“Walls” has been the anthem of my angsty years…you know, that brief period of frustration and unsatisfiable anger from age 15 to 27. Emery’s music spoke to me in such a way that even today, should I have a music-trading session with a friend, I am sure to subject them to a couple tracks. The last couple of weeks, from when I bought and finished their book “Bad Christian, Great Savior” and started listening to the Bad Christian Podcast until now, have left a few questions. The kind you always ask more times than you answer. What does it mean to be a “good man“? I don’t mean a “good Christian” or a “good citizen” or a good anything-in-particular. I mean a good huMAN; the ones that walk on two legs and cheat when they hunt. I had an interesting talk with a friend who summed up the “good life”, and hence what a good man has, as the fulfillment of two factors: first, having had good parents, and second, responding to life out of positivity and healthy motivation, not out of fear and negative emotions.
I like that.
So that led me to the next question: What does it mean to be a good Christian?. I thought about this one for a while, and once you get past the holstered Sunday answer (which is some equation of prayer time multiplied by verse memorization, divided by average conviction of sin, with a variable for time spent in service minus the amount of your standard 10% tithe you have the gall to deduct on taxes), it gets tricky.
There are many people who I would name as good men and good women, but I struggle to find a common thread. I can think of one particular guy who I admire greatly because he is a regular church attendee, prays with his wife, is always positive and happy (and not in that sorta way that makes you wonder if he’s ever read a newspaper). He is a good man; you can see it in the way his wife relates to him. But I don’t want to be completely like him. I know men who are completely unorthodox; tattoos, alcohol, anything that would set a Southern Baptist’s hair on edge. Yet, they are so genuine, so compassionate, so comfortable in their skin…the kind of impossible being who could be getting a verse tattooed on their Adam’s apple while strangling an anaconda for trying to eat the buffalo he was hunting while shaving with a piece of broken glass from a car crash/explosion he just walked away from in slow motion, and still be gentle enough rock a baby to sleep.
Unfortunately, the first major truth I had to accept in my search for a common denominator was that religion was not it. As I ride public transport around Hiroshima, I see what I can only describe as lifeless, vapid, neutered souls. From the man intently studying his manga to the girl editing her face in her cellphone’s camera, to the teenagers touching up their life on Facebook. But I recognize the pride, either through promotion or protection, and the escapism, because I grew up around it in church.
I don’t see the shedding of vice OR the acceptance of human imperfection as the foundation of virtue. Both are part of it, but not IT.
So religious affiliation isn’t the common thread. The people in the pews and in bed on Sunday morning can both respond to life out of fear or pride and become what I will delicately call “less than completely human”. Rigid, unquestioned commitment or arrogant, unquestionable rejection; same disease, different symptoms. That gave me the next potential characteristic: a person with a mindful readiness to let go of whatever may hinder their growth and complete joy in life. I use “joy” as opposed to “happiness” in the same way my church used to use it: the consistent state of hope and peace, admittedly influenced by but not slave to circumstances, as happiness is. However, while true, this feels more like a branch than the root of the tree. Another branch could be the characteristic of one who strives to “Live intentionally”, and never get too comfortable with letting others dictate to them OR following whatever personal whim the moment feeds them. So that would mean it’s all about balance then, right? Not being so intent on finding peace that you ignore when the world needs you to cry for it. Not being so religious that you forget your horizontal relationships should be infused, not refused, in the name of God. Not being so “free” in your self-expression that you forget the inherent responsibility of being just one among billions. Not being so focused on finding happiness where you are that you can’t be troubled by anything or anyone that may threaten or diminish it.
It should be fairly obvious by now that I, like most, don’t have an honest, all-encompassing answer to this. What still troubles me, though, is the fact that while I can accept that the struggle to discover what it is to be a good man is just part of the process, why does being a “good Christian” feel contrary to that?
Which is where the Bad Christian Podcast led me to a conversation that put the idea of what a “good Christian” is in a whole new light…(to be continued)