By John Halford
I got a letter the other day from a reader canceling his subscription to Christian Odyssey. This letter concerned me. Not just because the reader was dissatisfied with the magazine. Letters like that go with the territory. But it was the reasons this reader gave for wanting to cancel that worried me.
First, he thought one of the articles in the August/September issue was "rather lightweight." Well, OK. You can’t please all the people all the time. Many other readers liked the article. He also objected to an article endorsing the ordination of women. That actually appeared in our sister publication, Together, which is sent to members of denomination. (He asked us to cancel his subscription to that, too.) And again — OK. That is a controversial subject — though I believe we have come down on the right side of it. Obviously this reader does not, and unless his objections are based on pure prejudice, I can respect his opinion.
But it was his third reason for cancellation that really threw me. I quote: "Also on the back of the issue it shows a picture of a barefoot man looking at the magazine. How tacky!" I had to read that twice. Then I looked again at the offending photograph.
"We must not allow our 'druthers' to define our Christianity. Jesus wants us to be bigger than that."
He’s right. We show a young man sitting on what looks like a bed or a couch, reading Christian Odyssey. And yes, he does have bare feet. Why is this a problem?
Sorry, but I just don’t see the difficulty. But I do think it illustrates another one.
As we go though life, we accumulate a collection of habits, prejudices and inhibitions. Some we have inherited from our culture. Others we may have inflicted on ourselves. Some are sensible, some are less so, while some are downright quirky. For example, my grandmother drilled into me when I was young that it was a sin to eat a slice of bread with jelly on it before I had eaten a slice spread with just butter. Why she believed this, I do not know. But to her it was almost matter of faith.
That is the problem. These individual quirks can become so ingrained that they become items of faith. And we often carry them over into our belief system when we embrace Christianity.
That’s OK. The way of Jesus is big enough to include our foibles. Providing, that is, they do not become reasons to judge and condemn others. Paul, who perhaps more than any other New Testament figure had to deal with his converts’ idiosyncrasies, put this in perspective. Look what he told the Christians at Rome:
"Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with — even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.
"For instance, a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that he can eat anything on the table, while another, with a different background, might assume all Christians should be vegetarians and eat accordingly. But since both are guests at Christ’s table, wouldn’t it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn’t eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table… Or, say, one person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other. There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience.
"What’s important in all this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God’s sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you’re a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli" (Romans 14:1-6, Message Bible).
We who represent God face more important issues than what to eat, or matters of the calendar. And certainly more than whether or not it is OK to be photographed with bare feet.
I suppose in the interests of peace-making I could ask our designer to paint in some socks. But that really is not the problem, is it? The problem is that we must not allow our "druthers" to define our Christianity. Jesus wants us to be bigger than that.