Mental Institutions, Fast Food, and Crazy Christianity

ImageLast week, while the bank accounts of countless Americans were growing acutely aware of the ending month, a man north of the border was taking the opposite approach to personal finance. While on vacation in Halifax, Canadian Richard Wright sent a buzz throughout social media channels by giving out high denominations of cash and silver to strangers throughout the city. Ultimately, the incident attracted police attention and Wright now finds himself detained for mental evaluation. Supporters see him as nothing more than an extremely generous individual, and a social media campaign has sprung up in response, even garnering the attention of Occupy Wall Street.

I’ve never met Wright and I am not a mental health professional, so I won’t hazard a guess as to his sanity; however, a quick perusing of comments on the relevant news articles (I know, I know, never read the comments) show a great many people think this guy is nuts. He ignored his family on vacation, he squandered resources that could have been used by his family or a “real” charity, he put himself at risk by carrying that much cash in an urban center, etc. The reasons vary, but the conclusion is the same: Wright’s radical actions are proof of instability.

I chuckled at this story at first, but as time has gone on, I’ve realized I wish more Christians were in mental institutions. And no, not just the Christians I don’t know how to handle. In what can feel like a calculated attempt to rattle our desire for “normalcy” (and maybe it is), Scripture routinely admits that this path is madness. John’s gospel begins by telling us about the light of Christ shining in the darkness, and the darkness wasn’t about to wrap its mind or clutches around the light, like oil and water separating. The core doctrines of the Christian faith are a stumbling block and foolishness to outsiders. Paul, responsible for so much of Christian theology, is called insane by a prominent political leader.

What does the gospel’s foolishness mean for our lives?

It means we won’t, and can’t, look down on or be offended by those outside the Church when they don’t act like us. C’mon, folks, next thing you know we’ll be offended by fish acting like fish or bananas tasting like bananas. It makes as much sense as being cured of cancer but hating cancer victims. It’s worth noting Jesus never really freaks out about people who don’t act like Him. He just gets to know them and offers Himself. He saves His fireworks for the folks who say they have it together but don’t.

It means we won’t see ourselves as normal. After centuries of quasi-Christian cultural hegemony, we feel comfortable calling things we don’t like “alternative lifestyles.” During the Olympics, a small faux controversy flamed up over NBC calling an athletes decision to marry, have children, and serve as a minister an alternative lifestyle…and NBC was right. To choose to be a Christian is to choose to be a freak. We don’t get to set ourselves up as the police of normal when Jesus and the apostles didn’t even see themselves that way.

It means we betray the distinctiveness of the gospel when we play to the lowest common denominator. This one might be the hardest to stomach. Speaking of stomachs, there’s a dense blob of fast food chains across the highway from Baylor, creatively known as “fast food row.” Each restaurant serves its own slight variation on a common theme of processed beef and marginal nutritional value. It tastes awesome at the time, but won’t do much for you down the road. There is precious little genuine distinction. Unless they have a dietary need, the decision to go to one establishment or the other is born out of either a blind unquestioned allegiance or a random craving for a particular taste.

Humans like to feel accepted, and we like to have our way. So we as Christians ask any and all to get involved in a social justice campaign, because it should make sense to anyone. Or we assert that certain laws should be passed because we think anyone of any faith should be able to agree to a vague Judeo-Christian framework for life, even if they are fully opposed to those faith groupings. Whether these mass appeals come from the progressive or conservative groups of Christians, they all cheapen the foolishness of the gospel. Christianity is made to be no more distinct than a generic fast food patty. This betrays the gospel and devastates its potential to spread. Why would anyone bother with all the hard parts of being a Christian when they can get the exact same thing at McIdeology down the road?

So what does it take to keep from turning God’s redeeming love into processed beef filler? Embrace the crazy. It feels scary, but can be so freeing. In the words of Gnarls Barkley, there’s something so pleasant about that place. It’s because the madness frees us to follow God’s hope and love. We can dream big about a better world that has been promised. We can have an answer for why we have so much hope or act the way we do (and I don’t mean something as pat as, “Because I go to church/am a Christian.” We can love so scandalously that people think we’re crazy, even if they throw us in a mental institution like Richard Wright. If darkness can comprehend the light, it shouldn’t be able to comprehend those who reflect the light.

Mental Institutions, Fast Food, and Crazy Christianity

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