Be different — why the world needs you to be strange

Since moving to Bend, we’ve become friends with the Strange family. I love that last name. It must draw lots of jokes and has probably been a weight for their teenage daughter. But what fun!

Think of the playlist of “Strange” songs you could make, with tunes by The Doors, U2, Aimee Mann, Beck, Foo Fighters, Jack White, Johnny Cash, R.E.M., The Smiths … And that’s just a sampling of what I’ve got in my iTunes account.

When I think about it, my last name is similar. Santucci is Italian for “little saint” or “little holy one.” And the word “holy” means something like “set apart” or, as Christopher Wright suggests, simply “different.” And in the Bible, our Lord calls us to “be holy as I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). Set yourselves apart. Be different. Be strange.

We are called a “peculiar people” (1 Peter 2:9) and a “peculiar treasure” (Exodus 19:5). We are strangers and sojourners/exiles (1 Peter 2:11). Jesus himself said that we “are not of the world, even as I am not of it” (John 17:16).

This theme of being strange is woven throughout the entire Bible. There ought to be something different about us. Something about us should set us apart from everything else that’s going on in the world in order for us to be set apart to God.

The book of Leviticus is one of the strangest books in the Bible. And what do you know? Of all of the 66 books of the Bible, it is the one where the word “holy” shows up the most. Being holy/different/strange is its theme and its call. But what this looks like is itself strange. There are all kinds of regulations about food and clothing and hygiene and sex and sacrifice. Some are practical. Others are moral. Yet others are purely religious. But all of them teach differentness. Just as we don’t mix two kinds of material, don’t get mixed up with other gods. Just as our God is different from their gods, so our practices are different from their practices. To highlight this, the covenant relationship with God was cut into men’s bodies through circumcision, marking their difference in their sexual and religious practices in the most tender place of their bodies.

But it’s important to note that this being set apart is for the sake of the world, not as being better than or aloof from the world. Abraham was chosen in order to bless the world. Jesus called apart disciples to send them to the world. Jesus was a holy sacrifice to save the world.

If you think about it, we do this setting apart thing all the time, even in our secular culture. We set apart fire fighters and police officers and make them wear special clothes. Their purpose in the world is what sets them apart and gives them a unique status and unique practices. If they look and act like everyone else, they’re of no use to everyone else. They must be different, peculiar, strange in order to be helpful.

Now, obviously, some kinds of strange are less than helpful. I needn’t list them here. But even bizarre forms of chosen differences can create a community identity and purpose. The important thing is to make sure that the identity is meaningful and the purpose is worthwhile.

Apple’s slogan is “Think different.” It’s a brilliant twist on IBM’s long-time motto “Think” which illustrates my point that being different is essential to being useful. Simply thinking isn’t enough. It has to be different if it’s going to be innovative. “Think different” is a good start for those who follow Jesus. But we need more than to just think different. We need to be a different people with a different purpose who follow a different God.

Believe different. Live different. Love different. Be different.