On nails and hammers

The Japanese proverb reminds us: “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.”

It’s an interesting statement for those who belong to the community of Christian faith. We understand the necessity of sometimes being the nail that sticks out. Scripture warns us of the danger of conforming to the pattern of the world (Romans 12:1-2, 1 John 2:15). Jesus encourages us to follow a narrow road that leads to life and to avoid the broad road that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:14-15). And make no mistake: There’s a price to pay if you’re the nail that sticks out. Protruding nails attract hammers, pressure to “go along to get along.” Moral compromise pounds on the door and threatens to kick it down.

This is nothing new for believers. When a bright light shines in a room, people may let their eyes adjust; more often, they douse the light. Most of us realize – in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer – that there is a cost to discipleship.

That being said, sometimes I think that Christians needlessly invite the hammer, almost as if we’re looking for a fight. It’s an annual ritual in the U.S. in December to lament the so-called “war on Christmas.” Does this invite mockery? People see Christians who in other lands are martyred for Christ. They see what genuine persecution is and can detect false equivalence a mile away.

But let’s talk about what sometimes happens within the community of faith. With reference to “the world,” our sermon has only one point: “Don’t conform.” Yet I wonder: How do we treat brothers and sisters in Christ who won’t be squeezed into our Christian cultural mold? Do we suddenly ourselves become the hammer, pounding down nails who stick out?

Make no mistake: We have a common goal which is to be like Jesus. Still, conforming to the pattern of Christ – while producing holiness – hardly results in uniformity. Some believers drink coffee, others tea, still others abstain from caffeine. There are Republican saints and Democratic saints, all who love God and neighbor (Mark 12:29-31). Certain Jesus followers sport long hair, tattoes, and a Harley. Others wear short-cropped hair, play golf, and drive a Prius. There are meat-loving Christians and vegan Christians. Some teach in public schools and advocate for public education; others prefer to teach their children at home. We’re a motley crew. What beauty there is in diversity!

Paul recognized the value of diversity in the Body of Christ when he celebrated the various gifts that God the Holy Spirit has lavished upon us.  He asks:

If the whole body were an eye, what would happen to the hearing? And if the whole body were an ear, what would happen to the sense of smell? But as it is, God has placed each one of the parts of the body just like he wanted…You are the body of Christ and parts of each other (1 Cor. 12:17-18, 27, CEB).

Natalie Goldberg tells of eating at a restaurant. Unsatisified with her waiter, she complained about him to another waiter. He replied: “I know he’s odd, but if they dance to a different drummer, I say, ‘Just let them dance’ ” (Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within [Shambala, 2005, 21]). How much contention in the church would we avoid if we took the attitude of that waiter?

“Lord, help those today who are suffering for the sake of the Gospel. Shield the blow when the hammer comes down upon them. And forgive me, God, when I have been a hammer, clobbering a brother or sister in Christ who is guilty of nothing more than following you as the person you made them and gifted them to be. AMEN.”


Image credit

Frabel at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Time for some righteous rebellion?

Rebels often get smacked down. Jesus was a rebel, and he knew if we followed his example, we could expect the same treatment:

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5:11-12 (NIV)

In the United States, Christians throw around the term “persecution” far too lightly. It is a sacred word, dripping with the blood of the martyrs, and when we toss the term out nonchalantly, we cheapen it. This is why the Beatitude is clear: the blessing is only for those who are mistreated “because of me.” We’re not talking about a negative reaction from others that we’ve merited because of our own silly behavior in the name of Christ, such as the Florida pastor who in April 2012 threatened to burn the Koran. He should have been censored.  That’s not persecution; that’s public accountability.

But let’s not be naive. The drift of Western culture on multiple fronts is such that those who resist the tide, however quietly, will necessarily stand out. As a preacher rightly pointed out: “We’re upstream Christians in a downstream world.”

There are dangers in group psychology when those who before were culturally dominant become a cultural minority. This seems to be the moment we’re living in, both in the United Kingdom and the United States. The knee-jerk reaction for the believer can be to withdraw from broader society, like a turtle who – when you poke his head with a stick – draws back into his shell. But how can we be salt and light if we remove our loving influence at the very time when it’s most needed?

A second reaction is anger, a temptation to lash out at those we perceive as marginalizing us. This may show up on FaceBook as angry status updates or bitter criticisms of politicians. Time to add a new verse to the children’s song: “Oh, be careful little fingers what you type!”

A superior path is the path of righteousness. Want to rebel? Be holy! By doggedly modeling the values of love and integrity, no matter what, we can make a difference. Rather than disengaging, our commitment – in obedience to the Great Commandments to love God and neighbor- must be to re-engage our culture. Because the stereotype is that Christians are brittle and hateful, we must go the second mile to show that the stereotype is just plain wrong.

A good example of this was Sandra Bullock, the actor who played the mom in the 2009 film, The Blind Side. She turned down the role three times, fearing it was just another example of Christians grandstanding about good deeds, while on-the-side living low-down like too many others. But after she met the real-life Christian family behind the film and spent extended time with them, she concluded: “I finally met people who walk the walk.”

When “everyone else is doing it,” when Christianity has been compromised, it’s time we put a little rebellion in the mix. Follower of Jesus, are you ready for some righteous rebellion?

“Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God remold your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.” – Romans 12:2,  J.B. Phililips paraphrase

Let’s rebel against the low road, whether it’s the low road of non-believers or Christians who don’t act like it. It’s time to take our faith to the next level. It’s time for some holy rebellion. Are you ready to be a righteous rebel?

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Photo credit: Blue Cheddar