Last night, I went to go see Jim Wallis talk. He spent a lot of time complaining about how our modern sensibility was greedy, insensitive to the common good, etc. He thought there was a time back when businesses were more concerned about their relationships within community than making money. He exhorted his audience to return to those earlier days.
I am probably one of the more conservative posters on merging lanes, but even I am skeptical that such a time ever existed. I tend to think that human nature has never really reached the paragon of unselfishness extolled by Jim Wallis. But that’s me, and I’m cynical. What do you think?
Last night, I went to go see Jim Wallis talk. He spent a lot of time complaining about how our modern sensibility was greedy, insensitive to the common good, etc. He thought there was a time back when businesses were more concerned about their relationships within community than making money. He exhorted his audience to return to those earlier days.
It has been a long time, and I’m not sure who still comes around to this blog, but I feel the need to memorialize this sentiment into a post. While inspired only in bits and pieces and never quite enough to compose an actual piece that could stand up well, I am suddenly finding myself longing once again to be involved in conversation. So Merging Lanes is still kicking a little bit of life in me yet. I don’t mind if no one reads it. But if anyone does read it, I hope pictures and headings help to spice up this very long post.
How ARE you?
This entry can serve as an update on my life. In the past few months, I have detected a certain sullenness and cynicism creeping into my daily attitude. I wasn’t trying to be that way, nor was it even really discernable at first. But I did find myself one day being more sarcastic than necessary even in my overt demeanor, beyond my constantly sarcastic internal monologue. I could even coldly observe myself, seeing trends and coming to conclusions on my cynical behavior and my motivation, but any change was unwanted and seemed impossible.
The symptoms of this ailment seemed random and disconnected. “Spiritually” (to draw on the lingo of my heritage), I was doing not-so-great. Measured by metrics of habits and religious disciplines, I did not have much to show. Measuring the intimacy of my relationship with God of all galaxies, if that can even be measured, there was not a lot to show there either. I’d not been a particularly malicious or evil person, but the image of Christ seemed lost in me. Emotionally, my past began to haunt me, with pangs of regret and guilt. Anxiety about my future began to doom me, with whispers that my destiny might just be ordinary and that I might not be so special after all. Passion began to erode in my heart, passion for anything.
But somehow, recently, I’ve found a sense of freshness and revival again. There is love in my heart and determination in my mind. Why? Am I working less and resting more? Have I found enjoyment in my daily life that gives me something to look forward to? Not exactly. But I do have a hypothesis that tracks these ebbs and flows with certain events in my life.
More of My Story
Let’s bullet these.
- I left my home church last October, to seek a new church that would disciple and resource in global missions. After a few stops in journey, I found myself attending a large conservative mega-type Christian body. It was relaxing because I knew I agreed with the church’s doctrine, for the most part, and the ministry seemed to truly be solid. I stepped away from doing too much with the various ministries with which I’m typically involved. I missed a winter conference that I’ve attended for the last half decade and became increasingly inconsistent within various scenes I had been involved with, like a circle of Asian-American theology thinkers, my emergent-ish faith community, Atlanta-based urban ministries, and even my overseas justice ministry.
- Throughout this time, I also found myself escaping into my work. I’m thankful I have a job, but it has been the busiest period of my entire life. Nevertheless, I found comfort in immersing myself into my workplace.
- I have also started dating within this timeframe. She is a sweet girl, and her company is incredibly easy and comfortable. In fact, one of the areas of weakness in our relationship is how we fail to challenge each other.
But I was supposedly resting from being hyperinvolved (while restful for a short time), I was wasting away and felt the numbness of spiritual slumber.
And something happened: while I was praying with some saints serving the Lord in South Atlanta, praying for the city and the neighborhood, I felt … alive. I felt like I had slept a long 8 hours a night for a month and had the freshest legs I’d ever had.
Now through a turn of events, I’ve returned to my home church, with a heart to serve. I’ve gotten back into the loop with some of the Atlanta ministries (see here and here), as well as my global justice ministry. And now I’m back into trying to serve and be active, I feel awakened and rejuvenated. I have re-discovered this truth: if it’s a fulfilled life that you want, though brief inactivity may do some temporary good, seek and do that which makes you feel alive.
It’s simple, but counterintuitive, given conventional worldly wisdom.
Wait, are you just making this up? You make stuff up a lot.
It’s true, it seems like it might just be a theory based solely on how I feel. But for good measure, Scripture speaks to this too–
But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. . . . Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.
James 1:25, 27 (NLT, emphasis added). Although James 1 is concerned with personal holiness, as we ought to be, to obey the “law that sets you free” really means to care for people and be Christian about loving others. The perfect law of grace can set us free, if we take ACTION. And the actions to be taken are not just repentance and the training of personal character, although that’s important too. But it’s spelled out here: real religious freedom and blessing are found in the care of others in a way that goes against conventional wisdom.
Caring for others is where we find life and freedom. The Bible says so.
Can you give me an example to explain understand how this works?
Consider this: on most mornings, is it really getting enough sleep the night before that will really get you out of bed to go to work, or is it the fact that you are a person of value and importance that gets you up in the morning? Out of my personal experience, for me it is certainly the latter. Recharged capability is important (all the purpose in the world won’t replace severe sleep deprivation), but I posit that it isn’t nearly as life-giving as being motivated by a sense of meaning and worth in what you do and who you love.
The world tells us we need to rest more, that labor is depleting and inactivity is how we recharge our batteries. But I believe that purpose is more strength-giving than rest. Our holy purpose is image Christ by helping those in need.
So my challenge for Christians is this: if you are feeling empty, broken, tired, think twice before acting on human sensibilities. People will tell you all sorts of stuff, like you should watch a bunch of tv shows and veg out for a weekend, because that always does the trick (jeez, it doesn’t). Many will tell you, “you look like you really need a drink”, to chemically loosen you up and help you relax. The best one of all, “you need a vacation.”
And some relaxing time off can help; I’m not arguing against it. The Scriptures and the Judeo-Christian tradition teach a sacred Sabbath, something I should observe more often. But I challenge you to just try and do the opposite of lapsing into unconsciousness when your soul feels weary and your heart falters: jump into action, care for the widow and orphan, and bind up the broken-hearted. The reward of service is not only a mythical cache of treasures in heaven, but in living out a gospel of grace, you can find life-giving purpose and freedom today, because doing God’s work is the food that sustains our lives.
So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.”
John 4:33-36 (ESV)
Again, for the purpose of this post, I will be assuming the position of a pro-lifer who is convinced that abortion is murder. I recognize that this is a minority position at Merging Lanes and in American political life generally, but it is still one that is held by a large, sincere minority of the population, and deserves consideration.
When I was reading about the murder of the abortionist George Tiller in his own church in Kansas (pretty horrific, huh? I’m guessing that the killer, who I presume from his political orientation to call himself a Christian, has no sense of irony in picking the location/timing of the murder), it brought back to mind a sermon that I had heard back in January of this year on “render unto Caesar.” The sermon was preached in the context of Obama’s inauguration, and generally argued that we should support the government and pray for their success even if we disagree with them. In the context of supporting Obama, this seemed innocuous enough; while I disagree with the man on a lot, his ultimate goals (peace, prosperity, etc.) are essentially mine, and I do pray for his success.
But what I pressed the pastor on later on what I thought was the contextually-limited nature of his analogy-ie, the same sermon could not (should not) have been given in say, Munich in 1935. That is, if the state is sufficiently oppressive (and given the history of the 20th century, such a hypothetical is not too difficult to imagine) then a Christian has the right, if not the duty to resist such oppression. If I had existed in the 1930s Germany, then I’d hope that I would be with Dietrich Bonhoeffer in trying to assassinate Hitler, and not with Ludwig Muller in providing Church support for the Nazi regime. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludwig_M%C3%BCller).
But of course, there’s a middle ground between egging on an oppressive regime, and trying to assassinate its leader. If you are a pacifist, of course there can be no support of Bonhoeffer’s plot to assassinate Hitler. More to the point, if you are a deontological pro-lifer, who believes that any taking of human life is wrong, then of course you are on firmly principled ground in opposing the Tiller killing.
My guess is that very few pro-lifers are pacifists or firm deontologists. Most pro-lifers support (some form of) the war on terror, which includes killing terrorists to save other folks’ lives; many even support the death penalty, a far less justifiable instance of state violence. Moreover, in our daily lives, people are generally utilitarian-we constantly sacrifice our principles, large and small, for what we perceive as the greater good. None of this goes to say anything bad about deontology as a school of thought, which I think has a lot of smart things to say; it’s merely to point out that, like Peter Singer’s (utilitarian) theory of charitable giving, pure deontology is a lot easier to endorse in theory than in practice.
There are perhaps some deontological distinctions between taking innocent life (that of the presumed fetuses) and guilty life (that of terrorists or criminals on death row). However, if like the more conservative Christians, you believe that we’re all born into sin, then these distinctions tend to fade away, if not disappear. Moreover, I am uncomfortable with killing someone based upon deserts. Even the non-Calvinist among us can appreciate that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. I don’t really think a Christian sense of humility would permit a human to decide that someone “deserved” death. Fn1. If we’re going to kill a terrorist, I prefer to do so upon the basis that failing to kill him (or her) will result in more deaths.
If you’re not a deontological pro-lifer (and I would, as you may guess from the above paragraph, put myself in the utilitarian pro-life camp-utilitarians can recognize that a baby may impose serious constraints upon its mother, while still arguing the life of the fetus is more important than those constraints.), then one of the pluses is that you can support compromises that fall short of banning abortion, while lessening the overall number of abortions performed each year. Another minus, however, of being a utilitarian, is that you really have no qualms about killing, say, a terrorist when killing that terrorist will prevent him from killing other folks.
In that case then, the difference between the murderer of Tiller and myself is not really one of principal but of degree. The murderer no doubt thinks of Tiller as a mass-killer; and I can’t really disagree with him there. The murderer also made the logical calculation that killing Tiller would decrease the abortion-rate in that particular area of Kansas; again, even progressives admit that this will probably be the case.
So the difference between Tiller’s murderer and the moderate pro-lifers is really one of a prudential assessment of the situation. Tiller’s killer sees the number of fetuses lost to abortions performed since Roe that is roughly 5 times the number Hitler killed in the Holocaust, and decides that violence is justified. (Lest you think I’m some sort of crazy militant pro-lifer, Tiller’s murderer is hardly unique in this political position. Imagine if every police station in America utilized torture. Or if the Supreme Court had constitutionalized fetal personhood, and thus instituted a ban on abortion that even 70% majorities in New York and California couldn’t overturn. I think some liberals would give armed resistance a serious look-see then.)
I look at those same numbers, and hope against hope that civil persuasion, assistance to under-privileged women, and tinkering around the margins with judges and restrictions on late-term abortions can achieve, if not justice, at least some improvement. More to the point, I see a civil society bound by the rule of law as a marvelous accomplishment, and not one that should be readily thrown away in a fit of violence against abortion doctors. I hope, perhaps entirely unjustifiably, that things can change, that the moral arc of the universe is long, but it tends toward justice, that Christ can make all things new.
Maybe I am wrong. Maybe future generations will remember passive pro-lifers the same way we (don’t) think of passive anti-slavery advocates now. Maybe Tiller’s murderer is the John Brown of our generation. But I’d rather put my hope in civil change than give in to the chaos of murder.
Fn1. “Many that live deserve death. And some die that deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then be not too eager to deal out death in the name of justice, fearing for your own safety. Even the wise cannot see all ends.”-Gandalf
Frank Viola recently twittered, “there’s a huge difference between loving the church of Jesus Christ and loving a system that’s called “church.” Much confusion abounds here.”
The definition of church is something that’s confused me for much of my formative years as a Christian. From believing so strongly that the local church you’re a part of is truly biblical, to believing the local church in general is where God is, to believing that the idea of a local church is an absurdity, to believing in Loisy’s “Jesus preached the kingdom, but the church came instead,” I’ve wrestled in my heart not to make church an idol. But Christians do make idols of everything. The conservative evangelical makes an idol of her notions of God. The liberal mainliner makes an idol of the institutional church. How is it possible to not make any idols at all while living out a way set by a Palestinian Jew with a sketchy background?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about the notion of Religionless Christianity and it’s been a huge thorn in my side. As the community I’m a part of deals with a potential death in terms of its “form” of a church, I’ve realized that I’m growing weary of giving myself to a “church.” How do I give myself to a community (the ekklesia) without, at all, giving myself to the church? Bonhoeffer writes:
…Are there religionless Christians? If religion is only a garment of Christianity–and even this garment has looked very different at different times–then what is a religionless Christianity?
The questions to be answered would surely be: What do a church, a community, a sermon, a liturgy, a Christian life mean in a religionless world? How do we speak of God–without religion, i.e., without the temporally conditioned presuppositions of metaphysics, inwardness, and so on? How do we speak (or perhaps we cannot now even “speak” as we used to) in a “secular” way about God? In what way are we “religionless-secular” Christians, in what way are we those who are called forth, not regarding ourselves from a religious point of view as specially favored, but rather as belonging wholly to the world? In that case Christ is no longer an object of religion, but something quite different, really the Lord of the world. But what does that mean? What is the place of worship and prayer in a religionless situation?
To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to make something of oneself (a sinner, a penitent, or a saint) on the basis of some method or other, but to be a man–not a type of man, but the man that Christ creates in us. It is not the religious act that makes the Christian, but participation in the sufferings of God in the secular life.
Today, the divide between the secular and the sacred is being challenged as we see that the sacred is in the midst of all things. But with that in tow, Bonhoeffer’s notion of the Christian faith is one deeply rooted in the world. If church symbolizes all things separate of the world, what does it look like for church to be completely immersed in the world, while shedding all the trappings of any institution?
Lately, the emergent blogosphere has been buzzing of the death of institutional church, or ordination, or even pastorship (as we know it). It seems as if people are ready to, dare I say, move on with the next chapter in this movement called Christianity. But why are people moving on? Is it because we are tired of the system? And if we move on, what form will the Christian faith take in the context of a community? Are house churches on the right track? If not, then what?
How can Christians completely embed themselves with the problems, pains, joys, and hopes of the world and serve an unseen God that pines for the world’s salvation? Does it mean, as Bonhoeffer seems to imply, just living life?
For the limited purpose of making the case here for gay marriage, I will assume that the traditional literal interpretation of I Corinthians 6:9-10 and the other verses condemning sodomy is correct; that is, the Bible really does condemn gay and lesbian behavior, and it is a sin (yes, my rap-battle with jadanzzy regarding the cultural meaning/absolute truth of scripture will have to be delayed, again. I’m waiting until he is sufficiently provoked to say something really rash about traditional christianity to begin it.) I will also, in a shout-out to Andy Sullivan, refer to the Christian opponents of gay marriage as “Christianists,” because I perceive them as wanting to use the state to impose Christian values on others. This is not meant as a derogatory term-I grew up among Christianists and still share many of their beliefs.
When I read discussions between Christianist opponents of gay marriage, and proponents of legalizing said marriages, I often feel that they are talking past each other. Proponents of (civil recognition of) gay marriage often make the case based upon equality; upon the inhumanity of denying hospital visits to loving couples, etc. Christianist opponents of gay marriage, when they’re not citing vague hand-wavy effects that it could have on other people’s marriages (I will extend to them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they don’t really believe these ‘arguments’) mainly rely upon the argument that the GLBT lifestyle is a sinful one, and the government should not encourage such sin by legitimizing it under the rubric of “marriage.”
So let’s suppose that GLBT sex is a sin. In fact, let’s even move it all the way up on the “sin chart” to be in the same league as the 10 Commandment sins, and look at the governmental relationship with some of those other sins. The government clearly prohibits some of the same behavior that God is not a fan of-murder, theft and bearing false witness. (There are other positive acts recommended in the 10 Commandments that the government may not explicitly mandate, like keeping the Sabbath holy, but our society with its weekends certainly is structured so as to make it easier for those who want to keep the Sabbath holy to do so.)
On the other hand, there are plenty of 10 Commandment sins that the government really doesn’t do much about. For the sake of convenience, let’s amalgamate the prohibition against adultery and coveting thy neighbor’s wife (Jesus essentially combines these two when he notes that anyone who has lusted after someone else has already committed adultery). And there’s good reason for governmental inaction here: even if we gave James Dobson full reign over the police powers of the state, it seems unlikely that people could be deterred from shooting each other lustful glances.
The distinction between criminal and non-criminal 10 Commandment seems to rest upon the tangible nature harm inflicted on others by the sin. While many marriages have been torn apart by adultery, it is not an invasion upon your person the same way a murder, or even a theft, is. In other words, the state does not really seem to be that interesting in preventing people from harming each other emotionally by committing (what Christianists would consider to be) sexual sin. fn1.
Now, Christianists naturally respond that there is a difference between not prosecuting sin, and legitimizing it by having the government allow for gay marriages. fn2. But think of how many marriages have begun with adultery? (and here I’m counting pre-marital sex as adultery, for reasons that I believe merging lanes has thoroughly hashed out here http://merginglanes.com/2008/09/16/asexual-relations/) As far as I can tell, the Christianists have no problem with the government legitimizing this kind of sin.
Moreover, if we can all agree that government really should not be in the business of prosecuting sin that does not inflict tangible harm on others, then there is no reason why the government should hesitate to allow people the civil rights and protections of the state while engaging in said sin. If an adulterer is assaulted whilst in the act, he is still entitled to police protection; children that disobey their parents still are protected from excessive retaliation by Child Protective Services, and so on. Sexual sin should not (and does not) disqualify you from governmental protection. Allowing GLBTs to visit each other in hospitals if they want to seems to fall under the other categories of governmental protections.
Christianists want to use the state to signal their moral distaste for sexual sin in the form of GLBT relationships, and I understand that desire, but it just isn’t possible in a pluralistic society. Given their indifference to all of the other Biblical sins that the government doesn’t prosecute because they don’t cause harm to others, the Christianist opposition to gay marriage begins to look less like a principled Biblical stand, and more and more like a political move based upon the strong strain of discomfort with homosexuality that is still present in our society.
fn1-I know that prohibitions on prostitution are a slight hole in my theory, but I think that’s more of a class war than an actual war on sex-no one is prosecuting Spitzer as far as I can tell.
fn2-I think if Christianists were really consistent in their beliefs, they’d call for re-instatement and enforcement of the anti-sodomy laws, along with laws against premarital sex. But no one wants to live in that society, so they don’t.
Such is Dawkins’s unruffled scientific impartiality that in a book of almost four hundred pages, he can scarcely bring himself to concede that a single human benefit has flowed from religious faith, a view which is as a priori improbable as it is empirically false. The countless millions who have devoted their lives selflessly to the service of others in the name of Christ or Buddha or Allah are wiped from human history – and this by a self-appointed crusader against bigotry.
More than ever, America’s atheists are linking up and speaking out — even here in South Carolina, home to Bob Jones University, blue laws and a legislature that last year unanimously approved a Christian license plate embossed with a cross, a stained glass window and the words “I Believe” (a move blocked by a judge and now headed for trial).
More than the future of a church is at stake…In all this, the Anglican Communion is a dramatic testing ground, because it—alone among the churches—has sought to have it both ways: at once affirming traditional Christian notions of marriage and family, love and fidelity, and adapting them to the experiences of gay believers.
Theology is the mental projection of trying to make sense of a world in which there is a sacred and sublime presence that continually tosses everything comfortable and predictable asunder and into disarray. It is a human construction to control that which is utterly alien to what we can fully grasp in our daily experience.
Clergy and churches, on the other hand, should have no part in legally-binding contracts. Instead, religious professionals should bless and sanctify unions and partnerships that fit within their religious traditions as part of their sacerdotal functions.
I received an email from a former editor with a freelance writing assignment. A church in Illinois is running a campaign to sell uniquely packaged water bottles with it’s church’s logo in order to raise money for clean water in Haiti. I scoffed. Is this for real? Don’t they know that water bottles are part of the problem? Ridiculous!
And then I felt the spirit rebuke me. Check yourself before you wreck yourself, Nieo.
I’d fallen into that typical trap for many progressives out there — the arrogance that comes from thinking you’re right. We get this way, I know we do. We look at conservatives and think, they just don’t get it, do they!? How can they possibly believe the things they believe? We eye people’s plastic bags at the grocery stores with disdain. Ugh, we think, earth killers! We write manifestos about the honor and truth behind progressive ideals and vilify those on the other side as evil, ignorant, or malicious. But the reason we feel we can do this is because … I mean, hello? It’s true!
That might be right, but that’s not the point when it comes to dealing with the other side.
I’ve been doing some research about the abortion debate because it is such a volatile and polarizing subject, and I’ve been incredibly encouraged by the efforts to find common ground between the two parties, prochoice and prolife, with a vision to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and the need for abortion. Many staunch advocates from either side are coming together to say, we have our differences, but here is where we can meet in the middle. The picketers are putting down their signs, the policymakers are opening their doors, and both parties are coming together in peace to dialogue and come together with the common goal of a lower abortion rate in our country.
To them, I say, Bravo. Both sides have plenty of reason to think the other is crazy. One side views abortion as murder. The other side views abortion as a medical procedure that women should be willing to choose. The fact that these folks are willing to come together beyond differences is astounding to me. I take their example as a lesson learned.
We all have cousins, friends, and colleagues who hold different philosophies. I say in the midst of difference, we do our best to remain humble, listen, and learn, and that way, when we do speak truth the power and opposition, we can do it while still maintaining our witness of Christ’s love for all and to all.
I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about death. Actually, I’m always thinking about death (and life), it’s an occupational hazard of an ICU nurse. What interests me is the way faith impacts one’s reaction to, and acceptance of, death.
So many people say they hope that when their time comes, it will be peaceful and quick. They often look at the news stories and television shows depicting individuals hooked up to various life support devices and think, “I would never want to go through that.” Yet when it comes time to make decisions for a loved one who is no longer capable of deciding for himself, they find they are unable to make the choice that would allow Mom, or Grandpa, a relatively quick and peaceful death.
No, I’m not talking about euthanasia here. I’m talking about the decision made to apply various life-extending technologies and treatments that are often futile at best and actually harmful in that they prolong and render agonizing the dying process at worst. Of course, the reality is, it is easy to talk about the best choice when it is an abstract proposition, and painfully difficult when we are facing the loss of someone we desperately love. And so, rather than face the reality of the situation, we instead choose to cope with our grief by engaging in avoidance, denial, or magical thinking.
I have pounded on the chest of a frail woman, riddled with incurable cancer, wincing as
I felt a rib crack beneath my palms. I’ve assisted in the intubation of a tired old man whose best possible outcome was to return to a dreary life of diminishing capacity in a nursing home for his few remaining years, a life he had no further interest in living, according to his family (there’s a reason we call pneumonia an old person’s best friend). I did none of these things because I or any of my coworkers wanted to, but because we had no choice. I did them because we live in a culture and society that is ill-prepared to address the end of life in a realistic yet meaningful way.
A century ago, if a person had an untreatable disease (which accounted for most diseases), there was little to do but hold her hand and make her as comfortable as possible. If an elderly person fell ill, it was understood that it may well be his last illness, and if that was the case, it was a bittersweet occasion, with the recognition that he was blessed and fortunate to have lived a full life. When a death occurred, bodies were often prepared by their families and laid in state in the family parlor before burial. Death was understood as the price we pay for living, as natural and inevitable as the turning of the seasons, though perhaps less welcome.
And now? Death has been, if not conquered, at least sanitized, held at bay, and swept under the rug. People don’t die at home, they die in hospitals (well, most of the time, I do need to acknowledge the wonderful work of hospices). Bodies are carted off to funeral homes where they are either rendered completely unrecognizable, in the form of ash, or made up to look as lifelike, or at least as palatable, as possible. The thought of touching a dead person is horrifying to many, as it was to me until the first time I faced it as a nursing student. I remember my preceptor at the time saying to me, “It is our privilege to assist someone into the next life,” and I’ve tried to take that tack ever since.
Modern medicine has wonderfully allowed us to fight and sometimes cheat death, giving life to many who would otherwise have been lost far, far, too soon. At the same time, it has proven a double-edged sword, facing us with ever more difficult decisions regarding how, when, and to whom our treatments and technologies should be applied. Television shows and movies, always catering to the desire for happy endings, often portray unrealistic outcomes to such dilemmas, leading to unrealistic expectations on the part of patients and their families.
What I have often found striking, though, is that the ability to face death in an honest manner seems to be inversely proportional to one’s degree of religious conviction. Faith can be helpful when facing the end of life in that it gives one a framework with which to understand and make sense of death. Many Christians and people of other faiths face death stoically, even, in the case of the elderly, welcoming it. These individuals tend to be somewhat low-key in expressing their faith, however. As faith becomes more fervid and outwardly expressed, it seems that many become less equipped to handle death. While denial and avoidance are universal coping mechanisms, there seems to be a special place in the hearts of fervent believers for magical thinking. These people, even when understanding that circumstances are truly dire, will often demand that every possible treatment be administered and insist that God is on the verge of restoring their loved one to full health and capacity. Even when a patient has irrevocably lost any meaningful neurological function, the true believers often choose to keep the body alive at all costs, as in the tragic case of Terri Schaivo.
If we preach the resurrected Christ, and ask “O Death, where is thy sting,” why don’t we live like we believe it? Why do we sing hymns about a better life to come while clinging desparately to this one? Why does death still retain the power to terrify?
** I do not speak for all of Merging Lanes. I am solely responsible for this post. Other writers here at ML affirm the reformed tradition as their own. **
Over the weekend, Tony Jones had posted two entries, Why Jesus Died, and Why Jesus Rose in remembrance of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I will admit here that I am a fan of Tony’s writing and thoughts and it has consequently influenced my theology. Reading these posts, I left feeling thankful, worshipful, and amazed at the beauty of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as the centerpiece of my life.
Today, while going through my Google Reader, I stumbled upon a new post that Tony had written today with quotes by those in the Reformed blogosphere attacking him for denying the theory of Penal Substitutionary Atonement. Regardless of how his tone on his post, the statement is clear. The “Young, Restless, Reformed” movement views him as speaking heteredoxy.
I am appalled at the level of their insistence that the PSA theory is centrally orthodox to the Christian faith. It amounts to idolatry. In fact, it is pure idolatry. It is one thing to affirm the PSA theory as narrative of your soteriology. It is another for it to be the sole means of understanding the work of the cross, if not assuming it as factual. Now, I am in no way making a claim that PSA is unorthodox or un-Christian. But it is merely one, viable atonement theory that may work well with all the other atonement theories.
Herein lies the problem with this New Calvinist movement. They fail to take into account the complexity and depth of theological history, cultural embeddedness, and humanity of the theology they espouse as divine. Their Christianity starts with a modernist, Enlightement-infused Christianity created by Europeans.
All I’m asking for is theological humility. How are they any different from the leaders of the law that Jesus was so frustrated with?
The other day in my small group, we were going over Ephesians 5:22 (wives, submit to your husbands) and the surrounding verses. As you can imagine, this was a bit of a touchy subject, so I will try to tell enough facts of what transpired for the purpose of this post without infringing on family group confidentiality (yes, I am a dorky law student). I was interested in diving pretty deep into the words of the text, since as a believer in the inerrancy of Scripture, it has always been hard for me to accept the patriarchal norms that come along with a literal interpretation of this passage (well, it wasn’t as hard for me back when I was attending a single-sex high school, but it’s gotten progressively harder since then).
One phrase I was particularly interested in was the command in verse 33 that men must love their wives, and women must respect their husbands. I am not married nor particularly wise in the way of relationships, but I have always thought that love and respect must be present on both sides of any successful romantic relationship. Why did Paul think women needed to be urged to give respect, and men to give love? However, no one else in my small group seemed to think that there was a difference between ‘love’ and ‘respect.’
Just as a question of textual interpretation, the existence of a normative difference between love and respect is a no-brainer. If the words meant the same thing, then why would Paul have used different Greek phrases to begin with? I can’t even begin to imagine a grammatical argument that could treat love and respect as synonyms.
I did not really press the issue at the small group and after a little bit of thought, I decided that we were approaching the issue from two different angles. My small group was looking to extract the general message from the passage that would supplement their current understanding of Scripture, and I was looking to discover the meaning of contrary passages, that seemed to urge a regressive understanding of gender norms, that seemed to indicate that wives really were subordinate to their husbands. I was honestly interested in seeing if a close reading of Ephesians 5 would subvert the traditionalist understanding of the passage.
In other words, I was thinking like a law student analyzing a statute or a case. It is practically unthinkable that any attorney or judge would ignore the difference in meaning between two words like ‘respect’ and ‘love’ while analyzing a statute. Whole forests have been sacrificed to the cause of analyzing statutory construction. And given that these passages were inspired by a divine, infallible God, shouldn’t every word be given a far closer reading than legislation that is often the product of a faulty compromise between all-too-fallible legislators? After three years of law school, it’s really impossible for me to read the Bible the same way again. Little seeming contradictions in the passages like the difference between love and respect pop up at me nearly every time I read extended passages of scripture, especially in Paul’s works.
I’m not ready to go the whole jadanzzy ‘everything I don’t like in the Bible is just cultural’ route yet (and that’s a discussion for a whole ‘nother day), but I would like to go over a number of passages with a serious inerrancy scholar to determine if a literal interpretation of the Scripture that takes it seriously as being inerrant can still salvage a progressive interpretation of many seemingly-regressive passages of scripture.