I know it's almost cliche to talk about this, but I have to say, the popular perception of Christians among those "outside" the faith saddens me greatly.
The other night I was sitting at dinner with some friends, at Denny's in Ramona in fact (where I have a history of overhearing strange comments and conversations from other tables) and from across the room almost, we could hear a conversation about Christianity and Christians.
"I don't like the Christian Church because they really want to shove it down your throat... they want you to follow all these religious rules... now, I believe there's something else out there but I just don't think it's like that."
It broke my heart because the perception that seemed to be shared amongst these folks was that Christianity is about pressure, pressure to mentally assent to all kinds of rigid beliefs about the world and God. Part of me wanted to walk over to them an explain that the same rigidity that frustrated them was a frustration for me as well... and I'm a Youth Pastor. Don't walk away from Christ because of such frustrations, rather, take those frustrations and from them live into a whole new and more authentic relationship with Christ. After all, it's not about what God or the church wants you to do or believe, it's about the abundant life that you can experience in Christ... without rigidity, hypocrisy, or bigoted dogmatism. The same frustrations that drive some from the Church are the same frustrations that have driven me, and many others, to ask questions which have changed the way we think about and see God. We've found freedom in Christ, salvation in Christ, and hope in God's saving work.
Now, just because I don't like rigidity doesn't mean I don't like theological clarity (even if that clarity is itself open, changing, and often paradoxical. Clarity--being able to really understand and have a clear vision of God and God's hope for existence--can indeed set us free when we begin to live it out. We don't need to be "wishy-washy" in our theology (although we must stay open to change). Theological ambiguity, the kind to which many are attracted after being burned by the rigidity of the church, the kind that says "I believe there's something else out there but I just don't think it's like that" without any desire to discover that "something else," actually draws us away from freedom and into confusion until we end up relying on some other agenda that we can grasp. When we can place Christ clearly and particularly at the center, without dogmatism or shove-it-down-their-throat-ism, we begin to find that Christ serves as the foundation for all sorts of good works and for beauty in the world. Clarity, if it is really centered on knowing Christ and worshiping God, can offer an invitation into the good and beautiful, an invitation to freedom.