Finding a New Way

April 3, 2014

It’s earlier than I planned to wake up, and Daddy has the kid in the kitchen eating breakfast. So I do what every red-blooded person in the developed world does. I roll over, click on my smart phone, and tune into my Facebook page, examining what the night owls and early risers were up to while people slept. I scroll through breakfast orders and plans for the morning, theological blog posts and funny stories, and lots of updates about coffee and children who didn’t sleep. And then I see it. And I sigh, click out of Facebook and get up to turn on the shower. But it doesn’t leave me. That post I read sticks to me and won’t wash off, won’t clear out, won’t let go. It sticks. And the heaviness sets in.

A heaviness that wonders when we as Jesus-followers started getting it wrong. When did we stop loving others and start being voices of unreasonable criticism? When did we decide that we had to flit from one outrage to the next? When did we decide it was proper- no, righteous- to be so incredibly snarky, picking on the things and people and events that surround us?

I wonder if maybe I am just getting old. Maybe with some years and mileage, I’m noticing these things- these heartbreaking attitudes and actions by people who are on the same journey I am. Is this heaviness just the effects of me aging and getting more aware and more cynical?

Later in the day, I realize that it’s not just aging. Because yet again, someone posts snark and sarcasm and outrage about something… about anything…

And I find myself wondering again, “Why?” Wondering what happened that made us such an angry, fussy, uptight, ugly bunch of grumps lately. Oh, I know, I know… not everyone. A few bad apples spoil the bunch or some such saying. But if it’s only a few, why are there so many of us sitting back and letting it happen, letting it continue? What is the “rage of the week” this week for Christians? It’s almost a fad of sorts. Or maybe more accurately, perhaps it’s almost an addiction of sorts… an addiction to anger.

I get it. I really do. I get it because I have lived it. I used to find it easy to be outraged all the time. To find something that someone was doing/teaching/preaching/saying/believing/acting wrong and to pounce on it. My mode of combat was a sharp critical tongue. Cutting down where I could as quickly as possible. So I get it. I can easily switch back into that. I get the struggle that it is.

And yeah, I get it because I too was taught that that sort of vitriol was “Biblical.” It was “standing up for Jesus,” as though God somehow needs our defending… he’s done a pretty good job of defending himself over the years without us, thank you. But yeah, I was taught that too. The whole “don’t be ashamed of the gospel” thing. And that’s true. We shouldn’t be ashamed of the gospel. But not because the gospel is somehow helpless in the face of a movie on Noah or any other “rage of the week.” We are not ashamed of the gospel because of what the gospel is: salvation, hope, the epitome of a God who loves us enough to send his Son Jesus to us to rescue us from sin, including the very stuff we Christians seem to be intent on doing these days. “Standing up for Jesus” has nothing to do with posting status updates about abandoning particular children in poverty because of a hiring decision or being mad at a movie. If we really believe in the power of the gospel then we must believe that it is good news. And if it is good news, why are doing our very best to make it such bad news to everyone around us? Yeah, I get it. I was taught all that too. But it was wrong then, and it is wrong now.

And yeah, I get this too: I realize that most people are trying to take the scripture seriously. They are trying to do what is right. I get that. I care a great deal about poor theology being taught to people. I care a great deal about misreadings of Scripture. I care a great deal about how to apply what we learn from God into our lives. I care a great deal about the world that my son has entered. I get that many of us are simply trying to abide by what we believe we see in the Bible.

But that’s just the thing- it seems to me that amid the popular outrage among the very people who see the Bible as important, we’ve lost the very center and thrust of those Scriptures. Jesus was never one to mince words. He took all the laws of Moses, all the prophets’ words and warnings, all the stuff that had been written down and taught for years, all the Scripture, and he summed it up in the FIRST and GREATEST commandment: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.

And almost as though he knew that we would object saying “But Jesus, my rant about this issue is showing my love for you,” he says this: And the second commandment is like it- love your neighbor as yourself.

For all our posturing and gesturing and ranting and raving, the reality is, most of us would not enjoy be treated, corrected, confronted, or spoken to or about in the matter in which we do so to others. Oh sure, sure- we laugh it off, say things like “Hey, this is how we do confrontation in our family.” But we’re lying to ourselves. If we were really honest, risky honest, we would say that the way in which we respond to others in our “rage of the week” is not at all how we would want someone to respond to us.

Love is not a feeling. It is an action. It is a character. It is a virtue. The Bible shows us that it’s more than just feeling a particular way toward someone- or claiming we feel love for someone. The Scripture makes clear that our love must be and become flesh… if we have love at all. And if our love is not fleshed out, then we’re getting it wrong… so totally wrong.

For Jesus- there can be no separation of those commandments. In fact, we will read in the Scripture a very direct correlation between the two when John pens these words: Whoever does not love his brother or sister, does not love God. Wow. Sobering thought. Especially if we realize that love isn’t about a feeling. Don’t be quick to side step what John states. It’s powerful in its directness.

Inevitably, however, someone points out that Jesus got mad too. And yes! He did! But did you notice that he didn’t get angry at the unbelievers? He never yelled at the poor. He never berated the lost. He never called those searching by derogatory names. He never condemned them of apostasy for wondering things that didn’t agree with his message. Jesus never posted status updates talking about atheists who make movies. When he was angry he was angry at what? At who?

Demons, yes. Got up in their faces a time or two. One time we see him clearly upset about the disciples turning away children, so there’s that. We could argue he may have been a bit ticked at Peter when he tried to dissuade Jesus from the task of the cross, though it’s possible he wasn’t angry when he rebuked him (surprisingly it is possible to rebuke without anger!). There was also that unfortunate time with the poor fig tree where Jesus appeared to be mad at it for not having figs. But really… you know who he really got mad at?

The religious folks. The ones who believed they had it all together. The ones who crushed the hopes of the poor. The ones who tossed aside relationships when they were not “holy” enough. The ones who set up banks in the court of Gentiles so they were distracted in prayer (and he got mad at the money changers who worked for the temple that day too). Jesus got mostly outraged at those who seemed to very good at being outraged by one thing or the other… regularly. It seemed the religious folks in his day too had a “rage of the week.” A prostitute who showed up to supper, or a woman caught having an affair, or man who dared to be healed on the Sabbath, and so on. It might be humorous to think of what new outrage would be revealed regularly had the people of Jesus’ day had Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other social media…  if we mean humorous in a sad sort of way.

And also inevitably, someone will say, “But Jesus said go and sin no more.” And yes… he did. So maybe we should take that to heart. It’s not just a message for someone who is the focus our rage. It’s a message for us. “Go and sin no more.” I sometimes imagine him turning to me with those words and saying, “I’m looking at you, Karen.”

We’re getting it wrong. We are doing it wrong. And we need to find a new way.

If you are someone who is so deeply concerned that the wrong theology or theologies are being taught to people, that’s fine! I love that you have a passion for that. But find a new way to learn it and express it. Learn the truth of what matters most in your faith, and learn where we are allowed freedom to disagree. Find a new way. One that draws people toward the gospel and not away from it.

If you are someone who is concerned for Biblical accuracy, I have no problem with that. Discover for yourself what the “Bible’s accuracy” is really about (this alone may surprise you), and then find a new way to engage others in conversation about it. A way that helps people see Jesus instead of blinding them to him.

If you are someone who’s upset about the way politics have turned out in our country, that’s okay by me. No one is asking you to change your political views or affiliations. At least I’m not asking that of you. But find a way to discuss politics, to support campaigns, to vote your conscience without false accusations and the demeaning of others who think differently than you, including the candidates themselves. Find a new way.

If you are concerned about hiring practices in an organization that supports children, maybe even a child you have sponsored and prayed for and cared about and loved from a distance, okay… be concerned. But don’t turn that real person into a project that you can easily toss away. Instead start to engage the conversation, to ask deeper questions, to try to understand, and if all else fails, terminate that relationship with a long and slowly moving grace, not vitriol. Think very hard about what sin you are committing against a child, a family, a community in such a decision. Find a new way.

Are you someone who relished posting hateful and misinformed memes, forwarding particular tweets and other such nefarious things on Facebook? Stop. If you take seriously the Scripture, then perhaps breaking the 9th Commandment will matter to you. If not that, then the myriad of other passages that speak to us about how we ought to act and speak. Find a new way.

Jesus said that in this world you will have trouble. When he said that, he didn’t mean the trouble that we create for ourselves by being other than what he called us to be. Sometimes, yes, we have trouble in this world because of Jesus. But sometimes- perhaps often- we have trouble in this world because we act like jerks. And we need to find a new way.

Last week, during that particular “rage of the week” (over World Vision), I was involved in a passionate discussion with fellow pastors. I am proud when I see colleagues who can maintain a gentle spirit the midst of controversy. I am glad when there is forgiveness for the times that some of us- me included- have forgotten that graciousness, and I am equally grieved when I see the spirit of kindness remain uncherished by others. It is such a prized attitude among the people of my faith tradition that it aches when we cannot live into it. Inevitably someone threw out a proof-text from Romans: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world…” A noble verse, ripped from its intention to try to win the argument… Yet again, we are doing it wrong.

What was compelling however was the response another pastor gave to this. His response said something like this, “You know what would really be not conforming to the pattern of this world? Not acting the way we are acting.” And he was right. It is so popular these days to be outraged week in and week out. It’s a thing. It just is. “The rage of the week,” the addiction to anger- that is a pattern of this world right now. A disturbing and dangerous one.

But imagine a group of people committed to a new pattern in this world- a pattern that resists this (un)righteous addiction to anger and instead seeks to show the compassion, grace, and the love of Christ. A pattern that refuses to reduce the scripture to a proof-text or a slogan or uninformed rage-responses. A pattern that recognizes the complexities of real people in a real world with real problems and challenges and who don’t present a false and overly simplistic and insensitive gospel to those complexities. A pattern that realizes the rich fullness of the gospel, beckoning us to be loved and changed, is what sets us (and others) free- not a proof-text or a rage-tweet or a snarky response. A pattern that speaks truth with self-controlled boldness, but equally with humility, servanthood, and kindness. A pattern that knows that the greatest compelling force in this world is the love of God- not the wrath of a particular group of people… whoever that group might be. THAT would be a new way… a new way that is desperately needed.

***

I don’t pretend to be an expert at this. I don’t pretend to have it all figured out. I struggle too. I get mad. Sometimes really mad. And sometimes I get so mad I act out in that. But I long to be part of a community this is forging a different path, finding a new way. If you have been finding a new way, I hope that your story can find it’s way to ears and hearts like mine. There are actually many of us- so many of us- who are ready for something different. Who are growing beyond this clanging and clashing- these gongs that make noise but show no Jesus in their midst. There are actually many of us who are longing for a place to wrestle these things out with a deep commitment to charity, to protecting the image of God in each other and respecting each other’s different journeys and views. Those of us who are longing for this are in some ways a new diaspora– scattered from churches and homes and other places, many of us wandering alone, searching and aching for this sort of community. Living quietly amid the rage, trying desperately to keep our eyes on the one who never asked for such behavior and does not condone it. And sometimes we fail.

Perhaps it is time we united. My new prayer is that we might find each other in this vast world full of rage and vitriol, find each other as we are pushed farther and farther out to the margins (which is often where the most powerful ministry happens anyway). And that we will help others find this new way too. A new way that is open even to those who right now are caught so deeply in this pattern of rage… so that they too can learn freedom with us.

 

 

 

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