Consistency is Important

The other day while driving down the road I glanced in my rear view mirror and caught a glance of my adorable nine month-old son. As I so often do when I look at him, I started thinking about what he’ll be like when he’s older, how I’ll parent him, and most importantly, his faith formation. I started thinking about my childhood, and what my parents did right and…less right. I’m the summation of thousands of parenting decisions, and now that I’m an adult with a child of my own I find myself ruminating over some of those decisions quite often.

There were a thousand different things that made up my faith formation: nightly Bible reading, regular church attendance, meal time prayers, theological conversations, etc. Those were the big, obvious ways God played a part in my life. However, there were other, smaller ways. How we dressed, the words we said (“Oh my God” was tantamount to the F word in my house for years), who we spent time with, what we did on October 31 after sundown (nothing), and most importantly to a child, the media we took in.

The rules about media were to me, even as a child, very strange. There were few fiat rules about any medium, but seemingly random things within said media were completely forbidden. For example, Disney movies were okay unless they were Pocahontas, because of the ancestral animism. But the Lion King, Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Little Mermaid, Toy Story, Hercules Beauty and the Beast, and Mulan were fine, even though all of those movies contain some combination of “things talking that shouldn’t” and “spirits of dead people.” Hercules actually had pagan gods! How the talking tree from Pocahontas trumped “Mulan literally praying to her ancestors” on the Stuff Christians Shouldn’t Watch scale, I’ll never know. But those were the rules, and I didn’t watch Pocahontas until I was a preteen and old enough to go to sleepovers.

Television was also subject to strange rules. The Smurfs and Rugrats were unacceptable. Arthur, Barney, and superhero shows were fine. I asked my mother recently why Rugrats was off-limits, but she doesn’t remember the show or why she forbade us from watching it, nor can she recall why the Smurfs were banished. She suggested it was because the characters were in “open defiance” against adults all the time, but that’s true of pretty much any kid’s show, and I don’t think it applies to the Smurfs. Arthur and the gang certainly spent at least half their screen time talking about how much they disliked Mr. Ratburn and trying to get out of doing homework. In one highly satisfying episode, Arthur punched D.W. for basically being the world’s most annoying younger sibling.

Being young and accepting of the screwy logic of my home, I didn’t ask many questions. Arthur was okay, blue people were not. Some talking inanimate objects were fine, others were demonic. This was just how the world worked.

Books, though, were where my parents went wrong. You see, I’ve always loved reading, and when I was told I couldn’t read a book, I demanded a cogent reason.

When I was about ten years old my mother presented me with an old copy of a book called The Little Leftover Witch by Florence Laughlin. It was a heartwarming story about a young witch named Felina who fell out of the sky one Halloween night and was taken in by a normal family. She slowly learned how to be non-magical and civilized. It presented Felina’s magic as not objectively bad, but only bad when used for bad purposes.

There were many books containing magic of some sort on my bookshelf, several of them gifts from my parents. Mary Poppins, the Wizard of Oz series, and the Chronicles of Narnia were all much-read classics.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I asked my parents to take me to see Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and they sat me down and explained they wouldn’t because the movie portrayed magic in a positive light. While they talked on and on about “seeing no evil”, deep down my respect for my parents and their faith-based rules fractured just the tiniest bit. I realized that their rules weren’t necessarily “God-centered”, but “them-centered.” I’d picked up on their inconsistency, and it harmed my own little faith.

Inconsistency, also known as hypocrisy, destroys faith.

As I’ve grown older I’ve come to see similar inconsistencies in the lives of my Christian friends, and I have to wonder what their non-Christian acquaintances think. How can we speak out against the pornification of culture and the glorification of sexual immorality on Sunday, but then eagerly discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones on Monday? I’m getting tired of hearing professed Christians defend a show that portrays rape, sexual abuse, adultery, etc. for entertainment’s sake. I’m tired of hearing Christians talk a big game about “protecting the sanctity of marriage” and then get divorced for the second, third, fourth time, or shack up with their boyfriend or girlfriend.

Christians don’t have the luxury of slipping into obscurity to practice our sin in the dark. We are the light of the world and the salt of the earth, a shining beacon of the transformative power of Jesus Christ. People are watching you, and you are part of their faith formation.

Are you going to be the person who inspires them to greater things, or the person who makes them shrug off the idea of religion?

 

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