I can already feel the eyes on me as I walk into church.
I look down and my eyes skim over my outfit. I mentally question myself. Are my jeans too tight? Heels too high? Is my bust showing?
My answer: None of the above.
Hold up! What just went through my head? Wait, hold up again! Why am I feeling like the prey and the church the eagle?
Ditch the religious cookie cutters
Christian subcultures are a compelling phenomenon. Numerous brands of Christianity claim to have the same God, read the same Bible and yet sometimes our idealistic values are as diverse as apples and oranges.
On the odd occasion I attend Catholic Mass near my home. With all its bells and constant melodic 'amens', it's quite an enjoyable experience.
On one particular evening everything was just dandy UNTIL my mouth started compulsing and I was forced to open it into a huge yawn, plain for all to see. This (unfortunately) happened every 10 seconds.
Worried people would notice my apparent boredom I turned my head around to see if anyone was looking. Boy, was I right! Eyes drilled into the back of my head.
Wait, they weren't delighting in my glorious yawn, their eyes were shooting daggers at my outfit. I knew it! It's safe to say I spent the remainder of the service pulling down my shirt.
It is a completely different story when I visit Planetshakers Melbourne. Slick-haired, Jesus-loving hipsters lead from the stage. A congregation of Nike wearers, tattoo inclined, skinny-jeaned, double denim lovers worship in response.
When we cut Christians out of the dough with a religious cookie cutter, we not only trample on diversity, but we deny people God's grace and the free will to express their faith.
We are in danger of undermining the true freedom of Christianity when belief becomes chiseled into a set of legalistic rules which are more about appearance than actual faith.
The freedom of grace
Take one of Jesus' disciples, Matthew. Why in the world did Jesus call this thug?
Matthew's profession was nothing more than political and religious betrayal. As a tax collector Matthew belonged to a particularly despised segment of societyâhe was seen as a traitor and a thief. Even the other disciples asked why Jesus was eating with such scum!
Tax collectors didn't only extract money from the locals' wallets for their own personal use, but they were known for living immoral lives and hanging out with the wrong crowds.
Surely as soon as Jesus called Matthew, he immediately began to live a moral life and follow the Christian values? I'm sure every word that came out of his mouth was God-glorifying, heaven sent ...
Jesus didn't call people who knew they were righteous. Let's be honest here, I bet half of the disciples didn't even know how to pray at their first prayer meeting. Grace is learning process. Grace is provocative, messy and offensive.
Carl Lentz once said, 'Let's not forget that we were the woman at the well before we start to judge women at the well...' That goes for men too.
God calls us all as sinners and makes us righteous through Jesus. We all need God's ongoing grace in the mess of life.
When I'm tempted to try and right myself by my own efforts I must remember: I was blind and now I can see. That's who I am.
More than appearance
We can be tempted to think that Godâomnipotent and omniscient, Creator of all thingsâwould look upon his son or daughter and utter, 'Wow, I messed up this time. My child really likes clothes, struggles with bad language, and has a tattoo. I'm really disappointed in him/her. I should have picked someone else to do my work, someone without tattoos, someone who dresses more conservatively'.
I think not.
God had a plan from the beginning of time. Sometimes it may not make any sense to us, but it is perfect nonetheless. He has chosen you. What a revelation!
So this is what you tell your critics, the ones who won't care to get off their holy high horse: I am free.
What I wear no longer defines me. God loves me and has brought me into the light. Nothing can imprison me. I am saved by grace. I am accepted just as I am. So now I get to live. And so do you.
Today and every day I choose to step into His grace. And right now, I'm tasting it, dwelling in it, reclaiming it.
So stop worrying about petty things! It's time to throw away the cookie cutter. Fix your eyes on Jesus. He could do with more team players and less critics.
Emily Black is passionate about writing and seeks to write raw, authentic and timely pieces that disturb and comfort, engage justice and fundamentally empower.
She is currently studying a Bachelor of Arts at The University of Melbourne and actively desires to pursue a life of untainted freedom through Jesus Christ.
Emily Black's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/emily-black.html