“Who made up all the rules. We follow them like fools. Believe them to be true. Don’t care to think them through.” – Jem
Ever since the point I realized that I could think for myself (after high school), I have been unwilling to conform to societal norms. I’ve wanted to be fairly different from everyone else. I like to be different. I like the push the boundaries, in a sense, of what society might think of as “normal”. I’m not talking eccentricity, I’m just saying a bit of living on the fringe, not living by the traditional rules. And it’s not because I have a vendetta against tradition, or against anyone in particular. It’s because I believe that everyone should feel free to be themselves as long as it’s not against the law, as long as it’s not sin, and as long as it doesn’t intentionally hurt anyone else. Just because “they” say it, doesn’t make it true or false. I’ve chuckled, and cringed many times when I’ve stopped to think about how and why society adopts its rules. Most of our fellow citizens act according to the words above: following rules like fools, believing them to be true, and never actually thinking about it.
Sometimes I’ll catch myself wanting pancakes at 10pm, and saying “I shouldn’t do this”. Why not? Who says I shouldn’t? Just because most people think that eating ketchup on ice cream isn’t normal, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Right?
Can you relate?
And just to be clear, I don’t eat ketchup on ice cream. Actually, I don’t eat much ketchup, or ice cream!
Whenever I wear a neckties, I like to wear mine only cinched up to a couple of inches below my collar, with the top button unbuttoned. Not only is it different, but I don’t like things tight around my neck! In fact, one Sunday at church when I did this, an older gentleman said “Hi” to me in passing, and, while smiling, he said “if you’re going to wear a tie, you should cinch it all the way up!” I didn’t take it personally, of course, but I just smiled back and said “I’m ok with it like this.” He isn’t used to seeing anyone wear a necktie like that before, because, of course, it’s not normally done that way. Does that mean it shouldn’t be done that way?
I’m reminded of Fiddler on the Roof, when Tevye talks about traditions:
“A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But here, in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof. Trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy. You may ask, ‘why do we stay up there if it’s so dangerous?’ Well, we stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word! TRADITION! Because of our traditions, we’ve kept our balance for many, many years. Here in Anatevka, we have traditions for everything.”
But I’m not here to talk about neckties and ketchup, those are just tiny examples meant to show how some things, by tradition, have been made into unspoken rules for everyday living. Have you noticed these types of things to be true in the circle of people around you? Maybe in the conservative church around you? Have you ever stopped to think about certain unwritten rules for which you may have been taught to conform, and their reasons? I’m sure you’ve heard, during everyday conversation, someone say something like “You know, they say______”. You’ve heard this, right? Have you ever wondered who “they” are, or where some folks get their rules or traditions?
This song from Jem talks about this very topic, addressing the mystery of “they”. It’s a gem, pun intended.
Hopefully, by this point, you’re at least beginning to understand the things of which I’m speaking. Just because it’s “the thing to do” or “it’s just what we do” doesn’t mean it’s mandatory.
Here’s one to which everyone can relate. Children. My wife and I have decided we don’t want any. Gasp!
I know, I know, right now many of you have incredulous thoughts going through your head. You want to say, “Why not?!?!?!?!?” with your tone matching every question mark and exclamation point with it. My wife and I love our niece and nephew, we just don’t want to own our own! Somewhere along the line of history, parenting became the default lifestyle in America. It’s become the norm. It’s what you do in life. Everyone is expected to graduate high school, graduate college, get married, have at least two kids. The assumption is that’s how it’s always been done. It’s the status quo. It’s as if there is no other option. To make it worse, those who don’t do those things – especially those who choose to remain child-free – are considered minority, or are frowned upon and labeled as selfish. Aliens! At least, that’s how we feel when we tell most people that we either don’t have kids after several years of marriage and/or don’t want any of our own. After all, “it’s what you do” here in this great land. Well, not for us. Now, if God wants to change our minds and give us the desire to have kids, by golly we’re up for it. But until then, we’ve chosen not to do the normal thing, if only because we are perfectly content together. It’s not normal, but it’s what we’ve decided to do, no matter what “they”, or the culture, may say. especially in the Bible belt where we are. But again, most people believe everything they hear and read, and never ask “why?” about anything. So my question to you, the reader, is “who says that childbearing / parenthood is mandatory, or even that it should happen?”
Many well-meaning Christians may try to say, “Well, God said to be fruitful and multiply, so if you’re not multiplying then you are disobeying God.” I will simply say two things. First, by reading the context of Genesis 1, God is clearly having a conversation with Adam and Eve. If they had not multiplied, no other humans would have ever existed on planet earth after them. Second, if child-bearing were a command by God to all humans, He sure failed to mention that command anywhere else in Scripture, or to anyone else. After all, Jesus sure didn’t have any children, nor do we have any record of the Apostle Paul, or Peter, having any children.
I wonder how many professing Christians actually search the Scriptures to make sure that whatever they’ve always understood to be true is actually true? I wonder if there are many people, Christian or not, who stop to consider what they’ve always heard or believed? This same idea could be used in every area of life, in every society. Hmm.
Much of my journey through life was trying to conform to what I thought were written rules. Only recently, when I’ve begun to look into some of these things myself, as well as searching the Scriptures to see what the Scriptures talk about (or don’t talk about), I’ve discovered that it’s ok, even healthy, to break ties with many of the things I used to believe. After examining the Bible without any preconceived ideas or presuppositions, I’ve found that I’m being more Biblical when I choose to break away from many of the things I used to believe Christianity to be. I’m able to discover and enjoy more about the world around me which God has created. I’m able to learn more of the truth of Christ and His redemptive plan, and be conformed to the image of Christ in the Scriptures instead of the image of Christ that was engrained in my head by mainstream, and some fringe, evangelicalism. I’m also, sadly, discovering more about how much of modern-day evangelicalism is being derived from man-made ideas, especially in the conservative arenas! Christians are called to be conformed to the image of Christ as represented in Scripture alone, not according to any preconceived ideas, presuppositions, or someone’s own ideas which they inserted into the Scriptural text to make it sound inspired.
Christianity is about breaking away from those philosophies of society which are clearly defined as sinful in Scripture, and conforming to Jesus Christ. True Christianity is not normal in America or evangelicalism. If I referred to the American church as “they”, then most of what they say is wrong, and only based on opinions and eisegesis.
So, the next time someone tells you: “You know, they say _______”, ask that person who “they” are. Hopefully that person will have an authoritative source to which they are referencing. If not, encourage them to double-check what they’re hearing and believing! And the next time you find yourself saying “I shouldn’t_____”, or someone else says “You shouldn’t____”, stop and ask yourself, and them, “why?”. If it’s not a mandatory law from the government, and if it’s not something that’s clearly defined in context in the Bible as sin, then do whatever you want!
Don’t be ignorant and just follow the rules because everyone else does it. As Kevin Max puts it: “Be yourself, there’s no one who does it quite like you, don’t let the losers tell you what to do. Be yourself, if you don’t then who is going to?” Don’t be afraid of what others may think. As long as you’re staying within the bounds of Scripture, be yourself. Be different if you want. Don’t worry about what “they” say.
And, like the front of one of my wife’s shirts says, “Dare to be Different”.