When you were a kid did you used to have those anxiety dreams about going to school in your pajamas? Or without shoes? Well, I still have those, only my nightmares are about turning up to casual social events in a suit.
It’s not that I’m anxious about drawing attention to myself (those of you who know me personally can stop nodding now). It’s more that I’m afraid of what wearing a suit represents to me: a kind of deadening, monochromed conventionality.
Hey, if in your professional role you’re required to wear a suit, that’s cool. It’s not the actual piece of apparel I’m uptight about. It’s just that the older I get the more terrified I become of being straightjacketed. I genuinely fear I’m becoming a square.
Did you know that the word eccentric comes from a combination of the Greek terms ek (out of) and kentron (center). When put together, ekkentros means “out of center”. The term gained currency in the late Middle Ages when astronomers like Copernicus dared to suggest that the earth was not at the center of the solar system. By claiming the earth in fact orbited the sun, Copernicus became the original eccentric.
Enter Richard Beck, a professor from Abilene Christian University, who pushes the definition of eccentricity a bit further. In his book The Slavery of Death, Beck takes its literal meaning (out of center) and suggests that an eccentric identity is one where the focal point of the self is shifted away from the center. He says, “The ego, in a kind of Copernican Revolution, is displaced from the center and moved to the periphery. The self is displaced being the ‘center of the universe’ so that it may orbit God.”
In other words, all Christians who have made God the center and focus of their lives can rightly be called eccentric. Off center.
I really want to be eccentric, in the true sense of the term.
I have this theory that real wildness is a life lived with God at the center, and that following the corporate dream is the tame option.
We often think the reverse – that Christians are boring, and “the world” is where the action is. But when you find yourself a slave to the machinery of business, obsessing over the kind of car you drive, or whether you have the right designer bag, or how many yoga classes you’ve taken that week, I think you’ve been tamed.
When that happens you’re experiencing what Martin Luther called incurvatus in se, the self “curved inward” upon itself, with the ego at the center of our identity. Luther suggests that sinfulness is rooted in self-focus, self-absorption, and self-worship. It’s Me at the center. A true conversion to Christ involves displacing me, orbiting God, and becoming truly “off center”.
How did Christianity allow itself to get so boring? When did church become a business? And religion a product? And faith a program?
When we forgot our calling to a wild, strange, beautiful, countercultural kind of eccentricity.