by Bil Aulenbach

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“They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our . . .”

The other day a friend sent me a good story that has been around a long time, but it’s still as relevant as it was the first time I heard it.

The light turned yellow as he was turning right. He saw pedestrians in the crosswalk, so he stopped. The woman behind him was furious, so she leaned on her horn, flipped him the finger many times, and shouted angrily from her car.

Suddenly, a policeman was tapping at her window. He ordered her to exit and raise her arms. He cuffed her and put her in his patrol car. At the station, she was searched, fingerprinted, photographed, and placed in a holding cell. A few hours later, a guard opened the cell door and took her to the booking desk. The officer who had arrested her was waiting with her personal belongings.

He introduced himself and said, “I’m sorry for this mistake. When I was behind your car, I saw a crazy woman doing and saying awful things. I also noticed the Christian fish emblem on the trunk. Then I noticed two decals, ‘Choose Life’ and ‘Jesus Is My Christ.’ After seeing your behavior, I figured this must be a stolen car.”

I have no idea if this really happened, but every time I hear this story, I take a self-inventory. I ask myself: Could anyone tell that I am a faith-based person by my actions? What are my prejudices? Do they control me, or do I control them? Would folks know that I am a faith-based person without me telling them?

How can my actions show my faith? The first way is to treat every human being as the most important person in the world. Second, stay calm, no matter how ugly the situation. Third, stay in control, which means no raising my voice, yelling, cussing, or talking down to others. A long time ago I learned that I can get further ahead with honey than vinegar! Fourth, listen, and then listen some more. Next, remember that negative picture I have in my mind when I lost it. It’s not nice. Don’t repeat it! Sixth, keep working every day on my patience, humility, and listening skills.

As I was writing this, I immediately thought of a campfire song: “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love.” As a Christian, that is how I would like to be known—not by my words, but by my positive actions and attitude.

Have you ever heard of Fred Phelps? He was a Baptist pastor at the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. His claim to fame was his deep open hatred of the LGBTQUI community. Every year we’d see Fred and his fellow haters show up at the AIDS Walk in Irvine, California, with big signs stating, “God hates fags.” As if that wasn’t bad enough, he then decided to extend his message of hate to mourning families of military servicemembers who had given their lives in the line of duty. Un-Reverend Fred would show up at their funerals with the message that God was killing members of the US military to punish America for enabling homosexuality.

For me, “Rev.” Fred has used religion as an excuse to promote his intense hatred of the LGBTQUI community. Whenever I see such hatred, I have to ask myself, “Where is Fred coming from? Why would he dedicate his whole life to hating gays rather than loving humanity? Did his seminary teach him that? Did he read that hatred in his Bible?”

Let me end by asking you: Which do you think speaks louder, our words or our actions?

Photo courtesy of Antoine K. CC by-sa 2.0

10 Responses to “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our . . .”

  • Interesting take on behavior. Matthew Fox quotes Howard Thomas, “Christianity has betrayed Jesus”. Seems like individuals do as well. I know my innocence is more than suspect.

  • My innocence is suspect too.. I have a problem with ignorant people who don’t even bother to self educate….something anyone can do if they aren’t busy watching what passes for TV anymore. Even the library has books. I do believe Christianity has betrayed Jesus’ teachings. I probably have too. I need to work harder on that.

  • You’ve probably seen the sign: I trust Jesus. It’s his followers I don’t trust.

    Such a good reminder, Bil. Thank you.

  • I truly believe that actions speak MUCH louder than words…but there are times that I get distracted by the hateful words and hateful actions of others and forget my resolve to react in a manner that models my acceptance of everyone as they are. I try to remember to react with asking what the person is so afraid of that they have to act with such anger.

    When I was working as an emergency response social worker responding to abuse of seniors and the disabled, I was able to react with respect for those I encountered in order to find out the nature of the problem I was sent to resolve. This involves convincing people that they matter and that they are going to be listened to. I did not take anything personally. I was trained to do this…it was my job. However, I find that in my personal life, I am much less tolerant. I guess that when I find myself tempted to react angrily to negative behavior, I should just pretend I am back at work attempting to identify the nature of the problem that needs to be resolved and go from there.

  • Love the homily. The car body and horn telescope the intentions of irate drivers. The grill designs often express threat. So not just words and actions, but also our paraphrenalia — clothes and cars.

    What do people “know” about us from our home, our city, our building, and our cars? Even the shape of our body? The expression shadowing in our eyes?

  • The most difficult thing for me is to “love my enemies”. My enemies being those who are unjust, non-compassionate, unloving, bigoted and totally selfish. One thing that helps me is to know that I do not have to “like” these people. Your brief homily, Father Bil, gives me another tool I can use, that is, to consider how they might have come to such a state of being and, if possible, to help them in some small way out of that way of being.

  • Although words are important, as Followers of Jesus I think it more important if we try to remind ourselves every day to follow his Way and by doing so, lead by our actions.

    • Thanks George. I have found that the institutional church can often be a barnacle on the keep of progress to becoming a PC. Fortunately, I go to a church where some are PC and want more. (I’m teaching a class on the Historical Jesus and have over 30 signed up.) I’m also teaching at a UC Irvine extension program (late Nov & Dec) and in the first week I had 70 sign up. There are folks around who are very interested in this approach.
      Again thank you for your interest and support. Pax
      Bil

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