The Idiot Christian: How to be Inconvenient to Classify

For better or worse now, my children go before me into the world, and for the most part they have brought some very good people into our lives. They’ve chosen good friends for themselves, and their friends’ parents’ have been trustworthy faithful people.

We’re on a bigger playing field now at the middle school, a huge one, actually, and the easiest way to approach it is to divide everyone into their appropriate tribes and deal with the people we’re likely to see most often.

Some of these tribes have been forming over generations. The hefty boys go to the football team. The tony boys go to tennis. The cross country team tends to be conscientious skinny kids. And that’s just sports. There’s still the marching band, the thespians, the robotics club…. Even if we don’t use these classifications formally, we use them pretty facilely in our heads.

In Simcha Fisher’s post this week at the Register, on The Unlabeled Life she discussed the need to live without labels to better observe what’s really going on around us.

“There are labels we attach to ourselves:  Attachment parent.  Homeschooler.  Classicist.  Progressive.  Introvert.  The creative type.  Feminist.  Conservative.  Marian Catholic.  And so on.  These labels are useful descriptors, up to a point, but none of these can describe a person in his entirety, and none should limit what we can expect out of ourselves.”

And yet, how does one avoid them? She rightly notes that these divisions have a way of forming even within the Church. There seems to be an inherent desire to moor ourselves publicly to particular outlooks and people–to define ourselves with the short-hand of our relationships, or even, in some cases, the websites we visit.

I’ve been reading Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot, about a man whose innocence and honesty prevent him from fitting into society in any conventional way. All around him, people scheme for money and power, and just by being truthful and good, he confounds everyone, often changing people’s lives in radical ways. People take advantage of him. People insult him. He responds, always with truthfulness and charity–and all anyone can think to call him is an idiot (which in this case means someone who is a little “off” and perhaps slightly ill).

The Idiot, Myshkin is his name, is a Christ figure. He brings to light the reality that Christ himself is unclassifiable. He doesn’t fit neatly into any factions, though many factions have sought to claim him by amputating whatever characteristics do not correspond to their beliefs. Christ was not a liberal or a conservative. People like to call him a radical, but I’m not sure about that. It seems to be another way of casting him in an accessible modern light.

He was fully human, fully divine and utterly without sin. It’s the sinless part that allowed him to spend time with anyone,  Zacchaeus or Mary Magdalene, and while they could all declare themselves his followers, none of them could claim him as a member of their particular class or status.

Christ defies labeling, and if we imitate him, we also become difficult to define.

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