10 Jun 2010
Being the Aroma of Christ
Someone told me when I first started following Jesus in high school that I was supposed to be the “aroma of Christ”.
That sounded like an odd thing to me. Being a teenager at the time, I wasn’t really sure what “being aroma” meant. When I thought of aroma, I thought of perfume. When you are a sixteen year old high school guy you don’t want to be perfume, so I was a little put off with the whole idea. The truth was, I didn’t want to be aroma; I just wanted to be me. I still feel that way. Over the years I have come to understand that being the aroma of Christ isn’t about trying to be something, it has more to do with what we leave behind as we live into our wiring harnesses and engage life.
For the last several years I have been going to the gym once a year whether I need it or not. This year, I have tried to step it up in the hopes of feeling better and getting in better shape. What I’ve found is that the harder I work out, the more aroma I have. That makes sense. When I get to the gym, I know that the hard work ahead isn’t about being comfortable, it’s about reaching a goal. When I think about what I was told when I was in high school now, I think that it’s the same in faith. Sometimes it’s hard work. Unlike what I was told in high school however, I don’t think that being the aroma of Christ is the goal; I think that looking more like Jesus is the goal. Aroma just ends up happening along the way; at least it should be that way.
There’s good aroma and a bad aroma, I suppose. Here are a couple thoughts about aroma that have helped to shape my world view as I imperfectly follow Jesus:
1. There’s aroma that comes from ignoring the basic things in life. It’s kind of like bad hygiene; it’s the bad aroma from not caring. It’s easy to stop caring; all that we need to do is stop engaging others. You can smell someone who doesn’t care a long way off. Usually, you will find them so wrapped around the axle with their own worries that they have very little time or energy to engage anyone else. It’s not that they don’t care…well, actually, it is. They just don’t care. That’s not the aroma I want swirling in the air behind me. The fix is simple too. Just care more; that’s all there is to it. The way I care more is by engaging others more. I ask more questions; I go places. There’s nothing complicated or formulaic about it, and it is is as easy as it is aromatic.
2.There’s another variety of aroma that many of us have unintentionally walked through. It is the aroma that comes from people who live out their particular world views in a way that discourages, confuses and disenfranchises others. It’s an aroma that suggests that only people who smell like them are in and everyone else is kind of out. This can happen sometimes when people of faith use Christian code words and phrases to describe ideas. Shorthand ways of referring to concepts that we each are learning about God can be helpful, but it’s not without cost to the ones nearby us. Unfortunately, the ones that take a hit are the ones who are just finding their way on the path towards faith. It’s easy to get head faked when you are just starting out, so what I try to do is to stay away from re-tread Christian words or phrases. The test that I apply is whether the guy at the deli would understand what I’m saying. One of the byproducts of doing this is that I am forced to find new and different ways to describe otherwise familiar concepts. As a result, I end up learning more about what I really mean about matters of faith, because I’m trying to find new verbal handles for the concepts each day.
3. There is going to be conflict. It just happens. I’ve been told that before you can carry mace; you have to be maced so you know what it’s like. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it sounds somehow fair. We want to make sure that intentionally or not, we aren’t living out our faith in a way that smells like mace to others. Will our faith shape our world view in a way that others might strongly disagree with? Sure. Will we face resistance from those who see things from the other end of the telescope? You bet. Will we be put off or offended by the behaviors of people who don’t see life or experience Christ the way we do? Of course. However, if our goal is to look more like Jesus in the middle of life, we won’t mace anyone in the name of Jesus with our opinions; instead we will engage them with our lives.
4. There are good aromas; we’ve all experienced them. Like a great song, an aroma has the ability to bring you back to a particular place, a time, a great friend. An aroma can linger on a pillow or a piece of clothing and make you immediately remember a person with incredible detail and nuance. Even the aroma of a comfortable leather couch or a crackling fire makes all of us feel at once welcomed and at home at a place to which we have never been. Once again, the aroma isn’t the goal; it’s the byproduct. It just kind of happens. I want my faith to be like that.
I love the smell of pipe tobacco. I like how it drifts across the grass from a guy wearing a tweed coat on a park bench. Even though I’ve never met him, somehow he is instantly familiar to me. That’s how aromas work. What is also really interesting is that the only one who can’t smell the pipe tobacco is the guy smoking the pipe. Try it some time. The aroma of Christ is a lot like that. When we are doing it right, we won’t even smell the aroma we are leaving behind – but others will.
I’ve decided that being the aroma of Christ isn’t much like perfume at all; it’s more like a scratch and sniff, and we are the ones that get scratched.