Under the Microscope: The Fallacy Of Christian Niceness

LUDICROUSNESS OF FAITH

Humility is one of the main attributes of Christianity, one which gives the believer the ability to swallow their insignificance in this vast universe, while simultaneously drawing courage and purpose from the Spirit who spoke the universe into existence. Humility also changes the way we receive the Word of God: Learning of Jesus from the Bible either draws solid faith into the absence of hope, or its extreme claims become the items of religious caricature. Put differently, when people hear of Jesus, they either take Him seriously, or their shock in light of His story forces their logic to consume the lies of the world to make sense of what appears to be the ludicrousness of faith. 

 CHRISTIANITY AND NICENESS

One word in the English language which seems overused in describing the Christian character is “nice.” In this article, I would like to explicate the value of Christianity and its influence on the attitude of the believer, as well as why this should not be confused or mistaken with the correlation of faith. While niceness is a positive attribute, it does not add any measure of extraordinary depth to Christianity; rather, Christianity interjects authenticity into the character of niceness—insofar that our attitude isn’t a mirror of self-merit, but a reflection of the light of faith within. Let me explain.

TRANSCENDENT JOY

Receiving good news from a friend often brings momentary periods of joy through the conduit of empathy; however, this sensation lacks the effervescent joy we can find in Christ since earthly joy does not transcend reality. Furthermore, if we are to consider the notion of realities, we would be wise to also consider the way earthly joy inevitably foreshadows something rare and ecstatic: The high hope of a better world without pain or death or tears—Heaven. Sadly, the doubt of disbelief cloaks the mind and obscures this hope under the rigidity of logic. 

In this light, we can recognize how each of our ephemeral circumstances, whether or not they stimulate joy—are not transcendent of life’s circumstances, and therefore they do not inspire us to have hope beyond this moment. While happiness is as transient as joy is steadfast, earthly joy is like happiness in that it does not gain momentum from any eternality; only faith in Jesus commands the interior walls of belief to leap into the ‘beyond’ from limitation, revealing a more splendent joy as connected to our spirit. 

THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

Our spirit, once faith has been embraced through grace, no longer witnesses the self without first gazing through the love and provision of Christ. While we still desire pleasure and comfort, this short-sighted viewpoint is overseen by the wisdom of trusting in Jesus. Being encompassed by faith reinstates through the spirit our deeper and more intrinsic desire for a purposeful eternity: Hope in Christ not only answers our search and desire for this, it also heals the broken pieces of who we are from the wake of the destruction of our sin through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

THE “SMILE” OF NICENESS THROUGH FAITH

In this way, the joy of a Christian stems from their faith, not through an act they’ve carried out or a mood they’re in. Because of this, the expression of joyfulness, which is sometimes mistaken as its own entity—is more or less described as “nice,” in the sense that joy is commonly expressed through a smile and cheeriness. I love to smile at people because I know a genuine smile communicates an effective and positive message, but it isn’t to say, “I’m smiling because I’m Christian!” This reasoning would be so spiritually forced as to be histrionic. If belief in Jesus means, “We smile because we’re Christian,” then faith is simply an act of the will while hope is a mood enhancer. But this isn’t true. Faith in Jesus is rooted in the soul, where desire for meaning and purpose can only be satisfied and fulfilled by the living essence of the transcendent (namely, the Holy Spirit). Why is that? Because we were created by a God who lives outside of the ephemeralness of time and space and sin, and it is to His home to which we are invited.

NOT AN ACT OF THE WILL 

Why is it important for people to understand why niceness needn’t be directly attributed to faith in Christ? The reason is this: If we say we’re smiling because we’re Christian, then we give glory to religion rather than the Lord. In other words, we’re saying, “I’m joyful because I am a Christian,” rather than, “I am joyful because I live in the hope of Jesus Christ.” When we give credit to the belief, we redirect the mind to the act of the will (performance-based religion) rather than the gift from God (grace, and an intimate, personal relationship). In doing this, we give the impression that in order to be Christian, one must smile and “act” nice. This is precisely the fallacy which must be eradicated from the spiritual conversation and effaced from our hearts if we are to understand—and be transformed by—the authenticity of the spirit of Christianity.

EFFECTING THE SPIRIT

To be clear, niceness is not the thought pattern by which a believer operates; rather, faith is the conduit through which we breathe, desire, and move. If it is not through faith, then it is through selfishness/narcissism. Faith is not chosen, it is received through God’s gift of grace. The attitude and character of the reborn spirit are not circumstantial or ephemeral, but influenced by an eternality far beyond that of any association with the body or mind. Simply put, the Holy Spirit does not require our body to work properly in order for its power to be efficient; the Holy Spirit works through the spirit, not the flesh.

Transcendent joy is our new mentality and perspective, our very lifestyle, in fact—not merely a circumstantial event caused by external factors. From this, what we can take away is that niceness is only a single, minute facet of the natural response of our spirit to transcendent joy, not nearly an act of false banality derived of faith in Jesus. 

AN AUTHENTIC SMILE OF HOPE

When others see me smile, they tell me that it is genuine and authentic, and that is true. I do not smile because I’m Christian—I smile because I have hope for a life beyond this world. Another hope of mine is that others will find my smile contagious and grow curious. I’m always open to strangers asking me if I’m Christian (which has happened several times), because I’m always hoping they’ll see that there’s more behind this smile than the excuse of niceness. There is a Truth and a promise that we’re called to receive, and in receiving it, the consequent joy is invigorating to the extent that a smile (niceness) is merely a small courtesy of expression; an external indication, more or less, of such a gift received in the soul deep inside.

JOYFUL INTENTION

While I have emphasized at length the significance of a smile, this is obviously not the only expression of joy (and happiness/niceness), but one of many. My intent here was to use the smile as an example which others commonly recognize. Furthermore, I have witnessed churchgoers whose smile/attitude disintegrates as soon as their face turns a few degrees from mine, which comes across as incredibly forced. This is not authenticity as its best, for it is the absence of grace at work. Niceness is not only unnecessary with regards to those who believe niceness is solely an attitude associated with Christianity; many times it also has the power to propitiate the fallacy that faith in Christ enforces a fake persona in order to pursue. Quite oppositely, receiving Jesus begins at a much deeper level of the spirit, where niceness is merely a constituent of a much larger whole: JOY. Christians do not have to smile, but we do because we find hope and joy in Jesus.

In the late, respected words of St. Francis of Assisi: 

Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.”

My point and message is not that we become silent Christ-followers, but to point out how our actions speak loudly—especially to unbelievers when our actions contradict the words of our mouthes. Christian joy builds the desire to be more generous with our time; the openness even to being silent with those who are suffering and merely seeking the presence of someone who cares. These are expressions which we, as Christ-followers, have joyful reason to believe beyond the fallacy of coerced spiritual niceness, are the moments which matter most. 

LET’S CONNECT

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Impression

The Blessing Of the Samaritan In Every Day Life

Genuine, compassionate, kind, thoughtful, pensive, slow-to-speak, quick-to-listen, intuitive, spiritual, loving people– truly inspire me. Can you call to mind the face of the person who that is for you?

I have met these kinds of people before, but they always seems to come in passing–they’re heading that way and I’m heading this way, but for that bittersweet moment we criss-cross, and I experience a personality unlike any other. I must draw you a picture, because this is something you need to see.

Not all people learn to truly, genuinely care. They may say they do, and for specific areas of their life, they do care. But there are some people–we’ll call them samaritans–whose delicate manner in caring for others is done in the same vein as the manner they eat the food that tastes pleasing to them: They simply enjoy it.

Now, don’t confuse the idea of someone “enjoying the experience of caring” with someone who acts as a doormat for attention-seeking individuals without boundaries or respect for others’ feelings and well-being. The samaritans I’m talking about have boundaries, and plenty of self-respect, but they know how to counter someone’s disrespect with concern and compassion. Does this concept surprise you, or even confuse you? Let me draw more of the picture.

Another appreciative quality of the samaritan is their ability to connect with an individual so effortlessly. Eye contact comes so naturally to these kinds of people that we don’t even always realize how their eyes are inviting ours into the conversation. In contrast, there are the people whose eye contact can be interpreted as intrusive or disconcerting. Their eye contact is constant and unmoving; hardly leaving our eyes and barely blinking– if at all. This lack of eye movement altogether, after a minute or two straight, can begin to feel uncomfortable–as if that person is thinking of something else other than what the we’re actually talking about–or leading us to believe the intention behind their listening is different than their concern for us and what we’re saying. The samaritan’s eyes, however, are comforting, gentle, and at ease; relaxed, and very attentive in just the right proportions. In all respects, their eyes–and, therefore, their spirit (our eyes are the key to our soul, no joke)–are present. As we speak, they respond in such a way that feels validating. There is compassion in their eyes, gentleness in their disposition, and space where–for others–there is usually judgment, or a lack of concern or attentiveness. Unmistakably, time rests in a peaceful buoyancy with samaritans; emotions are allowed, welcomed, shared, and ultimately embraced— the very air around them is so weightless and simultaneously full of grace–feeling loved is difficult to ignore, and impossible to resist.

I can recall feeling angry while being heard by a samaritan who simply listened with pursed eyes, following my anger with empathy. By the end, they were nodding in silent agreement with what I’d explained, their eyes slowly blinking and peering into mine with concern and frustration for my situation. This exchange was so emotionally satisfying that I didn’t really care about the frustration of my story anymore, because this person had undermined the anger itself by embracing my hurt and pain with me. I felt validated, like someone was with me in my space of need. They didn’t even have to say anything, and they didn’t give me advice– they simply let me be. That is the underlying gift of wisdom by a samaritan: Their very sagacity in knowing how to listen, when to offer helpful insight, and discerning the difference.

After time spend concentrating on the utilization of those gifts with people, and desiring to better themselves in this regard– listening transcends the problem of being viewed as an obligation or difficult science, and becomes a gift to be shared, cherished, and used with the people we love, care for, and want to be experience life with. The inability to truly listen–to truly share ourselves vulnerably without judgment or further prolonging the feeling of loneliness when, for example, someone responds to a traumatizing story with the “fix”, rather than giving the speaker the precious gift of the quiet solace of presence they actually need instead— is a detrimental problem and schism in human relationships today, and it needs to be addressed with full awareness of its punitive repercussions.

Every person knows what it feels like to not be heard when they vent, how it feels to be ignored or overlooked when in emotional pain, and every person certainly knows what it feels like to believe no one really cares. But a person with the ability to extend themselves in such a way that provides the space for this desired emotional acceptance– this is truly a gift, indeed; that someone would be caring and involved enough in the relationships in their lives to take a deep, introspective look at the way others feel around them when they listen, and to understand–deeply–the way their words have an impact, not only within the context of just one conversation, but within the inflection and motivation behind the words themselves–in any conversation. People who can do this and have devoted quality time to developing this aptitude have acquired more than just skill; they have acquired the ability to be a living vessel of God. Does that last phrase pull your attention away and shock you? Does it seem too much?

God is love, and to be able to provide the space for another person to feel loved by just listening, with only the motivation to give that person that experience in your presence–how is that not being a bridge to God, Himself? You are shining a light directly to Him by doing what He would do. God desires to love us, and in His love for us, the parts of us that are misplaced or distorted and confused become easier to see, and in that process of being exposed to ourselves from God, we can see how the pieces we’ve misplaced through rebellion and selfishness can be put back correctly in their rightful places. God provides that path, and when a person is able to provide the space where God can be seen and felt (although a person isn’t required for this–a person’s personal relationship with Jesus is just as effective), those paths are made very clear. Because of this–specifically–a samaritan’s ability to listen truly exults the love and power of God’s presence in human life.

Why am I sharing this with you? We need more samaritans–it’s simple. And, to be a bit frank, I miss the time spent around people who aren’t in a rush, as if my feelings are less important than the racing speed of the clock. Some people never learn to slow down and live in the moment, and it’s these very people who inspire this post—because we don’t need any of that. We need people who are willing to be still, even momentarily, to give us a moment of their time. Are there times when we simply cannot stop for anything due to inconvenience or responsibility? Of course. But I’m talking about people who begin daydreaming during a conversation, or who are always running around to a destination that doesn’t require their presence with as much emergence as they portend. Stillness speaks; like the spacial quiet during my time with the samaritan when I was angry. Why are people in such dire need to move, to think, to speak, and to act– why not be in need to be still and listen, or just to be? This is a samaritan, and it can be anyone.

It’s more than just the ability to listen, of course. Anyone can learn to listen, but the measure of a samaritan is the depth of their character and the truth of their intention. Without character and intention carefully motivated, a person is far from being a vessel for God. The world needs as much light as it can get to show us back to who we truly are, and God uses us (those who have accepted His love through Christ) to be that example to others who need it. Where are they? Can they be you? Of course. In fact, I hope it is. This world needs samaritans—those who are willing to be what no one else is trying to be. But, who is their motivation?

My hope is that it is God, because every human must have one (samaritan) to be one, and it all starts with the Samaritan who loved us enough to come down here and fix our problem (of sin) for us in the flesh. It’s Him who we strive to emulate by following His Golden Rule, which is and always have been to love (Him with all of our mind, all of our heart, all of our soul, and all of our strength, others as ourselves, and ourselves as God loves us). Are we loving others when we listen? Are we showing others who God is when we let others be themselves, or do we try to fix them when they don’t ask for help? Sometimes, our greatest hope is found in the silence of wisdom. And sometimes that silence can be found with someone providing the space for God to be found. Is that you? Is that who you’d like to be?

Look around you at this world and decide for yourself what you believe it needs. More samaritans, or more people trying to fix everything? Where pragmatism is appreciated, sometimes it is unnecessary. What is always necessary is that we learn to slow down, to listen, and to love. Who are you being for others? Is that the best you can be? God loved us through Christ, and now we are to love others through Christ in us. How are you loving others, and how can you love more?

I urge you to think of this and apply it to your life. Keep in mind the changes you are making to others’ lives with your own. I pray that you become aware of this truth, and that you make Godly changes in your every day interactions, one conversation and one relationship at a time. Let God work through you. There are other samaritans on the way for you as well, God is making sure of it. Be blessed, readers!

Original

The Art Of Authenticity

Say your friend gives you a gift, and their lips and cheeks are curled into a smile, but their eyes lay flat—how does taking their gift make you feel? Even for the people with little knowledge of body language can discern something off about a person’s countenance when two different muscle groups are not agreeing with each other on the same emotion; we can tell when others give something because they feel obligated to give, or when their generosity is genuine and unconditional.

Authenticity is our second greatest gift to ourselves, penultimate to loving ourselves the way Jesus loves us. The truest way we see ourselves authentically is without any facades, masks, or obscurations. How hard can it be?

The way we know when we are being authentic is whether the version of ourselves we are around people is the same version we aren’t afraid to be behind closed doors. Frankly, that is the best ‘self’ we can manage to embrace because, alternatively, with so many layers of secrets, all authenticity gets lost in the enormous black abyss of duplicity.

If who you are when others can’t hear or see you is different than the way you are with people, then perhaps one of the best questions to ask yourself is what you have to hide? There is no reason why you can’t be you. The only person stopping you from being your most organically natural self is you, and one of the only reasons you can conjure up to excuse that truth is by being too fearful of the world’s prejudice. What is it about the world’s censure that makes you so afraid to be the best you can be? Are you afraid of being unaccepted? Are you less afraid of the world morphing your character into one massive lie so that the false version of you can fit in; while the authentic you waits until you’re alone again? Which one of these fears takes priority for you?

As every day ends, what matters most is that you are honest with yourself. Being honest with yourself enables you to show others the most honest version of you, and that is pivotal to accepting yourself, as well as the enabling of others to be able to accept the real you, and not the false pretense version of you as influenced by the world.

One truth that I love to refer back to is the authenticity of Jesus Christ. Even as the Pharisees would try to trap Him in a political or theological lie, He always had a valid rebuttal that minimized their redundant religious quarrels. Jesus’ authenticity drew crowds around Him, and His character was genuinely loving, compassionate, confident, knowledgeable; obstinate, and never unfair. His words were used for the amelioration of others, and His rebukes were always righteous. As the opposite—an unauthentic person draws hypocrisy into their soul, dividing their ratiocination between self-deprecation and extrapolation of self-worth by worldly judgment.

Various situations call for different aspects of ourselves. Politics, for instance, request that we expose our intentions and clearly communicate what they are. Of course, politics are a microcosm of their own, having been misconducted through generations past—damaging the retention of authenticity with the interjection of duplicity. What is hard about retaining our authenticity in politics is allowing humility to transcend selfishness in attaining our pursuits, engulfing our spirit of humility in deceitfulness. We congratulate our proactivity, confidence, and bold pertinacity, but end up dismissing the questionable method we “must” undergo to achieve its results, undermining the importance of the retention of truth, and the underrated necessity of transparency—both the underscoring floorboards of authenticity itself.

Authenticity in relationships require us to be aware of who we are, what we want, how we feel, and that we have a matured degree of selflessness about us; spacial enough to extend our greatest and most distinguishing human ability: to love another person. These human facets are obscured and made confusing, even to ourselves—and are therefore impossible to embrace and imbue into our being—if we are not the truest version of ourselves with others.

These examples of authenticity are not to be confused with the dangerous perspectives of transparency which express we should expose who we are in ways we would consider intrusive and unnecessary. We can’t afford, for the sake of retaining our most genuine selves–letting the world convince us that we need to sound a certain way, dress a certain way, or prove our worth using any method outside the natural expressions of our public behavior, the way we respond to people on a regular basis, and what we believe in based on our own experiences. Authenticity demands of others that they see us for us regardless of judgment.

No, we can’t stop others from judging us, this is absolutely true. But what we can do, what we do, in fact, have control over– is the way we deal with others’ judgment. The weight we put on the opinion of the people we feel judged by reveals a lot about our dependency on their approval for our self-validation. The world is transformed day by day, just as we are. But transformation can mean improving oneself, or deteriorating and falling apart. Amelioration is the betterment of something. The amelioration of a person means to better oneself; straightening out your priorities, and choosing to love rather than being hollow or selfish. Deterioration of character is the choice to allow the world and all its criticism to conquer our minds, our choices, and lastly our actions. Letting this happen is the picture of giving back to the world what we receive from it: pain, bitterness, judgment, anger, and resentment. These feelings are all valid, but they are not the effective constituents of building the road to the improvement of our best selves. Our best selves would not ridicule, vindicate, or even the score with those who have caused us turmoil and hardship; Jesus taught that by example by dying on the cross when He’d done nothing wrong.

I challenge you to see for yourself what your own authenticity looks like, and to burrow through what may be causing you to procrastinate, or to altogether be afraid of what the best version of you looks like to you. Genuineness comes with accepting who we are, which means liking who we are—flaws and all. Whether you have a lisp, curly hair, or you have a dancing style that others may give strange looks to–none of these should stop you from being you, always! These are merely examples, but the point is that of all the multifarious ways people are unique, different, and stand out, may very well not always be welcomed by the world. That is just a truth we have to accept while living in a world corrupted with sin, a heavy cesspool of judgment, and poorly developed faith in a God who we are designed to find our purpose, worth, and validation in anyways; not the world.  This doesn’t make you any less worth who you are, and this can’t stop you from being more like you every day. Whether you sing loud in the shower, or you listen to one song every day for hours back-to-back, there is nothing wrong with you having parts of your character which others simply don’t understand or appreciate. These are still parts of you which do not change your worth! In fact, these define you more because they come from within. They make you smile, they inspire you to think and be what others aren’t. And others could never be you.

There is nothing quite more extraordinary than being who you are, all the time. Being anyone else is robbing the world of something magnificent, treasurable, and worthy of being seen, noticed, and experienced. If you find several who can’t notice that, just keep on being you. Someone will see you and love what they witness. You are a sight and a character to behold, and everything about you is screaming that. Let those who have ears to hear and eyes to see appreciate the parts of you which no one else can replicate or copy, and witness the parts of you that can inspire, motivate, and bring others to their best authentic self as well. We are all inspirations. We are all role models—if we bring out our most authentic selves and allow them to bloom in all their likeness.

In closing this post, I want to mention how I love the concept of a flower being an exemplar of authenticity, as inanimate as a flower is. This example is an illustration that, like a flower, we need to be exactly the way we were made to be. A flower can’t really be anything but a flower, and we can’t be anything but human, but a flower won’t try to be a different kind of flower, so we should we try to pretend we are like someone else? A flower is a flower, or it’s nothing at all. What does that say about you? What does that say about us as a society?

You were meant to be seen. You have much to show the world. And they have much to see and learn from you. We all have something to learn from each other. And when we finally get through to someone, we can point them towards the Source of all authenticity: Christ Himself.

Take your first step and show them what you’re made of. The world needs the real you.

Facade