Saturday, April 24, 2010

First They Came ...

THEY CAME FIRST for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

THEN THEY CAME for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

THEN THEY CAME for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

and by that time no one was left to speak up.

- Pastor Martin Niemöller

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Public displays of grace

I was watching a couple today and I'm fairly certain they were brand new. They were young and oblivious to anyone around them. The girl kept saying things that the guy didn't agree with, but he'd bite his tongue and smile, she'd giggle. And they'd kiss.

It was disgusting. I would've made gagging sounds if I thought I could've gained their attention.

But it also occurred to me this is not the worst presentation of what grace really looks like. I've been there before and I think most of you have, too, although some of you may have to scrape the recesses of your brain to remember what it was like to:

- Be so interested in what the other person has to say you're willing to let go of any point you might have

- Bite your tongue and resist your initial instinct to scream when someone else says something that crosses your opinions on the world

- Be willing to let someone get away with being a little rude in exchange for a warm smile or a quick kiss.

Hey, I've seen some great marriages out there, but eventually all this wears off in every relationship. At some point you have to stand your ground and draw a line. It's just human nature. Grace becomes a challenge, and it's why marriages can dissolve even 20, 30, 40 years down the line ... surrender gives in to self-preservation of some kind, usually of the emotional kind.

Obviously it requires God to fuel us up with grace to sustain it. It just never looks so ... graceful, and it never comes so easy, when you're early in a relationship.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Monday, April 12, 2010

Loneliness, transparency, and deep-fried locusts

I'm relatively certain if I could walk up to 100 random strangers, attach them to a fool-proof lie detector, and asked them what their No. 1 fear is, 99 of them would answer loneliness.

I say 99 and not 100 because there's always one guy, like me, who fears boredom more, but loneliness would still rate highly.

Fear of loneliness is what drives consumerism. We are buying things to be a part of a community. That's why we dress the same, have the same haircuts. It's also why misfits are so drawn to the opposite. They don't fit in here, so they create their own community where they do fit in and revel in their bitterness towards the yuppies.

I have a theory, and it's rather urbane, but I'm fairly certain fear of loneliness is the prison that ensures our loneliness, because we are willing to set the bar low for community -- like bare existence -- so not to risk embarrassment, faux pas, annoyance of the clan leaders or whatever that would risk total exclusion from community. We'd rather live in some pain, and some in considerable pain, than to possibly suffer emotional death from exclusion by daring to suggest (and attempt) something obviously better.

It's why I think people like Glenn Beck are terrified of churches that preach social justice, because transparency, graceful accountability, and real community are at the foundation of churches like that, and if people started to get real community in their churches, it probably would unravel the very core of our financial system. They would stop needing to buy stuff to feel like they're part of something greater.

I'm not rooting for financial collapse, by the way. I like having a job and I enjoy many aspects of our American excess, some of them without shame. Seriously, I cannot imagine a world without In-and-Out Burger. I'm just saying I understand that fear and I think, if Glenn Beck were honest, he'd admit he's willing to manipulate people and violate his own conscience to prevent such a thing from happening.

I've repeated this in my head so many times, I guess I just believe it to be true, though I can't be sure. This is how I see the world, like that Sting song "Message in Bottle," where he casts out his bottle from his lonely island hoping someone finds it, and he wakes up the next morning and finds 100 million bottles from 100 million people all in the same dire situation of despair.

I'd like to say Christians have an answer to this, but we don't. We don't do community very well. I take that back. We do community, we just like to keep it exclusive. And I don't say that in broad judgment from high atop my mountain top of moral superiority. I'm the chief offender, like Paul. I'm the worst of them all. So many times I've proclaimed Christ's love for the world, then alienated myself from sinners (and other Christians!), not because I feared their influence over me, but because the didn't share my world view.

I call it the Peter Syndrome, but that's another blog post. Let's just say Christians tend to read Galatians like they're the one holding the sword handle pointing it at hypocrites. I'm the Galatian. I'm the hypocrite. Paul was writing to me, the so-called grace-filled Christian. I deserve the sharp end of that sword.

I've looked in the Bible where Jesus criticized the world for behaving like the world. You'll just have to trust me. It's not there. You have to go all Gnostic to find that kind of lie.

Why do we do this? We have this great theology of original sin and being born into an immediate need for salvation. No human escapes this. But we go to church and interact with each other as if we stopped sinning the day we said the Sinner's Prayer and, to boot, God not only absolved us of our sin but he's put us in charge of making sure it's hard to walk in the door of the church and even harder to stay in the church.

We shake our heads at how the world is going to hell in the hand basket. Our politicians? Pffft. They couldn't know Jesus. You can't know Jesus if you ever had the kind of megalomaniacal ambition to pursue high office. You're not just suspect. We've already written you off. And we voted for you.

Kids and their rap music. Men and their internet porn. Women and their Oprah worship.


It's all so ... messy. Christians don't like messy. We like tidy, even if it means sweeping some of that dirt under the refrigerator. Just, you know, don't ever move the refrigerator.

Jesus loves you, but, at best, we're withholding judgment until we can affirm your politics.

None of this is Christianity to me. It's American Christian culture, and I long ago started ditching it piece by piece. Most recently to go was politics, and I recently made this ridiculously bold statement to my great friend, Cristen, that I never want anyone to know me by my politics. I don't think she was impressed, but I'm trying to start a Christian revolution here, not win cheap points with my friends.

It sounds great when I say it. Shoot, it FEELS great. Liberating. I just don't know exactly how that plays out when I have to actually go vote and I haven't been paying attention because I'm boycotting the political process. Voting for Mickey Mouse again seems a little childish and irresponsible.

But it gets me back to where I'm most comfortable, and that's truly transparent. Not translucent -- I do want to be about something -- but transparent. I want to be about Jesus. I want to be about Jesus and the Gospel. I want to be about the ministry of Jesus. I want to walk so narrowly in Jesus' path that I am obscured from view and Jesus is all anyone can see.

This is a problem, though. I'm not real good at dealing with poverty and, truth be told, I'm not even sure I could eat a locust if it were breaded and deep fried and served with fancy ketchup. So I resolve to work. I make this concession. A man, in this political and cultural environment, should be gainfully employed. And he should have a car and maybe some land. And a wife who can home-school the children to keep them away from the dangers of *gasp* public school.

And you can see where Jesus is the one who actually starts to become obscured again. I'm still working on this, so bear with me. I mean, be inspired, but give me time to iron out all the details.

I've had this kind of worldview so long, I never realized how transparent I had let myself become until recently, when I started dating, and I realized being transparent from the beginning is so radical that it's off-putting. It's startling. It's frightening. It's not nearly the revolution I imagined it to be when I set out to let the world see me for all my flaws and all of God's perfection when I started this blog back in 2005.

I've been texting with my friend Becky, who is nuclear-charged full of the life of the Kingdom and shares my view of the world that transparency is the only way to sleep with a clean conscience at night. No lies. No deceptions. No worries about having to remember the lies and deceptions. No delusions. Total contentment that God is so in control that we don't even have to hide our sins or transgressions.

Like me, Becky is a bit frustrated with other Christians who don't see the benefit of this. I'm a bit older and she's somewhat new at this, so I don't want to crush her spirit, but being transparent is an open invitation to being alienated from the community. First, people will actually have the nerve to find good reasons not to like you. I hadn't considered this pitfall until I allowed people the liberty to tell me, without condemnation, what the problem was. Second, it challenges that whole community/consumer comfort zone by bringing attention to oneself, and public ostracization has been known to claim innocent victims who had simply stopped to gawk at someone so boldly, radically different.

I'm starting to figure out that transparency, by itself, is not Christ-like. It can be full of pride just like being sold out on consumerism can be. "Hey, look at me, I'm emotionally naked and not ashamed! You should feel totally comfortable around me! Look at all my flaws and celebrate my weaknesses with me! I'm a better Christian than those other Christians that shunned you!"

To my surprise, this approach is no more appealing to the world than fundamentalism.

I've been re-reading much of the New Testament since downloading the ESV onto my smartphone, because no Christian bohemian is complete without a smartphone and at least eight searchable translations. The forceful, elegant ESV does not beat around the bush with this Jesus fellow. He not only walked on water, he walked on air, and by that I mean the grace allowed him to literally walk above it all. My notes to date show Jesus:

- Never had to tell anyone he was transparent. He just was.
- Saved his anger for the self-righteous only when the self-righteous attacked him or took advantage of his people. He certainly didn't go looking for a fight and he was careful not to trip into one with a stray sarcastic parable.
- Always met those God was calling to him at their specific location, meeting their specific need, at the specific time of need, and wherever they were at emotionally. Even while he was hanging from the cross. (!!!!)
- Based his ministry on some pretty mundane stuff, namely holistic sacrifice and service to the lowest of the low. None of the apostles had iPods, which was alarming to me. I didn't notice that at first in the NIV.

In my quest to unpack all the burdensome, self-righteous Christian culture I had acquired in my 20s, I suppose I have packed a whole new bag of burdensome, self-righteous judgment of those who have somehow maintained a functional relationship with Christ while listening to the mind-dulling positive, encouraging tones of CCM and soul-robbing venom of talk radio.

I'm working on it, though. And I'm submitting it to Christ. That, I hope, is a transparency that leads to redemption. I'll even try locusts. Once. If I have to.