Losing the Label

The old scientist told us he spent his early years studying beetles. 

But that all blew apart one summer when he retreated to his cabin, high in the mountains of Scotland, to work on his beetle collection (he didn’t explain how one does that). There, on a lazy summer afternoon, he spread his cases of beetle specimens on tables and sawhorses in the grassy clearing near his cabin. 

Then, as he bent over to work on a particular display, puffing his pipe, an eagle swooped down and shrieked; its enormous shadow darkened his field of sight. In that seismic moment, when he looked up at the majestic wingspan, he knocked his specimen cases to the ground. Beetles popped out of their spaces and were instantly “gone with the wind.”

He told us he never looked down again. He devoted the rest of his life to eagles.

My Eagle

I understand. I’ve been known as a “Christian” since one Sunday morning in my 12th year when I “accepted Jesus” in an emotionally intense service. Later, when our family drove down to my grandparents’ farm for lunch, my Grandma smiled, pulled me into her apron, and said, “Gonna be a little worker for Jesus, aren’t you?” 

But I did not want to work for Jesus. I wanted to be a boy. And I knew God didn’t need me. But, like a beetle pinned to velvet, over time I fell into squirming and then soul-deadening conformity with my religious culture.  

Then one day, without warning or permission, The Eagle dropped from the sky and screeched over my beetle boards. From that moment, I started losing my identity as a “Christian.”  

Why?

The Christian label implies the search is over, that it’s all been established and stuffed; Christianity has become the taxidermy of the Christ. That label also isolates Christians from those who are not. But the main problem is the exchange of institution over family. 

Is Christianity a Family?

When the Bible references the relationship between God and His people, it speaks the language of family—father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister. 

But while Christian culture uses those terms, family is simply not its first language. I mean, my dad never pleaded with me to become a Chinn. Nor did he ever explain the rules of being one. I never made a decision to accept Dad. 

And although Jack Chinn died, he is still here. I see him every day in my mirror; I hear his voice every time I speak. In an astounding mystery, now I am him. In a very real sense, my brothers and I and our tribes now comprise his body in the earth. Over the years, Dad has been formed in each of us. He will be with us forever.

     Shouldn’t a relationship with God be at least as natural and familial as that?

      Look; I don’t have a Chinn “worldview.” My memories of Dad and the documents of his life—his war diary, letters, hometown newspaper articles, taped messages, etc. —do not form a grid through which I measure other people or perspectives. 

       Furthermore, if I must proclaim my parentage to everyone I meet— “Excuse me, sir; I’m Jack Chinn’s son. Could I share what my father said?”—the village will soon and correctly consider me nuts. 

High Flight

There’s nothing wrong with people choosing to become Christian (or Muslim, socialist, vegetarian, or Texan). But the cerebral or conventional approaches to faith are dead beetles compared to His life being birthed in us (Galatians 4:19).

You don’t have to groan, grovel, or grunt your way into the Lord’s family. We are all free to be fully human. You can soar up into a high-altitude life, confident in your paternity, and knowing you can live far above the claustrophobia of religion, politics, self-preservation, fear, and futility.        

      Settle it once and forever; like an eagle, you were created for the updrafts of grand adventures. Ironically, that life was best described 80 years ago, not by a theologian, but by a military pilot, John Gillespie Magee, Jr. Read his poem, High Flight, as a sketch of soaring in full confidence into the Presence of God:

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hovering there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air . . .

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.