Wed 10 May 2006
Back in February I posted a little thingy on what it feels like, on a day-to-day basis, to be one, which ended up being quite full of warm fuzzies. So now it’s time for Part II: The Not So Fuzzies.
1. The moral ambiguity.
One of the most attractive aspects of the Way of Jesus is also its biggest, gnarliest root in the trail: everything is imbued with meaning. The trees, the skyline, the conversation, the body. It is hard to remember that “meaning” means “value” and not “answers.” The Bible, as precious as it is, is not EVEN CLOSE to Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth, though many days I dream of a how-to manual for living life. How easy it would be. You would just check the index: “annoying coworkers” and there would be three or four bullet points about how to treat them, right on page 615. Instead we have a motley and lovely collection of stories, poems, aphorisms, and letters. I bet, for any of the 10 Commandments, I could find an example somewhere in the Bible where God or Jesus advocates breaking it. Instead of being given a list of rules and consequences we are asked to think bigger, to apply the ideals of human and divine relationships to individual choices and interactions. It’s kind of hard.
2. The existential ambiguity.
Not only are there no rule books, there are no hard-and-fast moral reasons for why things happen. If there are, it is not usually our place to know them, as the book of Job attests. This would be easier to take if Christianity didn’t also offer meaning and a sense of connection; it shore seems like the reasons should be part of the package, don’t it? Jesus once said that a man was born blind so that “the work of God might be displayed in his life,” a reason that could be applied to every life circumstance, and yet the desire to apply moral lessons to life events is so strong that it often creeps into the advice Christians give to those they love. I’m sure I’ve doled out my fair share over the years. “Once you learn to (be content, have more faith, get rid of your pride), I believe that God will give you a (job, child, spouse, healing, calling).” We speak as if the only reason a person is not perfectly fulfilled in the here and now is because he or she somehow resists and denies the creator. I wish I could use experience as evidence of God’s blessing or lack thereof; it would be a simple way to stay on track, and to know exactly where everyone stands in the eyes of God. Instead I’ve got the much stranger and more lovely idea that what happens, happens so that the “work of God might be displayed.”
3. Other Christians
Everybody who wants in is invited in. It’s not like the rest of American society, where if you don’t like something about a certain group, you just leave and start your own group of more like-minded souls (ok maybe sometimes it ends up that way). I read one time that among the first disciples were Simon the Zealot (a radical nationalist/terrorist type) and Matthew the Tax Collector (a get rich off my own oppressed people type). Pre-Jesus, Simon might have killed Matthew, or at least spit on him. Post-Jesus, they ate, travelled and slept together every day. That’s the standard of unity in Christ. I worship cheek by jowl with people with terrible politics, misguided theology, weird personal quirks, and elaborate end times theories; people who constantly ask for help, who condescend to others, who have B.O., who ask for way more than I want to give, who are too touchy-feely; people who hurt my feelings sometimes, or whom I alienate. We are all in this together, and we are family. We don’t get to run away, and that’s where the real stuff happens.
The thing about Christianity is that it is a very interpersonal religion. The stories and advice you get from the Bible are about fairly small groups of people, whereas what we got in this day and age is powers and principalities. That is, our small individual choices affect the enviroment, the world economy, the balance of power, these huge machineries operating at a scale far beyond the human and uncontrolled by any human or group. At any given time I could list the sufferings of people in ten different countries. How responsible am I for them, if at all? Does knowledge equal responsibility? Jesus kept things personal; when people tried to draw him into questions of economy and government he said, “Give to Caesar’s what is Caesar’s; give to God what is God’s.” The wealth of knowledge is overwhelming, the resources with which to decide how to act quite small.
5. Being Connected to Everyone
Being a Christian partly means going around as God’s agent. There is a quote on Tara’s blog from Gilead that sums up the experience pretty well. You always have to keep an eye out for what God wants. So if, on my way to the light rail stop, I pass a man shuffling along with twisted feet and knees, clinging to every light post and nearly falling as he wobbles between light posts, I must ask myself: “what is my connection with this person? How is God speaking/acting here? Am I to pray silently for this man and smile as I walk by? Engage in conversation and find out if he needs a walker? Pray for healing aloud right there on the street? Allow him his dignity and keep going?” It’s a risky and tricky business, I tell you. (And if you’re wondering, that time I went with Option 1, my usual choice and in this case a potential cop-out.)
6. Self-Discipline and Self-Denial
This one is hard but usually fruitful. I don’t think I even need to go into it. I’m tired and I don’t feel like it.