Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Hard to Miss - Mountainside Chats

A couple of days ago, I went to one of the classes for which I am the graduate assistant for the first time this semester. As I was setting up my stuff, it seemed like the students were noticing me more than usual. I like to be there sometimes to help the professor if needed, but I try not to interfere too much. After everyone had filed in for class to start, I think I figured it out. I was the only person that had not met yet, as well as the only male in the room. I think the combination of those two things made me kind of hard to miss.
Psychological research suggests that one of the first steps in learning is often noticing differences (Schwartz, 1998). It seems to be that our brains naturally look at our world and create categories in which to understand that which we perceive. The more we learn, the more numerous and complex our categories will be. A baby may categorize people simply as “parent” or “not parent.” Adults may use so many categories that we may not even perceive them all.
During Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” (which I am calling “Mountainside Chats”) he said that the world should have a category for Christians. He called us “light” and “a city on a hill.” The analogy suggests that Christians should be individuals who do good even in a world that does not. Jesus also mentions that when others see how this category of persons behave, they will inevitably examine the other element which differentiates us from others, our faith in God.
Unfortunately, Christians and Churches are not always perceived in these categories. In his book “Christians are Hate-filled Hypocrites...and Other Lies You’ve Been Told,” Sociologist Dr. Bradley R. E. Wright reflects a very honest analysis of religion-related survey research. His research analysis suggests that around 20% of the general population in the United States has unfavorable views of Christians. Tragically, Wright also mentions that only 24% of the population has confidence in the institution of organized religion. That number plummets to 8% among the religiously unaffiliated.
It seems to me that the Church needs to work on refining the perception of our category. As Jesus mentioned, a group of people known for their good deeds should be seen as different and valuable. How can the Church become hard to miss?

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