I am forever struggling to be taken seriously. Perhaps it comes from being the youngest child or perhaps it is connected to my ordination at an early age. Whatever the cause, I am desperate to be seen as a serious person doing serious things. 

This desire carries over into my faith life as well. I want to be seen as someone who takes faith seriously. I want people to be able to see how serious I am about Jesus. Luckily for me, there are ample opportunities to show off your faith in our modern world, and I have traveled the spectrum of Christian belief looking for the best way to be a serious Christian.

When I was in high school, I would often join with my friends who belonged to evangelical youth groups when they wore t-shirts or donned bracelets proclaiming their faith. “WWJD” was the question I hoped others would ask themselves after seeing my assorted Jesus swag. That shirt with a slightly amended soda brand label will surely convert all those I meet.

This evangelical fashion phase continued into college when I bought a rubber bracelet that looked like Jesus’s crucifixion wounds. Abrasive? Sure. Ugly bracelet? You bet. Did it accomplish my goal of being taken seriously? Probably not. On the face of it, Christian merchandise like those shirts and that crucifixion bracelet are evangelism tools. In reality, they are ways to communicate identity. They are as much a brand as the Polo horse. They announce membership, belonging, and seriousness of purpose. They allow me to check the box of evangelism without the pesky problem of relationships with real humans.

In seminary, I was struck by how seriously the Anglo-Catholics took their faith. They talked about vestments I had never heard of and pieces of liturgical furniture that I could barely pronounce. They had breviaries and prayer books and Psalters for every occasion. They wore a uniform that declared their profession and allegiance. They even had fun hats. I wanted in the club so I bought a biretta and began telling people that I “leaned high church.”

Nevermind that I didn’t know anything about being Anglo-Catholic or high church (which are different things, apparently). I didn’t necessarily believe Anglo-Catholic theology. The truth was that I just wanted to be taken seriously. I wanted people to know what I was about by my vestments and liturgical hats and breviaries. I wanted some way to show that I was serious about this whole thing. 

Of course, the seriousness of the Christian faith doesn’t come from a purchase or outfit. This is the trap that a liturgical and vestment-heavy denomination can fall into. This may explain why some folks are called to wear a clerical collar but not called to ministry. We all want to look the part. We all want to be taken seriously.

I still fall into this trap of manufactured seriousness today. When I find myself discouraged by the state of the church, I often come back to the thought, “I wish I was in a church that took this whole thing more seriously.”

In many mainline churches in the 21st century, it can feel like a competition to see how little of the faith we can take seriously. It seems like every week there is a new controversy about some core Christian doctrine being jettisoned, often in favor of the ever-elusive goal: relevance.

And so I am back in high school, wondering how I can show everyone that I am a serious Christian living a serious Christian life. My mind wanders to which club I need to join so that people will see my faith and marvel.

Of course, I know the truth that no one takes Christianity seriously enough, no one does it right. No Christian is knocking it out of the park because Christians are people and people have a way of taking the wrong (or harmful or sinful) thing way too seriously.

Jesus saw this problem and commanded his followers to drop the pretense. “Do not be like those who pray to be seen by others,” Jesus says as he encourages his disciples to pray in secret to the God who knows and loves the depths of our hearts (Matthew 6:5-6).

The desire to be taken seriously is fairly common and arises out of the deep need we human beings have to be justified. The Good News is that we can never justify ourselves, but there is One who was justified in our place and now stands at the right hand of God. 

We can try our best to take Christianity seriously. We can wear all the right stuff and even rock a gruesome awesome crucifixion bracelet. We can memorize verses and only listen to Christian music and do everything in our power to do it right. We can try our darndest to white-knuckle our way to justification. The problem is that our power can only get us so far, and it is not far enough. 

We cannot take our faith seriously enough, but that is not the point of this faith. 

The Good News is that God takes us seriously enough to send Jesus Christ to take on humanity, to live and die as one of us. The Good News is that you don’t have to buy a shirt or memorize a verse. You don’t have to wear a liturgical hat or know the difference between a lavabo and a chili bowl. The Good News is good, because it doesn’t hinge on you. The work has been done. It is finished. 

Seriously.