure as hell can’t accept most Christians, especially of the evangelical/judgmental bent.

    It is wonderful to see this, maybe it is ok I still kept my basil seed, even if it was locked in the basement.

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  8. Shawn, This article is beyond awesome. I’m an atheist. As others have said, I wish more Christians could be like you. Never really thought that much about Jesus, other than what I was taught as a child. Thinking of him as great guy that did great things and was a great role model… I can appreciate that. Thanks for sharing that.

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  9. I’ve been making myself mentally and physically sick worrying about a coming apocalypse and burning in hell bc I’m a lapsed catholic with no ties to another church, though I do attend from time to time. I also am a Christian in my faith and actions and am appalled at the American Christian community. Thank you for sharing. I know now that I’m not alone and I should live my life without worrying about eternity.

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  10. 100%. I stopped going to church during the GWB era because I could feel the winds of something dreadful sweeping through Christianity. It’s been deeply unpleasant to see a religion folks actively condemn the folks that Jesus spent his time with. Like, if you’re going to pick and choose the parts of the bible you want to follow couldn’t you pick the nice ones?

    Total solidarity. Screw ’em if your authentic self offends them. Perhaps they need it.

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  11. I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

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