The official blog of Susan Landis-Steward, writer of whatever she likes, and co-founder of Puddletown Publishing Group

What is a Christian?


Put two theologians at the dinner table, night after night for seventeen years, and you may find that they sometimes actually talk theology. They also talk about child welfare, writing, kids, and, lately, how cute and lovable the dog is.  Tonight, however, it was theology. Why? Because we have two feet of snow, the kid has our chains, and our cable TV is out. But we do have internet which allows us to stay in contact with friends and family, and provides us with ways to amuse ourselves.

Jenny brought the subject up. She posits that some atheists are trying to control the rest of us by demanding that all holiday displays on public property be forbidden. I, being always the contrarian, pointed out that Muslims, the largest growing religious demographic in the US, just had a religious celebration and bet that she couldn’t name it. I won. I knew I would. She then started to discuss the practice of female circumcision. After I uncrossed my legs and wiped the ouch off my face, I pointed out that female circumcision is not a tenet of Islam and that there are probably Christians in some parts of the world that practice female circumcision. Old habits die hard. I should have brought up the subject of male circumcision as well, since it is a Jewish and Christian practice that hurts none the less because it’s victims are newborns. I’ve long believed that it is a practice partly responsible for the emotional stunting of males. And I was glad I had daughters because my then-husband and I disagreed on circumcision, he being for it, I being against.

Then Jenny dropped her bomb: What is a Christian?

Of course, as a post-Christian Christian who take Jesus way too seriously to be a Christian in a society that has bastardized his message and cheapened his revolutionary commensality and radical inclusivity, I was stunned to silence. Since there are those who would call me Christian (mostly non-Christians) and those who would call  me non-Christian (mostly Christians), I had no good answer.

But, after much reflection, I have an example of what a Christian is although the person I am about to tell you about is more a Christian like me. That is, a former Christian who still follows the path but has left the dogma behind. She does not attend church, having finally given up on the institution.

Our friend works for the county, or maybe it’s the city, doing something with prisoners.  We currently are in the midst of the worst winter storm in 40 years, Portland is frozen under feet of snow and ice, and the city, or maybe it’s the county, is closed. As in not working.  As in everyone stay home and off the roads.  But our friend gets up at 5 am and walks four miles to her (closed) office in the snow and ice. Once there she starts calling around to find out who is being released and what they need.  She arranges for shelter vouchers, warm clothes (they are released in sweatsuits), other necessities. She knows that prisoners will be released come hell or high water and that they will need things she can provide. After about four hours of this (her office is, after all, closed) she walks the four miles back home.  She has done this every work day since the storm hit. (I think we are on day six? seven? maybe longer as our garbage was not picked up last Monday or this Monday due to road conditions.)

Now, I ask you, is she a Christian? I’d have to say yes. In fact, I’d go so far as to say she is a saint. Not in the capital-S sense, but in the small-s sense. Which is the sense all followers of Jesus of Nazareth, be they “Christians” or not, are called to follow.

Others may argue with me. She does not go to church, belongs to no Christian community that I am aware of, I’m not sure she’d even claim to be a Christian anymore. But she follows the teachings of one of the greatest teachers ever known in ways most of us would never even think of.  I’d have to say yes, she is a Christian. Even if she isn’t.

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Comments on: "What is a Christian?" (3)

  1. Great post, Susan. I’m of the camp that thinks Christians ought to follow Jesus’s teachings, not the church’s. And A-number-1 on the Big J’s list was the Golden Rule. But boy are you stirring up a hornet’s nest to suggest that true Christians might not be those actively practicing Christianity! Not that that’s anything new for you. 🙂 At least if the angry mob comes at you with their torches it might melt some of the snow.

    Merry Christmas. If we had chains and it wouldn’t take us an hour and a half to get there at 10-20 MPH we’d come hang with you. Here’s a virtual Diet Pepsi!

  2. Weighing in with my non-theologian, uneducated opinion I’d say a Christian is someone who believes that the guy known as Jesus Christ was, in fact God, and as such, the things he had to say should be listened to. After that, you have to deal with the broken status of us miserable mortals. Not everyone gets the teachings. Not everyone WANTS to get the teachings, because that means work and giving up stuff that they really like (such as gossip and selfishness and righteous indignation and pride.) I don’t think it’s up to me to say, “She’s a Christian, he’s not.” I can’t possibly know, since I’m just as broken as everyone else.

    On the other hand, your friend is an awesome human being and deserves hugs and brownies served warm with icecream and Amoretto! Blessings and strength to her!

  3. Well, I must confess this is my first visit to your blog (or ANYONE’S blog, for that matter). I enjoyed reading about your flood which must have scared the shit out of you just thinking about all that water coming in on your new floor and your new house and your NEW LIFE. As I read, still not knowing the outcome, I was thinking about how the two of you seem to attract disasters and I know I don’t need to enumerate these for you! But it seems that all ended well. I also enjoyed reading the What is a Christian and will make Virginia read it. She’s even more blog-averse than I am, so this may be a trick. But in spite of her impending sainthood, she’s probably just egocentric enough to want to read something about HER.

    OK, according to instructions, I did reply. At least this is how I THINK one replies. Mar

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