Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Problem of Being Self-Righteous

     I have to admit I am a stubborn, combative person at times. And when I feel pigeon-holed with others that I don't even want to be associated with, I am particularly ready to counter-punch and counter-argue. I experienced one of those moments two weeks ago when I read through the comments on a FB article in Trending on two pastors arrested in Tennessee as part of an under-age prostitution sting. But what struck me was the reactions of what can only be described as "self-righteous" indignation on the part of many of the commentators. Reactions ran between "See? Religious nuts are all pedophiles" to "Religious people are the real problem, not transgender bathroom switchers." I suppose in our instant outrage, instant reaction society it's what we get, but it doesn't lend itself to deep breaths, and calm reflections. First of all, the very public, very horrible actions of two pastors in Tennessee have very little to do with the credibility of Christianity at large, or the truth of its teachings, as the actions of a few anarchists have very little to do with the credibility or the truth claims of post-modernism, or atheism, or whatever. We are all individuals, and individually must take responsibility for our own actions, but our individual actions do not prove or disprove the validity of a larger whole. In this case, the fact that there are individual Christians who behave in reprehensible ways does not prove Christianity to be reprehensible, anymore than the noble actions of a few Nazi's would not prove Nazism honorable and truthful.
     The problem is that lashing out in self-validating righteous indignation at "the other side" blinds us to our own failures, our own need for grace. In Luke 13:1-5, Jesus tells two different stories about two different groups of people: the first bunch are slaughtered by the oppressive Roman ruler, Pilate, at the altar in the outer courtyard of the temple, defiling it as their blood and the ashes of their sacrifices mix together. The second group are people crushed to death in the collapse of a tower. Jesus makes a stark point about both: whatever you may think of either group, unless you (and I) personally repent (turn from our own selfish, self-serving and self-excusing ways to lean on Gods mercy), you too shall also perish.
     Some may not perish until they actually cease to breath; the two pastors from Tennessee, caught in the web of their own depravity, are for all intents and purposes already dead to any positive contribution in life. But be warned, Jesus says; without me, without grace, you too shall perish. For there is no one righteous in and of themselves - no matter how many of the "right kind" of bumper stickers they slap on their cars back side to shout down the unrighteous rabble jostling behind them. We are all one complacent step away from disaster, if not for grace. We need to drop our stones of judgment & look at each other with a bit more humility, and a lot less condemnation.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Why so silent?

As a child I learned a terrible secret; when things in the home were tense, safety was found in running silent - unseen, unheard, moving noiselessly like a shadow around the giants fighting around me, I could keep my sanity and avoid detection. It was my own secret strategy for survival, and it worked - to a degree, but left a terrible imprint on my character and instincts that I have yet to fully shed. Like most phobias and destructive habits picked up in childhood, running silent as a coping strategy grew into a way of life and stance for everything important. Silence is golden, but silence when my voice is needed to be heard is positively ruinous.

But it need not be that way; Paul, tempted to run silent in Corinth, received instead the wisdom of Christ in a nighttime vision: "Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city." (Acts 18: 9-10)

We know as followers of Jesus, we've been called to go & make disciples, which of course means that at some point, we must actually speak - tell - the good news. So why are we - why am I -  so silent
instead, so content to wait for the spiritually superior & put together to speak the message?  I think it comes from being so alone, so isolated. It's a truism that Americans are a lonely people, living right on top of each other and yet so isolated. I think (at least for me) the root of my silence is fear and loneliness, two things that Jesus spoke strongly to Paul about; first, He himself was there with Paul, because, second, "I have many people in this city."  When we really determine to live connected to the rest of the "body of Christ" - the church - then Jesus has people He can speak rebuke, reproof and encouragement to us through as the Word of God dwells richly in us (Col. 3: 16). So why so silent? Could it be that I - and perhaps even you - are secretly convinced that we really are left on our own to figure things out, resulting in silence, running scared and alone, afraid to let others see our vulnerabilities for fear of ridicule and shame? May I - and you - find the power to rest in Gods thoughts towards us (Psalm 139:17) that we might speak to those who are waiting to hear good news.