For almost a decade, I’ve had many opportunities to take women on a tour of their new hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina.  I got the idea 31 years ago.  As a new bride – in a new town (St. Louis) – my husband’s company gave me that same courtesy.   I saw lots of places in a few short hours.  The highlights that I still can recall include the magnificent Catholic Cathedral, Forest Park (the sight of the famous 1904 World’s Fair), and Frontenac Plaza – the shopping mall that houses Neiman Marcus and Sacks – or is that Sax?  Walking that mall made me feel like I was touring someone’s home with all the elaborate woodwork on the walls, the hardwood floors – not to mention feeling like we were the only people in the place.

My Charlotte tour includes Freedom Park (which housed a pagan festival the first time I gave a tour), a drive-by of Charlotte’s version of Frontenac, and the Green on Tryon Street.

While managing to get all those hot spots in on my last tour, somehow we wound up at the Smelly Cat.  I think it was Brittany’s idea, could have been Amanda’s – but it wasn’t mine as I’d never heard of the Smelly Cat.  It was in the NoDa district where hip young people hang out.  And hip it was.  The kind of place where you pretend to fit in and be hip yourself – if that’s possible.  When they ask you who you are and what you do – you almost hope they don’t discover you’re a Christian – because from the looks of the place you already feel like they may not be wild about Christians.

Smelly CatWe told them we were in “graduate school” (definitely Brittany’s idea).  I think that may have been one of the few times I’ve ever thought of seminary as a graduate school – but I liked it – letting them think we’re intellectuals without showing all our cards.  The conversation with the baristas was light and easy – explaining that these young women were newbies to Charlotte – and after leaving a 20% tip I felt pretty sure our Christian cover wasn’t blown.

So, we got our coffee drinks and decadent pastries and found a spot to sit down and bond.  And bond I did.  Perhaps it was something about the Smelly Cat – it’s earthy, incense-smelling, hippy-feeling place that made me want to share my nitty-gritty-come-to-Jesus testimony.  Not my usual norm for a Charlotte tour – most people don’t get the nitty-gritty version right off the bat – but I chalk it up to the Smelly Cat – something about it made me want my new intimates to know that I was once very smelly and messy, and in desperate need of a Savior.  There’s just nothing like honesty and baggage to bind new relationships together, right?

I also think I had about as much pretending as I was comfortable with – and just needed to come clean with the truth of who I really am – and where my identity now rests – which is very securely in the hands of Jesus Christ.

The memory of that time at the Smelly Cat came flooding back to me as I was reflecting on my weekly memory verse (2 Peter 2:2):

 Many will follow their shameful ways, and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.

Surely you feel it too – in some measure – when out in public – this feeling that the truths of the gospel and the idea of following Jesus, and being labeled a Christian – if and when our identity is blown – this feeling that Christianity has fallen into a state of low esteem.  Even some of my favorite TV shows let me know how distasteful Christians are to the watching world. We have become the scourge of society – intolerant – irrelevant – exclusive prigs who tip badly.

But what especially caught my attention and is bringing me up short is the “them” in that verse.  Who’s the “them?”

Well, this ain’t pretty.

Because the “them” isn’t Hollywood or our current president or democrats or MSNBC or The View.  No, I think “they” just enjoy shining the light on our demise.

The “them” is in the Church!  They are among us! 2P2:1 says they are the false teachers and prophets.  They are the ones bringing disgrace on “the way of truth” – And Peter also says they are destructive, greedy and shameful.

So, is it the church’s responsibility to root out these imposters and sound the alarm for the rest of the world?  I do believe there are those out there doing that very thing.  Several pop into my head as I think on such things.  I’ll refrain from mentioning them – at the risk of being divisive myself, not wanting to bring swift destruction on my own head.

But I do wonder what do such divisive actions look like to the watching world?  And watching they are!  Just watch your favorite TV program for confirmation.

So back to us.  Are we able – in our own communities and circles – to turn the tide of not bringing disrepute to the way of truth?  What is my responsibility in all of this?  What is the Church’s responsibility?  Do we pretend it doesn’t bother us to look like the village idiot?

I love this from Larry Crabb:

I have noticed that few Christians devote serious attention to knowing how others perceive them.  Such concerns, they often say, belong to the insecure and emotionally dependent.  But if the Scriptures express the mind of God who longs to restore us to loving community, then it is reasonable to expect that time spent studying his word should make us more alert to our impact on one another’s lives (James 1:19-25).

Lack of concern for what others think of us reveals not personal strength, but willful arrogance.

Soren Kierkegaard says that Christianity did not come in order to develop the heroic virtues in the individual but rather to remove self-centeredness and establish love. [taken from Larry’s book Men and Women pp 125-126]

Perhaps there is much tension in walking this fence of caring about what the world thinks and what God thinks, or even what other “believers” think?  And I personally think caring more about what God thinks is a top priority in life, and you will even find a few places in the Bible that almost make you think its ok to be hated by the world.  But is this the drum we want to beat?  I sure hope not!

What if we actually worked at making our lives so attractive by the way we live that others will want what we have.  Yes, that’s my old favorite Pascal motto – slightly revamped.  I think it fits in with my pondering this state of disrepute I find so distasteful.

I’ll close with another of my favorite all time quotes — its a bit long – but oh so worth emulating.  I hope you will agree.

All in all, no more attractive religion has ever been presented to mankind.  It offered itself without restrictions to all individuals, classes, and nations, it was not limited to one people … by making all men heirs of Christ’s victory over death, Christianity announced the basic equality of men, and made transiently trivial all differences of earthly degree. 

To the miserable, maimed, bereaved, disheartened, and humiliated it brought the new virtue of compassion, and an ennobling dignity.  It gave them the inspiring figure, story and ethic of Christ.  It brightened their lives with the hope of the coming Kingdom, and of endless happiness beyond the grave.

To even the greatest sinners it promised forgiveness, and their full acceptance into the community of the saved.

To minds harassed with insoluble problems of origin and destiny, evil and suffering, it brought a system of divinely revealed doctrine in which the simplest soul could find mental rest.  2,000 years ago, Jesus burst into the moral vacuum of a dying paganism, into the coldness of Stoicism, and the corruption of Epicureanism, into a world sick of brutality, cruelty, oppression, and sexual chaos, into a pacified empire that seemed no The Endlonger to need the masculine virtues of the gods of war, it brought a new morality of brotherhood, kindliness, decency, and peace. [by Will Durrant in Caesar and Christ].