Thursday, October 29, 2015

Be a nobody

I am not saying don't be a hero or don't do great and wonderful things.  I'm saying don't worry about being known for them.  Don't let the left hand know what the right hand is doing.  Give in secret.  Give, don't always take. Put the needs of others before your own (maybe not all the time, but you should do it as often as you can).  Stop playing that movie in your head where everyone is glad to meet you and shake your hand, where you are center stage and the savior of the day.  That person doesn't exist.  That person is, like the actor in the movies and television shows, a fiction; a figment of someone's imagination.  The child next to you who wants you to color with her or the elderly gentleman who wants to tell you about his life, or the mother in line ahead of you at the grocery store who can't pay her bill; those people are real and looking for real heros.  They are looking for nobodies.  Nobodies who will be somebody to them but that the world will probably never hear about.  Be that person.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Refining Fire of Pain and Suffering

Unfortunately Protestantism's interpretation of the death of Christ gave rise to a false understanding of suffering.  In fact, there seems to be a taint of Gnosticism in the protestant church that declares flesh and material things as bad and the spirit as good.  This leads to a number of other problems, but the one that is on my mind is that of pain and suffering.

The protestant, reformed view, in a nutshell follows along these lines: Christ died and paid for all our sins legally.  That is, even though I am still a sinner, I am declared guiltless by God because his wrath was satisfied by being poured out upon Jesus on the cross instead of us (provided, that is, we put our faith in that fact).  Eventually some people made the logical extension that if Christ took our curse upon himself, we are healed by his stripes and therefore anything to do with the curse has also been taken away (again, provided we believe).  Pain, poverty, suffering, etc., are all a part of that curse.  If the curse is gone those consequences of the curse are gone as well.

Reformed protestants claim that  Isaiah 53:5 speak only of our salvation from our sins.  1 Peter 2:24 confirms that salvation is definitely in mind here but verse four is used by Matthew to explain why Jesus was healing so many people.  It reads:

And when Jesus entered Peter's house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him. That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”

(Matthew 8:14-17 ESV)

So is it unreasonable to apply this understanding to verse 5b as well?

 There is always the propensity for reinterpreting the facts to fit our perceptions, the Reformed and Charismatic theologians not exempted.  One interprets this passage to only refer to salvation and the other to both salvation from sins and disease (and sometimes poverty).  But it is clear from the testimony of Scripture, the Church and all of history since Jesus rose from the grave that God heals but not all the time.  That people are sometimes delivered from their suffering but not usually.  That poverty is a fact for most people in the world, many of them Christian.  So one weakens God by claiming miracles ceased after the Apostles (even though there is not biblical testimony of this and Church history clearly denies this) and that the above passages from Isaiah doesn't speak of physical healing and the other group equally puts God in some kind of theological box by insisting everyone is suppose to be healed and that there is no room for suffering in the Christian.  I am painting with a broad brush here and representing two extremes, but extremes resultant in a misunderstanding of Scripture or a tenacious clinging to one's system.

The fact is God does heal and sometimes heals through other people.  But it is equally true, and more often the case, that God chooses to use suffering to demonstrate his strength and grace through us as Paul tells us:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

(2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ESV)

If we would but look at the history of the Church we would see that, for the majority part, the poor, suffering and destitute were the ones God used the most and to the greatest extent.  Not that he didn't use others, but if being free of pain and suffering and poverty was proof both of God's favor and the persons spirituality, then there were truly not many holy people whom God favored throughout the time until the present day.  

This fact, that God uses the weak, lowly and despised of the world, is exactly why, after the great persecutions ended (for the most part and for the time being) with Constantine, many men and women chose what is sometimes termed "a white martyrdom" by withdrawing to the uninhabitable regions of the dessert into monasteries or a life of complete solitude as hermits.  They knew the world held too great of an attraction for them and without the fire of persecution to burn away the dross and  drive deeply a wedge between them and world they would be lost unless they took desperate measures.  It is too bad Luther and others didn't understand this before they started destroying monasteries and proselytizing their confused inhabitants away into the hailstorm of the Reformation.

This doesn't mean one must become a hermit or a monk in order to die to self and the world.  The monastics would be the first to admit that they withdrew precisely because they were too weak to stay in the world but not of it. But this suffering can come in many ways besides monasticism and persecution.  It can come through poverty, marriage (don't laugh), having children, sickness and disease (both temporary and permanent), fasting and so on.   The source of suffering is ultimately between God and the person, but let's not forget that God is both desiring our sanctification and is at the same time infinitely creative.  So don't be surprised when suffering comes form the most unlikely and least sought after directions.

Am I saying you should always seek suffering?  No. Paul spoke of being "content" (Ph'p 4:11-13).  So there is that.  But sometimes our desire for holiness and closeness to God takes on a more proactive approach.  Sometimes we need to force our flesh into submission (1 Cor. 9:27). Sometimes we need to flee youthful lusts.  Sometimes we need to run to danger instead of from it, embracing the suffering and pain as gifts from an almighty, loving Father.  Yes, he can heal.  But sometimes he doesn't want to.  Sometimes we need to not want him to.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Difference in being Different

I encourage my children to stand out, to not follow the crowd or do things just because everyone else does.  This is something many voices today are encouraging us to do.  So much so that being different is the new norm (or so we are led to believe).  The irony of a person with face piercings, crazy hairdo, odd (to me) looking clothes hanging out with a crowd of other people that look just like themselves is obvious.  But that is ok.  It is ok to be different within a crowd of people who are different in the same way we are.  Cliques and peer groups can be helpful. They give us strength and courage that comes part and parcel with comradery.  But this is exactly the kind of difference that the world likes for the most part.  It is sometimes helpful but mostly benign.  It can change things, but only if it is led by someone who is truly different. Someone the world fears and especially governments and religious elites hate.   Without these people the crowd is just a crowd and when the crowd reacts it becomes simply, yet horribly, a mob.

When I tell my children to be different I don't mean what the commercials, coming of age movies and young reader books mean.  They perhaps are meaning something more along the lines of being original.  When I tell my children to be different, to not follow the crowd, I don't mean "original" (which is sometimes ok too), but rather to stand up for what is right and stand against what is wrong.  I mean to be a Gandhi, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Smedley Buttler, Helen Keller, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, or the likes.  Not because I agree with everything they believed but because they song something that needed to be said or done and they said it or did it.

Did these people start out with large crowds following them on freedom marches?  Did everyone want to publish their books?  Did people come in droves to shake their hands or come to their defense?   Early on they stood alone or spoke to small crowds or wrote without the hope of ever publishing (or self-published).  They were a crowd of few or one.  But they still spoke up. They were different in the best sense of the word.

We feel that their message or activity is validated but mostly because of the crowds.  How many supporters of King heard his speech or read his material?  How many lovers of Gandhi know anything of his ascetical lifestyle, his heartbreaks his failures?  Rosa sat alone and was arrested alone (though she was not the first.  Do you know any of their names?).  But now the bus from that event is in a museum and people walk by thinking to themselves, "If I were there I would have stood by her. I would have done something.  I would have said something".  Who cares what you would have said?  What are you going to say now?  That is the question we must answer.  When you are in a crowd it is easy to shout the "right" thing.  But what about when you are outside of the crowd and the crowd is shaking its collective fist at you?  What you say or do then is what really counts.

Being different must be done within a context that includes a set of restraints or boundaries.  And this is the part of being different too.  At least it will make you different.  People don't like restraints of any kind, especially in America.  We can't just say, "Be different!", and leave it at that. What good does that do?  A serial killer or pediphael is different but we certainly don't want people to be that.  Everyone has restraints even if they don't like to admit it.  Even hedonists have restraints all the while they are calling for the abolition of them.  Having these also make one different.  They sometimes can be exactly what defines the difference.  We homeschool our children and that is both based upon and creates a number of boundaries and restraints.  And that certainly makes us different even in a day when the popularity of homeschooling continues to soar.   But keep in mind these restraints can also be the thing that causes the crowd to leave you (or you leave it) and make you enemy number one among those who once claimed to be your supporter.  Here, probably more than when you made your initial leap of faith to put yourself forward as a trouble-maker, is where you will need to be strong.   Even Jesus asked his disciples when 500 people stopped following him, "Will you leave me too"?

Yes, be different.  Be original.  But be really different.  Be really original.  Think!  Think hard.  Don't stay silent.  Act!  This will take vigilance on your part.  You can't just coast along but you must always be testing yourself to see if you are now just a member of the "different crowd" or if you truly are following your conscience, doing and saying what is true and good and right. Even if you are alone.