Appropriately Inappropriate


Pastor’s kids know all about being appropriate. Being appropriate is the behavioral sister to reciting the Apostle’s Creed or the Lord’s Prayer: we learn it, know it, live it. Growing up in the pastor’s shadow, congregants sent my siblings and me a clear message: the pastor’s kids are either total screw ups or perfect angels. My limited view of being a screw up meant wearing shorts that did not touch my knees or listening to music that might or might not have some suggestive lyrics. Being a screw up meant not standing to shake hands or failing to bring the right kind of jello to the Lenten dinners. Let me tell you, I did NOT want to be a screw up of that kind. Scary.

I’ve since learned there are all kinds of fun ways to be inappropriate. Life is full of opportunities to make others squirm by pushing the limits of accepted social norms. Saying exactly what you’re thinking at any given time, in any given place, offers a rush like no other.

And yet, those years of Presbyterian appropriateness have not been wasted, nor are they easily cast aside. I understand that social norms exist, like most things that make me wince, for a reason. They provide peace, comfort and safety in group situations where a lack a decorum could spark furious debate over the smallest things (like what kind of jello to bring to the Lenten dinner).

One of the most attractive things about Jesus’ character is his willingness, his almost obnoxious penchant, for doing the exact opposite of what people expect, of what social norms require. Talking to women, lepers, hookers, widows, tax-collectors, throwing over tables in the synagogue. Letting a woman wash his feet with really expensive oil. I mean, who does that?

One of my favorite seasons is Holy Week. I find so much in the biblical structure of this week, and so much of it is Jesus being totally and completely inappropriate. But he’s not just being a loudmouth jerk for the attention. He’s got a plan and he’s putting it into action.

You want inappropriate, scandalous, or shocking, look to Jesus during the week before his crucifixion. He washed people’s feet, he gave his friends bread and told them to remember him, he thumbed his nose, dangerously, at political and religious leaders. Dude was dropping all kinds of social barriers in this last week of life. He was on a tear, ripping down ideologies left and right. And not just for a rush. No.

He was creating a new economy based on a new kind of love. His plan ended in the most improbable, most totally inappropriate way: with his searing, scarring, painful death. I like that Jesus kicked over every single supposition people had about life, gender, class, justice, and faith. I like that everything he did was for a reason.

I could do with some of his appropriate inappropriateness. I don’t care about the jello. I’m not worried about being a screw-up of the first order. And I don’t care about shaking hands the right way. The question is: do I care enough about what He cared about to focus my finger-wagging, rabble-rousing, soap-boxing on practicing that same kind of love He showed?

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