(15.) Embracing the Characters

(15.) Embracing the Characters

(15.) Embracing the Characters

“The more I considered Christianity, the more I found out that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild. He who has the faith has the fun!” (G. K. Chesterton)

Every educator knows about the importance of character development. Integrity, virtue, goodness, self-control. Christ-centered schools wouldn’t be worthy of the Name if we weren’t all over that one. But wait a minute here. While nurturing character, let’s not forget about developing characters.

Faith-based schools, unfortunately, have some work to do in the characters business. Believers in recent history have tended to sand off the rough edges of God-given personality and giftedness. Committing the sin of conformity, the Church is in danger of becoming a cultural stereotype, a bland soup of sameness to a world in desperate need of righteous variety. Why are we prone to do this? Do we fear rejection from each other, from the world? Are we locked in to playing it safe? Let’s look at a key figure in our Judeo-Christian heritage, St. Patrick:

“Patrick devoted the last 30 years of his life to his warrior children, that they might ‘seize the everlasting kingdom’ with all the energy and intensity they had lately devoted to killing and enslaving one another and seizing one another’s kingdoms. In the Gospel story, the passionate and the outsized have a better shot at seizing heaven than the contained, the calculating, and those of whom this world approves. Patrick, indeed, seems to have been attracted to the same kinds of oddball, off-center personalities that attracted Jesus.” (Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization).

This is not unique to St. Patrick, of course. Our scriptures are chock-full of faithful live wires. Try Jacob on for size, or David, or Isaiah, or Ezekiel, or… Actually, take your pick of OT rock stars, and are any two alike? Consider too that first and greatest NT prophet, a throwback voice in the wilderness, with his questionable wardrobe and diet. He may not have won any Mr. Congeniality awards, but that was a fascinating personality to say the least. And how about those hand-picked Apostles, some of whom were probably teenagers: “sons of thunder” fishermen, a political insurrectionist, a turncoat collaborator, a tight-fisted treasurer, and some quiet introverts thrown in as well. Or take a peek at the fascinating group of women in the mix. They were all as different as night and day. But somehow Jesus chose them as they were, or they chose Him, and it was okay. Only that treasurer couldn’t fit in, but that’s another story.

Speaking of Jesus, in our “spiritual” moments we are tempted to see him blandly floating a foot or two off the ground while in the flesh. But of course He didn’t. His feet firmly planted on terra firma, He had authentic human personality. The Gospels seem to suggest that He was a far cry from a predictable Yahweh-in-a-box. Instead, Christ was somewhat of a divine eccentric, idiosyncratic, and probably something of a puzzle for those who were trying to typecast the Messiah. As very God, He was the King of Glory. As very man, He was the Pioneer of live wires, and as human as it gets.

Here is another way of thinking about this: Let’s say we want to walk with Jesus through our worship music, participating in His life each step of the Way. A soundtrack of smooth sanctimony and sweet sentiment? I can’t see it. Instead… We would embrace the pure power of a Pavarotti one minute and the rough texture of  a Springsteen the next; the silk and honey of James Taylor, then the earthy growl of Tom Waits; the chamber quarter of the Annunciation; the Baptist singing a hopeful African-American spiritual in his lonely prison cell; the Celtic fiddle of the father’s feast for the returning prodigal; the buoyant South African drumbeat of the healed leper’s dance; the choral glory of the Transfiguration; the heavy metal of the Apocalypse; a bluesy riff worthy of Gethsemane; the exalted baroque of the empty tomb; the mellow reggae groove of Christ’s beachside breakfast. And rockabilly would work for a Nazarene, right? Joyful bluegrass, street-grit punk, and High Church chant. All kinds of voices and styles and expressions, very heavenly and very earthly. A soundtrack to match the Life and Personality.

Yes, Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever, the same stable source of all that is true, good and beautiful. But was He or His followers the same in anything else? There is an endless variety of wildflowers, planets, colors and music. Likewise, when it comes to personalities, all bets are off. This brings us back to faith-based schools bearing the name of Christ the Character. We need to continue what we’ve started… Honoring the variety of personalities who walk through our hallowed halls, and developing an educational persona fashioned after our Lord’s fascinating likeness.

One Reply to “(15.) Embracing the Characters”

  1. I am so glad to see someone else feels the way I do! The phrase “sin of conformity” is very convicting to me. It is far easier to teach children who are all conformed to fit in the box, but Jesus is way outside of the box Himself. He exploded the box.
    We are called to be salt and light. But salt brings out the differences of the individual flavors around it, when added to the right degree. And light itself contains all the colors of the spectrum. What colors are you?
    I love the musical references, it makes the concept tangible for me. I would love to see a movie about the life of Christ set to that soundtrack. It would seem so much more real than most of the others I have seen.
    Thank you for sharing your wisdom and insight. Rock on! … or symphony on, or croon on…