Our pastor recently talked about four primary markers of a Christian, which he got from Walter Brueggemann. They are:
3) No vengeance
4) No coveting/sabbath (other-centred)
It's not something we have to do, but something which flows from who we are and our relationship with God. You can't put it on. It's either there or it isn't. You can't fake this stuff because it's practical. Brueggemann goes on to say that if we focused on these primary markers, we would not have enough energy or interest in arguing over the secondary issues that people tend to focus on and which end up dividing churches (theology, scriptural interpretations, etc.).
I have been thinking about these markers a lot lately. As I age, I gravitate toward the simple. As a kid, most of what I was taught seemed complicated, with each new idea building on something else. Now I don't want intricate belief systems. I want practical, and easy to understand, and something which flows from love and mercy and not exclusion and regulations.
Hospitality has been a part of my adult life since I moved out and began to forge my own way in the world. We have always hosted parties, and dinners, and tried to be a place where others felt comfortable and welcome. I love showing this to my kids as a normal part of life. They are accustomed to having different groups of people in our house at any given time, and it's part of our philosophy as a family to invite others in and show them our real lives as we are living them with as little pretense or fakery as possible.
Generosity is something I think about in terms of time and gifts as well as with money. When someone needs something and we can provide it, we decide if we should and then we try to give more than say no. When we have been blessed, sometimes we want to hold on to what we have because we are afraid of losing it, but this isn't the way to joy and freedom. Giving and not hoarding lights the way to our best selves, and gives us peace where we once held fear.
No vengeance was an interesting concept to me. No one likes to think of themselves as particularly filled with vengeance, but when I looked deep and tried to be honest, I found all kinds of dirty places where the urge for someone to suffer resided. When someone annoys us or wounds us, we want them to pay for what they have done. This might be a human urge, but it is not a Godly concept, and harbouring these resentments does not help us grow into kind and loving people.
No coveting also strikes a real chord with me. I am jealous of a hell of a lot of things, not that I would normally admit that to anyone. I don't like it much when someone is further in their career than I am, or has more money or less body fat, or better behaved kids than I do. Rejoicing with others is much harder than weeping with them. This is an area I've been really working on, and I'm not nearly as far down this road as I would like to be, but thinking of it as a marker post is helpful and motivating for me.
Observing sabbath was explained by my pastor as being other-centred in the way we live. It means giving up our to-do lists and our busyness to reach out to someone who may need a coffee, or a kind word, or a hug. It means identification with others instead of always gratifying ourselves. It's not about Sunday or anything traditional, but about making rest and other people a priority in our lives. This gives me something to aim for as well.
I like hearing about practical things, for what I can touch and see and taste in this life is what I know to be real. There is no wordsmithing it or hiding behind promises or actions which don't ring true. Markers give me something to see and aim for, and hang on to when I'm uncertain about everything else. I'm going to keep these front and centre in my mind and my heart as I keep moving down my life path, for I believe they will show me the way.