Wineskins Archive

December 19, 2013

A Peculiar People (Apr-May 1997)

Filed under: — @ 11:11 pm and

by Rubel Shelly
April – May, 1997

On February 13, 1997, a British journal called The Fortean Times published its finding that the world was 2.9 percent weirder in 1996 than in 1995. Are you surprised?

The monthly magazine published in London pointed to such stories as rumors of a mysterious Puerto Rican goatsucker. These rumors popped up after goat corpses were discovered with the liver and blood sucked out of them. The first report was in Puerto Rico, but now tales have come in from other Latin American countries, Spain, and even Miami.

Other stories reported in the press during 1996 were about sightings of water monsters, weeping statues, strange cults, and the ever-popular UFOs. A high level of interest in weird happenings was also reflected, said the associate editor of the magazine, in the success of films like Independence Day and television’s The X-Files.

The same editor attributes much of the upwards climb of the weirdness index in the Human World—they also index the Animal World (up 4.8 percent). The Natural World (up 3.8 percent), and the Paranormal World (up 1 percent)—to Pre-Millennial Tension (PMT). “PMT is gripping people,” he said. “People get worried near the end of a century, with millennium cults predicting the end of the world.” Even so, he admits, the levels of weirdness in 1993 were still higher than last year.

I’m not sure their number is as high as it ought to be. As best I could tell, the magazine didn’t even discuss Dennis Rodman, Madonna, or Timothy McVeigh. Why, the incredibly silly attention given to a Nashville cinnamon roll that is claimed to bear a resemblance to Mother Teresa didn’t get factored into the equation!

Seriously, though, Christians are supposed to live with a relatively high Weirdness Index attached to us. Just take a look at these biblical statements.

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God [a peculiar people, KJV], that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:9-12).

“For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you.” (1 Peter 4:3-4).

“[Jesus Christ] gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own [a peculiar people, KJV], eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:14).

Mark it down: Live under the sovereignty of God and you will be weird by the standards of this world. And I’m just not sure that a 2.9 percent differential from the worldly norm will be enough either to make you noticeably different enough that anyone around you would know you are a Christian or to get you to heaven.

This is not a call for smugness. It is not a plea for holier-than-thouness. I am not talking about self-righteousness. But it is an unabashed appeal for us to take our faith in Christ seriously enough that it makes a genuine and observable difference between our way of thinking, working, relating, talking, and being and the lifestyle of the world.

This sort of separation is mandated by Scripture. Some have confused this mandate, however, with group isolation and a sectarian view of the church. Why?

It is much easier to establish one’s identity within a group, proclaim that group right above all other groups, and denigrate the intelligence and/or sincerity of others than to take seriously the spiritual lifestyle called for in Scripture. It is easier to argue than to love, to judge than to be gentle, and to be defensive than to be peaceable.

The sectarianism for which we—and others (for we have no monopoly on any sinful behavior!)—have been known is less that of lifestyle than denominational rivalry. In fact, we have sometimes claimed undenominational status while doing the one thing that is distinctly denominational—defending a distinct name, distinct polity, distinct manner of worship, etc. It is first-order legalism that discerns a rigid pattern in the life of the church in the New Testament.

In lifestyle issues we have chosen to champion, some of them have been sectarian and legalistic as well. Some of us have fought drinking wine in smaller amounts than Jesus himself drank while preserving both institutional and personal racism. Others have shunned brothers who smoked, sisters who danced, and children who played baseball on Sunday while pursuing a materialistic lifestyle six days a week and gathering on Sunday to congratulate themselves on being the only ones right on the millennium or baptism.

So go ahead. Rate yourself. And I pray that you come out with a substantial number on the weirdness index in lifestyle and a very low one on your religiosity scale.Wineskins Magazine

Rubel Shelly

(Transcribed for the Web from the archived print edition by Neita Dudman)

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