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Theology Thursdays: Do Not Overstep Boundaries: Jesus Is Not Your Homeboy by Myles Werntz

Driving onto campus early last week, I was struck by the recruitment poster for Student Foundation calling for new applicants with the succinct slogan "Bear the Stripes."

Catchy? Yes. To the point? Yes. Borderline sacrilegious? Check.

Whether or not Student Foundation meant to paraphrase a famous Messianic reference (1 Pet. 2:24) in its effort to recruit, the slogan is but one example of a wider problem that comes with something being too familiar.

Did Stufu mean to play off this verse? I'll give it the benefit of the doubt, but the very existence of the slogan begs this warning: Expressions of Christian faith are in no short supply on campus, making it both familiar and, at the same time, easily taken for granted and abused.

When widely spread, beliefs move quickly from being something sacred to being cultural currency, appropriated for purposes that often belittle their original meaning.

One need look no further than the rhetoric of foreign policy to understand that the language of "righteousness" used in debates of war have little to nothing to do with the Scriptural visions of such things.

Whether in something as minor as a recruiting slogan or as cosmic as war campaigns, the lesson is the same: In an atmosphere of familiarity with faith, meanings become lost.

In situations where Christianity becomes the cultural norm, the cross ceases to be the symbol of a new world breaking into the old and becomes one more cultural emblem to be co-opted for other ends.

Crusaders bore crosses before them as they pillaged the Middle East; Madonna affixes herself to the cross on stage, casting herself as a pop martyr.

While these examples are a far cry from a recruiting slogan, we must see that the co-opting of religious faith for other ends does no favors to anyone involved.

Having so fully believed that Jesus became one of us, we then forget that God also is not one of us.

That God is not part of a system, not the top floor of the universe, not some thing to be co-opted for any use.

Familiarity, be it with a friend or the God of the universe, leads either to great awe and respect for that which is not oneself, or to total flippancy.

Intimacy either leads to love for the mystery or to completely taking it for granted.

My fear is that Dogma is right: The next Jesus is Buddy Christ, a completely innocuous dashboard figure.

There's a fine line between familiarity and disrespect, which a lot of contemporary Christianity treads closely to: We have become so familiar with God that we have become confused and are unable to remember which story is which, unable to tell whether we are formed by the Gospel story, or immunized against it by our familiarity with it.

Myles Werntz is a doctoral candidate in religion from Shreveport, La. This editorial appears in The Baylor Lariat

Myles Werntz

Thursday, September 7, 2006

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