“I repent of parading my liberty
I repent of paying for what I get for free
The way I believe that I am living right
by trading sins for others that are easier to hide
I am wrong and of these things I repent.”
I was in the midst of a rather engaging conversation about my Friday night—a discussion of music and literature, two of my favorite vices—when my pastor dropped in with a brief statement.
“I love Patty Griffin,” he said. “I’m always spinning her albums.”
It was a passing comment that merited instant cool points in my book. Patty is one of my favorite musicians and many a friendship has been built or strengthened on her music. I made my way back to my seat with a smile on my face.
But as I listened to Steve’s teaching, a recurring thought distracted me from the class in which I sat. I have many music (and book) influenced friendships, but it seems there’s something wrong when a person’s choice of tunes affects how I perceive their social status.
I know I’m not alone in this, but that doesn’t absolve me of this curious guilt. People who read Paste are instantly labeled cooler (at least in my social circles) than those who read Rolling Stone or especially Entertainment Weekly. (I’ll be honest—Paste is clearly the better magazine, but I occasionally peek at and enjoy the others.) If you prefer Derek Webb to Caedmon’s Call, I’m prone to thinking we have something special in common. You’ll receive bonus points for generally thumbing your nose at the Christian music industry. If you listen to 93.7 WDJC (or your local Christian radio station), I probably have labeled you a “happy cheesy Christian.” If you know what local station plays Britney Spears, I instantly assume we have little in common.
There’s nothing wrong with friendships built on common interests. It’s only natural. But if I label people exclusively according to what they read and buy, I’m probably going to miss out on some wonderful friendships. I decided recently that the best friendships involved media recommendations, but just as quickly disproved that theory. Though I have several close friends who know just what book I need to read or album I need to hear, I have lots of others whose suggestions I take with a grain of salt. (Our tastes just aren’t always the same.)
It’s that same sense of self righteousness that shows up in my attitude toward faith and morality. As I already hinted, I’m likely to think I’m somehow a better (or at least hipper) Christian because I can’t stand CCM. Worse still, as Steve continued to preach I realized my motivation for talking about my faith is so often way off base.
On that Friday night, I was with a group of friends (and some virtual strangers) when someone made a joke about a loose woman. An internal battle ensued; I wanted to cry out, “I wouldn’t know about that because I don’t have sex because of Jesus!” I wanted to set myself apart somehow, but my attitude was very much “holier than thou” and not one of love, for these friends or for Christ.
Praise the Lord that those words didn’t escape my mouth! My own self-righteousness nauseates me, and I know it is just as filthy to God as anyone’s sexual misconduct. (The Bible compares it to menstrual rags. What a metaphor!)
The love of Christ, the redemption of all my sins (including this one!) has radically changed my life. But I still wrestle with this desire to perfect myself. Jesus ahs set me free from the eternal consequences of my wrongdoing (spiritual death, or separation from God) but I am quick to insist on continuing in this earthly battle. I am a perfectionist, and it does affect my relationships with myself, God and others. But I’ll never be good enough to compare to God. The deepest need of people who don’t know Jesus isn’t an outward morality—it’s forgiveness of their sins and a relationship with God. And though it’s been five years since I realized my own need, I am daily surprised by its depth. We don’t move past the gospel—I fall short of the glory of God every single day. If I forget that, I do so at my own peril.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will also be clean.”