It is hard to feel unique in a world of 7.75 billion people. Due to mass media we are also more aware of this and also now have all of the best in the world there to compare ourselves to. We see the best athletes, the most beautiful bodies, those with wealth and power day in and day out.
At the same time, many young people did not have siblings to share the attention of their parents, only were given affirmation in their formative years, a participation trophy for showing up and—special as they are—don’t need to follow rules or ever answer to anyone.
In other words, we have a generation with deep insecurities, worried about their place in the vast sea of humanity, and then also raised to be self-absorbed narcissists.
Unlike the past generations, where you could be a big fish in a small pond, yet also needed to learn respect for boundaries and how to share or negotiate with others.
Unlike the meritocracy of the past, where you needed real accomplishments to earn privileges or praise, we have conditioned young people to believe that their satisfaction should come without sacrifice or effort.
It is very little wonder why so many of them are unfulfilled, dissatisfied with life, and out there seeking cheap distinction.
Distinction—Cheap or Valuable
We all know names like Elon Musk, Serena Williams, or Ron DeSantis. They are leaders in their realms of popular culture and sport, business or politics. And we can probably agree that some of their success is an inheritance of genetics, good fortune or the opportunities granted them.
However, what they are doing, like them or not, is producing results and with this are being rewarded for the things they do. They have outcompeted many, they distinguished themselves by showing up for work and by putting the time in. It is for that reason their recognition is earned. They do the things we care about and we make them famous for this unique resume.
Earlier this week I saw a story about Rose Namajunas, a diminutive female UFC fighter with a very big attitude that earned her the nickname “Thug Rose” in school, and how she’s being featured in a Victoria’s Secret ad campaign. The message “all expressions, no definitions,” with the word “undefinable,” do certainly fit her outsized personality and the mean head kicks she can deliver, all the while being very emotional.
The point a marketing strategy is cynical, it is to tickle ears and encourage more consumption of a particular good or service. Those who produced this advertising campaign did it trying to target a certain demographic in the hope of profit. And that target is probably not those who will ever have the same work ethic and skills as Rose, but is those who crave the same notoriety and ‘undefinable’ uniqueness.
We all wish to be significant, to distinguish ourselves from the pack, to be appreciated and loved. There are many who are looking for a shortcut or feel entitled to these things, they want the same acceptance, recognition and rewards as those at the top. They buy expensive clothes, the latest smart phones or cars beyond their budget, all trying to gain attention through their appearance rather than actual character.
There is hard-earned distinction and there is the cheap kind. There is the content creator who shares of their substance and then the one who destroys things for clicks. There is the pleasing gift of Abel and that unworthy offering of Cain. There is that real fulfillment which comes from making contribution and then the imitation that is outwardly prideful, expresses itself loudly, while truly being an envious, bitter and impoverished soul.
Personal Pronouns and No-name Jerseys
Penn State football has a long tradition of not putting the names of players on jerseys and this is to reinforce the notion of selfless team effort over a bunch of individuals only in it for themselves.
Success on the field and in life depends on our plugging in and sometimes putting aside our own preferences for the good of others. We can get more done by working together, respecting the established system, rather than demand that everyone makes special accomodations for us.
Yes, there is a time for grievances. We also should be a reasonable give and take so far as how individuals and the members of the group interact with each other.
And yet this idea that we should rewrite cultural conventions, negotiated over many centuries, simply so some ‘woke’ Karens can have power over others, is not a grievance I can ever honor. It is not reasonable for a person to decide the pronouns that apply to them or force us to go along with their newly invented categories.
We don’t need to be Amish, severely limiting individual expression to maintain community cohesion, but we also don’t want to keep on this path of total atomization either. There’s a reason why the barn raising religion is able to flourish while the rest of us are headed for Babal, confusion and collapse.
Rose By Any Other Name
This morning, pondering how the categories of mental illness are a bit arbitrary and how much I dislike how these labels pigeonhole people, there was the thought that my given name was the best possible diagnosis of me. I mean, I’m Joel. I don’t need a personal pronoun when I already have my own name and identity completely my own.
Ironically, the same people who want to have new pronouns for themselves also seem to revel in their mental illness as well. Anything to be different. It is a sort of humble-brag, a title of distinction of our era, to talk about your PTSD or bi-polar disorder. If you are the right person, if you can make yourself a part of the right identity group, then your self-declared victimhood will be treated as a virtue.
It goes beyond moral inversion. People think that you can slap the right label on a person and it will make up for their deficiencies. If only they were described right, if we would see their pink hair as an accomplishment, then they would love themselves. Of course, this is a lie, people so into themselves are always a black hole and no amount of love given will fill their deep void.
It is the spirit of those who are content to remain nameless, who get their numbers called for what they do for the whole, that actually matters. People will know what is great and what is not no matter what label is applied. I can never forget what W.E.B Du Bois wrote to a student:
Do not at the outset of your career make the all too common error of mistaking names for things. Names are only conventional signs for identifying things. Things are the reality that counts. If a thing is despised, either because of ignorance or because it is despicable, you will not alter matters by changing its name.
We can manipulate and massage language all we want, give people all the fancy titles they wish for, but in the end none of this word play can take away or lend to their value. If you want recognition contribute to the whole and your name will be known. Not to the whole world, but to those helped by your deeds. A rose called by any other name is still a rose.
Being raised in a fundamentalist sect meant taking the Genesis accounts as being a historical narrative. I had been taught, and had for many years accepted without question, the idea that the veracity of the Gospel message hinged on the most ‘literal’ interpretation of the first book of the Biblical canon.
This understanding of this book had worked fine to get me through my school years. I gave my high school biology teacher, Mr. Toohey, an atheist who had once considered the priesthood, a headache debating the textbook claims about mutations, millions of years, and Macro Evolution. At this age, I thought this style of apologetics, debating science using the words of Scripture, was a key to securing the faithful against doubts and winning unbelievers.
Unfortunately, while this understanding may serve well those who do not venture too far from the Young-Earth Creationism intellectual ghetto, against what amounts to strawman versions of secularist arguments, it doesn’t hold up as nicely against a serious challenge and has left many religiously indoctrinated high and dry in their years in a university-level science program. There is a reason why many in my former religious tradition are terrified of higher education.
Even seminary was a synonym for cemetery to one of my childhood Bible-thumping pastors. It should make one wonder. If the foundation of faith is so flimsy that it can’t be tested, that it can only be sustained by ignorance, then what’s the point?
Sadly, it was a false choice, this dichotomy between science and religion, education and faith.
Getting the Cart Ahead of the Horse
The Biblical fundamentalists got everything exactly backward. The truth of Christ does not depend on proving the Scripture, word for word, is completely 100% historically accurate and scientifically verifiable. It is nice when those things do align, sure. And yet, no matter how many mundane parts of the Biblical narrative are established this way, the fantastic claims are never proven.
If a politician lists off ten facts and nine of them turn up true according to the fact-checkers, does that make the final most grandiose claim true?
No, no it does not.
One of the most persuasive tricks of liars is to hide their one falsehood amongst a long list of facts and true statements. And likewise, someone could prove 99.9% of Biblical claims and still not have touched anything of the miracles. The Bible is true because it says it is true might work for idiots and the indoctrinated, but it is always circular reasoning and there being a town of Bethlehem doesn’t mean Jesus walked on water nor establish His divinity and conquering of death.
No rational person believes that a prophet flew from Jerusalem to Mecca, on a half woman half horse with a tail of a peacock, because they read it in a book. I’m certainly not going to wear magical underwear because some dude, a few hundred years ago, claims he received golden tablets from the angel Gabriel. So why would any reasonable person expect someone to believe a book written thousands of years ago? Sorry, Ken Ham, I don’t care how many replica Arks you build, you’re not winning skeptical minds or hearts with this effort.
Human efforts fail.
When Sarai reasoned with Abram to produce an heir through her maidservant, how did that go for them?
We know it didn’t go too well and have the commentary of St. Paul:
Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise. These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written: “Be glad, barren woman, you who never bore a child; shout for joy and cry aloud, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.” Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.
(Galatians 4:21-31 NIV)
Here we see the contrast of human efforts “according to the flesh” and those of a spiritual and Divine origin. St. Paul emphasizes the “son” which is “born by the power of the Spirit” as an alternative to the “son” human reasoning that produced conflict and heartache.
It is amazing how many times St. Paul, and Jesus before him, encountered those who believed Scripture word for word and rejected Jesus as Lord. They, in many ways, had a stricter interpretation of the text than many of us do and did not face the strong headwind of modern science and philosophy either. And yet, even meeting Jesus in the flesh, seeing him with their own eyes, taking Scripture as literally as anyone, they saw Jesus as the imposter and rejected Him. So, how then can we be saved?
Fortunately, that question is answered many times over and over again, by St. Paul, and has next to nothing to do with the book of Genesis. The truth of Scripture is established on Christ, and His church, which established the canon of Scripture and does those “greater things” that Jesus promised would come through the power of the Spirit. Yes, we preach and teach, but only God can bring the increase. So, the apologetics industry starts us out on the wrong foot and doesn’t produce true faith in Christ.
Our salvation does not depend on our own understanding of a book. St. Paul, in Romans 9:16, states clearly, that our sonship depends on God’s mercy, not human desire or effort. Scripture is the cart, not the horse. We accept that the Bible is true because we believe in Christ, and His Church, not because we can establish it through our human reasoning or effort. Faith is a work of the Spirit, a gift from God, not a product of our knowledge or works. Those trying to ‘prove’ the Bible are on a fool’s errand. trying to save themselves, slaves to human reasoning, lost and confused.
What Does That Have to Do with Babel?
Hopefully, the Noah rode on a T-Rex crowd is too triggered with that intro, because now we shift to something they may find more agreeable and that being the even greater monument to human reasoning and effort.
But, first, the tower of Babel narrative:
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
(Genesis 11:1-9 NIV)
This story is likely the origin of the phrase, “men plan, God laughs.” Actual historical event, ancient myth or both, does not matter, the tower of Babel narrative is so much more. The account speaks to human limits and hubris, a true story told over and over again in history and a lesson repeated in different ways with each passing generation. The moment humans forget their place, begin to rely on their own cleverness and start to see themselves equal to their own Creator, the clock to destruction begins to tick.
These people, in the Biblical account, had somehow overcome the odds, they evidently were a resource-rich civilization, more powerful than external threats, and ready to cement their name in history. But just when heaven seemed within their grasp, the very thing that they had sought to avoid, being scattered, brought the entire endeavor grinding to a halt. Now Babel, the name a play on words that meant “to confuse,” is a synonym for colossal human failure. Sure, maybe it is an origin story for the diversity of language. But, undeniably, it is also a cautionary tale.
Other accounts tell us that this confusion of languages, by God, was to save humanity from the total destruction of another flood. In other words, it was an act of mercy to prevent an even greater calamity to end this project and scatter the people. But, more than that, it is a lesson about not leaving God out of the equation. What does that mean? Well, that means that we can’t see everything and, without humility to reign in our ambitions, we are an existential threat to ourselves. The proud fall because they cannot imagine the factors that they, in their overblown confidence, have missed.
Our Modern Towers of Human Arrogance
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
(Isaiah 29:14 NIV)
History is replete with examples of bold declarations followed by catastrophe. Neville Chamberlain’s quip of having secured “peace in our time,” through a treaty with Adolf Hitler, comes to mind. Hillary Clinton was, according to the experts, most definitely going to win over Donald Trump.
But now it is time to tie all these threads together. The same thing that brought about the Protestant schism, also led to the Enlightenment, spread of Democracy, and, ultimately, the rejection of God.
This “age of reason” got off to a relatively good start, scientific discovery, development of technology, and representive government has enabled us to be more free and prosperous that many prior generations. However, as the tower of our knowledge and independent spirit rose, as we have made leaps in medicine, even landed a man on the moon, when American exceptionalism (the ultimate expression of Protestantism) finally conquered all, and our hegemony was nearly unchallenged, suddenly a day of reckoning seems to be upon us and this colossus, this oversized imagine of human endeavor, seems in danger of collapse.
A couple of decades ago it felt as if we were on the cusp of a new epoch. Racism vanquished, our old enemies irrelevant, the world connected as never before, the internet ready to put all knowledge at our fingertips and the stars seemingly within our reach. Secularism and science had triumphed over superstition and myth, we imagined no religion, nothing to kill or die for, as Coca-cola taught the world to sing. Former seminaries, our universities, forgetting God, became temples of human reason. “We didn’t need church or religion to be good people,” the atheists cried, while standing on the shoulders of theologians whom they dismissed, “in fact, we’ll go further without it!”
However, my own optimism has unravelled over the past decade or two.
Star Trek and the Jetsons still remains, firmly, in the realm of science fiction. The internet is a cesspool, filled with crackpot opinions, censored by billionaires bullies who pretend to be gatekeepers of truth while they spread misinformation, and nothing like a child of the 90s would’ve imagined. As church attendance slips, depression and drug usage has steadily increased—along with suicides and mass shootings.
Our universities, rather than continue to value free thought and expression, now have strict speech codes and safe spaces. The minds that once sought to improve the human experience, now only deconstruct tradition and erode the very ground that their institutional ivory towers were constructed upon, too drunk with nihilism to care. Even Coke brand, that once celebrated human diversity, has joined the graceless cult of woke in attacking “whiteness” and civilization itself—as if they have forgotten what has made their own comfortable ‘privileged’ life possible.
The government, “for the people,” that at least gestured towards the needs of the citizenry, now only serves global corporations, the powerful elites and special interests. The US flag, once a symbol of hope, the American ideal, and our unity as diverse people, something black athletes proudly wrapped themselves in less than a generation ago, has now been reimagined as a representation of oppression and hate. Our faith in our institutions is failing, the left decrying systemic racism, the right suspecting election fraud, nearly everyone feeling unheard.
We’re a civilization consuming itself and maybe it is because we’ve forgotten this:
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
(Galatians 5:13-15 NIV)
We don’t go to church anymore, a trend that started before the pandemic and has only been accelerated, and “love your neighbor” is now used as a guilt trip rather than a reason to change our own toxic attitudes or be involved on behalf of others. John Kennedy’s call to service, “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” Those words, spoken today, would likely be derided as some kind of dangerous “ism” in today’s me-first, my tribe, my way or the highway, divisive identity driven, you’re literally a Nazi if you disagree, political environment.
Have we reached new heights only to implode?
What is really going on here?
Pride Cometh Before the Fall
Satan, we’re told, was the very best of the angels. His magnificent greatness eventually led him to believe that he was a rival to God. Jesus warned his disciples, having returned exuberant from working miracles, that he had seen Satan “fall like lightening from heaven” (Luke 10:18) and reminded them of their place before the Almighty.
Hubris is the downfall of many and the idea that we can find all of the answers for ourselves is that. With each success, with every innovation and breakthrough, there is a danger and risk of overconfidence.
In the past few centuries have seen our knowledge and abilities increase like no other time in recorded human history. The West threw off the authority of Rome, with the reasoning that every man was able to comprehend Scripture outside of the tradition of the church. Not long after, the authority of Scripture itself was called into question. Why do we need a book of myths written by those who lack our sophistication and understanding of the world? God was erased from our institutions, prayers only a ceremonial and many imagine themselves to be self-made or little gods. It is the height of ignorance:
You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “You did not make me” Can the pot say to the potter, “You know nothing”?
(Isaiah 29:16 NIV)
But it isn’t only the cultural elites, the atheists, the politicians who only pay lip service or liberal theologians whittling away at morality until there’s nothing left. This spirit of self-reliance, and arrogance, permeates through the whole civilization. We are blinded by information, buried in jargon, tangled in complexity, yet think we’re englightened.
We should be pumping the brakes, as technology advances faster than our ability to comprehend the consequences, I see it even (or especially) in those emerging from sheltered religious cloisters. Sure, the are the reactionaries, afraid of all change or improvement, but then there are those who have a little education and embrace it all nof realizing the potential. Our brightest minds are working on things much more dangerous than nuclear weapons, creating biological agents, developing artificial intelligence, considering climate altering measures, all potentially having the possibility of irreversible side-effects, and truly playing with fire.
We believe we are in control but are most definitely not and, with our new power, are one or two mistakes from an unmitigated disaster.
Like the tower of Babel, which likely took years of planning and building layer upon layer, our modern civilization was built. Our confidence has grown and exponentially along with our accomplishments. We’re clever, we found cures for disease, invented means to travel to the ends of the earth and beyond. But the higher we ascend the easier it is to forget what we are and where we came from. We didn’t create ourselves nor do we know as much as we think we know and this should always keep us humble.
Thinking we are God or next thing to God will, inevitability, lead to chaos, confusion and ultimate collapse into disorder. The bigger our collective endeavor gets, the more we live on our own reasoning and strength rather than depend on faith, the less able we are to cooperate, we erode the very foundations of civilization and the destruction will be swift. God, in His mercy, will scatter us before we become too foolish, with our great knowledge, to be saved. Human reasoning is a dead end, we cannot transcend ourselves outside of God’s help. If we reject that help we will fall.
The only thing I hate more than loose ends is multiple loose ends. Loose ends represent instability and uncertainty, they are the fringes of the chaos and confusion that perpetually threaten to overwhelm the necessary stability and order of our lives.
There are several big projects in my life right now, well under way, some years in the making, and all of them various stages of incomplete. My ability to handle pressure has always been a big question mark and the past few months have tested the strength of my resolve.
I’ve sometimes felt as if I’m a person at the edge of functional, who kept things together mentally or otherwise by careful management of his resources and emotions. But in the past few years I’ve determined to sail beyond my safe waters, beyond the established boundaries of my known limits and at the risk of failure.
Am I built for this?
My new career is the first part of this stress test. I definitely have the basic aptitude for truss design and have become reasonably proficient at using the engineering software. However, with my proficiency, and changes in the truss market towards residential, the expectations are high and the workload has ballooned.
More recently it has become a make or break it moment as the construction season wraps up and a new prospective customer has piled on, who refuses to give the information that I request and seems to have very little respect for my time. He wants a “conference call” after every small revision and email, every conversation with him is circular and I’ve reached peak frustration in dealing with him.
However his project does promise to be one of those signature projects, if it ever gets underway, and the truth is that I really want him to be pleased with the work we do. It’s just that right now it is impossible to know if he’s just going to be an endless hassle, who tries to micromanage every part of the process or if he’ll become more cooperative and less doting as things progress. I’m not holding my breath.
There are days where I could be tempted to turn back, return to the proverbial Egypt of truck driving, and not need to deal with the pressure of always having to get things perfect. In trucking, a few spilled beans is just a few spilled beans. But, in this job, if I enter my numbers wrong here I could have the truss equivalent of “Galloping Girtie,” a very costly disaster and would need to bear the shame of my failure.
Of course, then again, an accident, for a commercial driver, can be a felony offense and especially if they can prove that you were distracted at the time. So maybe I’ll stick to the possibility of big financial losses for my company and potential of losing my job over sharing a cell with Bubba because the dispatcher needed answers and a silly “four wheeler” decided to use the same exact moment to check my reaction time?
I’ll stick with tapping the keyboard where there is less chance of me dying trapped in the burning wreck of a big rig, where I can be home at night despite a long commute, and my coworkers are Amish and awesome people. My hope is that eventually that will grow to the point where they can justify a second designer, so I can breathe a little and at least have the possibility of a day off or even working from home. It is a work in progress.
When will it be finished?
In the midst of everything else, I am (with the help of a more construction qualified friend) preparing a place. For many years I’ve lived comfortably in a small house, my bachelor pad, but for various reasons have decided that it is the right time to make a move.
First, the opportunity presented itself in the form of a “for sale by owner” sign along the path of my Saturday Dunkin coffee and donut routine. It was an upgrade from my current residence in terms of square footage and yard space. But it was also in severe need of a remodel, with cracked plaster, evidence of past leaks showing on the ceiling tiles, and other blemishes.
So, with the bank on board and price being right, after consulting some contractors, I went forward with the purchase.
Obviously, being that this is not only my own money involved and every month I wait to move in is a loss of a rent check plus the cost of utilities, there is a strong desire on my part to get the job done. That said, it will also be my own personal residence, the future “bhest nest” for my loved ones, there is also an equal desire to get it right the first time and thus speed was not the only concern.
As such projects go, we are behind schedule and threatening to go over-budget. But, at the same time, I have confidence we are doing it right and not cutting corners. For example, the old “knob and tube” wiring could have simply been covered up, spared us that extra week or so of work and the added cost, yet this is the place where I plan to sleep, keep my accumulation of things, etc.
I’ve also decided that working with a contractor is preparation for a having a wife. They don’t spend money like I do. They seem to see my wallet as being a spigot from a bottomless well, spending a thousand here and two thousand there is no big deal, whereas I’m keenly aware of every dollar spent and who will be slaving away to accommodate their excess. I’ve never told them no and they still call me tight—perhaps a warning against hiring (or marrying) friends?
Oh well, I’ve been every bit annoying as the customers I would complain about, I’ve made frequent visits, had things reworked midcourse to suit my preferences, and fussed about the lack of progress. I’m sure we’ll both be relieved once the travails of a major remodeling project are behind us, at very least the pressure will be off of me once I’m moved in and temporarily not hemorrhaging cash like a politician trying to buy votes. Ultimately, the best kind of project is a finished project!
Building towards that simple and happy life…
The bhest is yet to come. Everything up to this point I do and will be made worth it all when the big moment finally arrives. At this point I’m just getting all the pieces into position for something far greater on the horizon.
It has been a sort of an intermission period, with one act over with the next act yet to begin, and he waiting for the curtain to open has been my grueling, seemingly impossible, task as of late. There is much anticipation of things to come, but also as much anxiety about how things could go wrong (as so many did in act one) and I’m simply ready to get started with this next significant and very long awaited stage of life.
I had once wondered how Jacob could have labored so many years for the woman he loved. But now that I’ve surpassed his fourteen years, I’m not so much impressed, that’s puppy love. Besides that, he had a companion for half that time and also knew what was waiting for him at the end. I never had a Laban in my life. I’ve never had a father who let me prove myself or work for the love of his daughter nor any reason for hope other than my own stubborn refusal to quit.
In fact, I longed for something definite, some kind of clear path towards the Promised Land, and always ended up staring into an uncertain future. It is easy to fight dragons when you know that the princess is waiting for you in the castle. But it takes real courage and character to continue to fight despite the fears that a more profound loneliness and more terrible depression could be the only reward waiting at the end of your struggles.
Just an undefined waiting time is bad enough. It is the thing I hated the most about driving truck. I would much rather be told a specific time, even if it is a long period of time, than a “we’ll tell you when we’re ready” or some other non-committal response. I mean, how do you plan for an indeterminate period of time? Do I crawl back into the sleeper only to be woke from my sleep five minutes later? Not knowing confined me, it limited what I could do, and did not allow me to prepare.
It remains to be seen how the lingering conflicts of act one will be resolved. Questions still remain that I hope can soon be put to rest. But right now I must focus on tying up the loose ends, working through the stress of the interim, being patient and trusting that the right answers will come in due course.
The phrase “going through the motions” usually implies a half-hearted or insincere effort.
It is most often used for circumstances when we want people to be engaged and enthusiastic, but instead we see vacant expressions, a sea of zombies. And, like an old high school football coach screaming in the locker room at his sleepwalking athletes, we plea to the listless bodies: “Let’s show some life out there!”
There also seems to be an expectation, at least in the contemporary Western church, that a worship service should be a sort pep rally event, where anything short of people jumping over pews and shouting “hallelujah” is a disappointment.
Many, in defense of their preference for a lively experience, cite David’s dance (2 Samuel 6:14-15) as a proof-text and prescription. They treat this fist-pumping, near-naked and completely undignified affair as a sort of standard. However, this perspective neglects something very important and that something being context of this over-the-top expression.
Literally a once in a lifetime event.
The most sacred object of Jewish worship, the “ark of the Lord,” the physical manifestation of God in their midst, was being returned to Jerusalem. Recall the ark had been lost for a generation, captured by the Philistines (1 Samuel 4:11) and, though back in Israel, had never returned to Jerusalem. Of course this was a joyous occasion, a reason for great exuberance, the glory of God was being restored!
Those raised in a revivalistic setting often seek after an emotional experience. Unfortunately this is often the spiritual equivalent empty calories, something that feels good but lacks real substance of change, a momentary high often followed by a corresponding crash—a crash of equal (or greater) proportion to the energy boost that leaves many feeling more defeated in the end.
I made the mistake, in one of the most vulerable times of my life, of attending an Evangelical “tent meeting” outside of a nearby town. By chance, coincidence or divine appointment, the ‘impossibility’ (that person who became the physical representation of my inability to find a place in the Mennonite culture and not someone I had wanted to see in that particular place) had decided to attend. Not only that, but the ushers of this event, obviously not knowing of my personal struggle, seated her right in front of me.
Her presence there, combined with a sermon about faith and Peter’s walking on water before slipping under the waves of doubt, was the perfect storm for upheal. The manipulative tactics worked. My body began to shake and, after a few choruses of those familiar “altar call” hymns, I got to my feet and walked to the front of the congregation. Soon I would be wisked away by an earnest young gentleman, who offered to listen, prayed with me, and even checked in a couple times in the weeks after.
But the revival effect was very short lived. A day or two later, after that fleeting moment of assurance, I plunged back into my living hell. That exhausting emotional rollercoaster, the fleeting hopes of resolution followed by soul-crushing deep despair and longing for death, day in and day out, did not end. What happened that night was nothing but a false hope, it left me only more confused, more disappointed and desperate.
What finally did work to bring back some stability of mood was an Adderall prescription. That drug, an amphetamine, is prescribed for attention-deficit disorder and yet did wonders for my anxieties as well and was wonderful while it lasted. The morning after starting this, I woke up with music in my ears and the thought, “wow, this must be what it feels like to be Betty Miller!” It felt like a miracle. My mind stopped spinning in circles. I had confidence because I didn’t think, I simply engaged.
Ultimately, even after going off the drug for various reasons (including my inability to sleep) the effect of that experience was long-term. It is actually what gave me the reprieve needed to launch this blog, Irregular Ideation, and showed me some of the potential that I always knew I had and somehow could never realize. The revival meeting, on the other hand, was simply another episode that convinced me that the religious system I was a part of lacked a critical component and was only useful in that it led me to look elsewhere for answers.
The Cure For Chaos…
There is a big push in our time for spontaneity and casualness. Those trying to bring emotional energy back into worship attempt to accomplish that end by changing up the program. The assumption being that this change of window dressing (or rearranging of the deck chairs) is the key to spiritual renewal and confuse the commotion of the change with something of real spiritual value.
Unfortunately, the ‘pump’ is nearly always followed by the dump. More and more young people are losing interest in the shallow, ever-changing, consumer Christianity of their parents. For some this chaotic environment, supposed to keep them interested, provides them with no escape, no means to be in awe of God, and only feeds their confusion. Not everyone can jump and shout on cue—especially not when there are better adrenaline rushes to be had elsewhere.
What if I were to tell you that worship is about orienting ourselves towards heaven, not our personal preferences?
What if I were to tell you that church is a sanctuary, not a stadium?
It was only after attending a liturgical service that I realized the things missing from the form of worship that was familiar to me. Shockingly, it is in going through the motions, by worshipping in the manner similar to heavenly worship, that I’ve been most profoundly moved. Ironically, despite the order, despite the mundane moments of going through the same old routine, there is also a peace that comes by participating in worship passed down from ancient times.
But, more than that, it is trotting this well-worn path that the practice leads something wonderful beyond words. A cousin of mine, Michael Logen, a professional musician and song-writer out of Nashville, once told me that the key to good art is consistency of practice. In other words, instead of only writing when feeling inspired, he encouraged me to set aside time to write every day and it was in this “going through the motions” that our moments of inspiration could be most fully realized.
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who had practiced one kick 10,000 times.” (Bruce Lee)
In this age of instant gratification and ‘worship’ that amounts to emotional pornography, many run from one ‘spiritual’ experience to the next, and miss out totally on the real need of their heart. Tragically, in their constant running from one temporary fix to the next, they miss out on the opportunity to practice a worship that is not centered on them, their whims, and eventually no amount of gimmick will fill that void. No, repeating the same routine, in worship and prayer, will not transform a heart. That said, neither will constantly changing things up.
Sure, there is a time for the emotional display and recklessness of king David. However, there’s probably a good reason why worship at the temple in Jerusalem was orderly and patterned. Like an athlete who goes through the motions, repeating the same routines of exercise and practice to be ready for game time, we too benefit from a worship that doesn’t conform to our own expectations—rather preparers us for a life that requires less spontaneity and more stamina.
Sometimes just showing up, regardless of how we feel, is enough.
Of those traditions kept by my conservative Mennonite church, a foot-washing ritual was one of the more notable. It is a practice based on the example of Jesus who washed the feet of the disciples and then instructed them to follow his example:
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:12-17, NIV)
So, twice a year with Communion, after a sermon about some aspect of the sacrifice Jesus made, after partaking of some bread and grape juice together and then another short reminder of why we were doing the stuff we did, the men would be dismissed to the basement (leaving the women the upstairs to do their symbolic washing) and on the way down we men would pair up with the guy beside us or another guy that we selected for whatever reason.
We would remove our shoes and socks, then proceed to one of the plastic basins arranged in front of folding chairs, then take turns solemnly splashing water on each other’s feet and dabbing them dry again with a towel provided. Once finished with this ritual procedure most would shake hands (those less inhibited would kiss) and engage in awkward small talk or make a comment about keeping their washing partner in prayer over the next few months.
In our time, this act of foot washing is little more than a symbolic act of service. But when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples it was something of practical value to those traveling the dusty roads in sandals and a task typically reserved for the servants. In that context, it was a very significant gesture and represented a whole new approach to leadership. In the Mennonite context, this practice is sometimes nothing more than a ritual and tradition.
Is reinvention of orthodoxy the answer to dead faith?
People often equate ritual and tradition in the church to dead faith. As a result, those disgruntled with dead faith swing in the direction of innovation and spontaneity hoping to find something authentic and real. Unfortunately, while the first generation of those who discard an established tradition often experience the excitement of something new, their children do not get a temporary emotional bump from the change. It should be no surprise when these children continue down the same path and throw out practices that their parents considered to be sacred and essential.
The idiom, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater,” (derived from a German proverb “das Kind mit dem Bade ausschütte”) is a warning against destroying something good in our zeal to be rid of what is bad. This saying was first recorded in 1512 and right before Martin Luther touched off a revolt against the established church. It is a phrase, frequently used by Luther himself, perhaps worried people would take what he started too far. It remains a very popular expression with Protestants (including Mennonites) who are trying desperately to retain their own children.
There is much in Scripture about the sins of fathers being transmitted to the next generation (Exodus 34:6-7, Leviticus 26:39, Deuteronomy 5:8-10) and seems to apply to our own circumstances today. Children, through genetics or behavioral patterning, often acquire the strengths of their parents. A parent’s good example can lead their children to good habits. And, in the same manner, children often also inherit the defects, blind-spots, and weaknesses of their parents as well. Children build both on the success and also on the sins and/or shortcomings of the prior generation.
So, it should not be a big surprise that the children of Protestants continue down a path of independence, reinterpretation of Scripture and departure from what was established. Protestantism, with the inordinate focus on one’s own interpretation of Scripture, has led to further division, ever-increasing individualism, and significant loss of Christian character. Many Protestants, following the example of their forefathers, assume that the path to spiritual life is found in throwing off of traditions and rituals—but I believe they are terribly mistaken.
Orthodox tradition and ritual is not at fault for abuses of the institutions of the church…
What is the basis for tradition and ritual in the church?
Many seem to forget that Jesus was a Jew and faithfully kept the Jewish religious tradition. Jesus did speak against those who “let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions” (Mark 7:8, NIV) or in other words those who prioritized religious rituals over love for others.
Yet Jesus did not dismiss ritual and tradition as completely unimportant either. Jesus and early Jewish converts to Christianity (while ranking the substance of faith higher than the religious symbolism) did not totally disregard the traditions that had been established.
To truly love Jesus means to follow his example and keep his commands. This, according to the words of Jesus, is requisite to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit:
If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them. (John 14:15-21, NIV)
Many church rituals (like Baptism, Communion and foot washing) are directly from the Gospels and given as instruction to the disciples by Jesus. And, it is in the Gospels that we read that Jesus gave authority to his disciples. He told Peter and the disciples this:
And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:18-19, NIV)
The early church clearly had a hierarchy with real authority and one that built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ. It is the writings of these early church fathers that contain their witness to the life of Jesus and also provide their reader with further divinely-inspired instruction. This is what they said:
So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. (2 Thessalonians 2:15, NIV)
Scripture didn’t just drop out of the sky written on golden tablets. No, rather it is a collection of inspired writings compiled and later canonized by the authority of a church council. That, the Bible, is the written tradition of the church (or “letter”) and is a source widely accepted as authoritative. However, in Protestant churches, because they reject any authority besides their own, the “spoken word” of church tradition has not been firmly held—it is neglected and forgotten.
The complete disregard for the oral tradition of the church is no different from cutting a chunk out of Scripture. Sure, as a person can refrain from applying the instruction Paul gives in regards to veiling (and not veiling) in 1 Corinthians 11 and still be Christian, these things aren’t necessary to be saved. However, this represents the deterioration of church tradition and a serious problem. At some point, we cannot claim to be following after the example of Jesus and continue to abandon the practices of the church he established.
There is a real loss when the established tradition is tossed in favor of a more ‘contemporary’ program. Moreover, those leaving their religious traditions often continue to benefit from the values it helped to instill in them. Sadly, the full cost is often only felt in subsequent generations who didn’t have the unappreciated benefits of the old tradition—the children raised without tradition have lost the helpful reminders given to their parents and also an important stabilizing tie to the historic church.
“A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof, trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy. You may ask, why do we stay up here if it’s so dangerous? We stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That, I can tell you in a word—tradition!
Because of our traditions, we’ve kept our balance for many, many years. Here in Anatevka we have traditions for everything—how to eat, how to sleep, how to wear clothes. For instance, we always keep our heads covered and always wear a little prayer shawl. This shows our constant devotion to God. You may ask, how did this tradition start? I’ll tell you—I don’t know! But it’s a tradition. Because of our traditions, everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to do.“
Tevye’s character is a Jewish father standing at this intersection of religious tradition and compromise in the name of progress. He points to one of the reasons why traditions are formed and that is balance. Traditions and rituals are established to help provide stability and order to our lives.
Rituals also help reduce anxiety and increase confidence even for those who do not believe they are beneficial:
Recent research suggests that rituals may be more rational than they appear. Why? Because even simple rituals can be extremely effective. Rituals performed after experiencing losses – from loved ones to lotteries – do alleviate grief, and rituals performed before high-pressure tasks – like singing in public – do in fact reduce anxiety and increase people’s confidence. What’s more, rituals appear to benefit even people who claim not to believe that rituals work. While anthropologists have documented rituals across cultures, this earlier research has been primarily observational. Recently, a series of investigations by psychologists have revealed intriguing new results demonstrating that rituals can have a causal impact on people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. (“Why Rituals Work,” Scientific American)
At practice and before games my high school football team went through the same “warm-up” routine. Some of the reason for this was to physically prepare us to prevent injury through stretching and get us warmed up. But the other part, perhaps even the larger and more significant part, is what this ritual did psychologically to calm our nerves and get us mentally prepared. This practice and pre-game ritual made us better individually and also helped our cohesiveness as a team.
Beyond that, it is what Jesus taught and showed by example. Jesus did not entirely do away with his Jewish rituals and traditions. In fact, he added to them, going as far as to give the disciples a template for a simple prayer (given in contrast to the arrogant public prayers of religious elites and “babbling like pagans”) and this “Lord’s prayer” is still practiced—even in Protestant churches. If one understands the value of Baptism and Communion then there should be no argument. Rituals are important to help to pattern, influence and shape our minds.
Traditions provide us with a structure that helps us to navigate our lives. When Paul urges believers to conduct their worship “in a fitting and orderly way” (1 Corinthians 14:40) it is not intended to stifle their freedom or individuality. It is rather to free them from chaos and confusion. We are creatures of habit, we do not do well in a constantly shifting environment, and therefore ritual is even more important in these tumultuous times.
As Tevye said, traditions are reminders of who we are and what God expects from us.
So what to do with dead orthodoxy?
It is fairly obvious that people can continue in religion long after they’ve become spiritually dead. Ritual and tradition, while a benefit to the faithful, cannot preserve faith. Christianity is not as simple as checking the right boxes. As Jesus told the perplexed Nicodemus “you must be born again” and about how the Spirit works like “wind” that “blows wherever pleases” (John 3:1-21) there is a profound mystery in this that goes beyond a religious program and all human rationality.
Protestants, of all people, should know this. Every generation there is a new method that comes along, another “remnant” group shilling their own version of the Gospel, the next author trying to pump the purpose back into Christianity or yet another list of fundamentals, ordinances or doctrines, and all these movements eventually seem to end up in the same place again. Often these re-inventors end up leaving their children even more ignorant of church history and with even less to grasp onto. Some might declare themselves to be the more pure, but they are also void of any tradition with staying power and the proof is in the legacy they leave.
Dead orthodoxy is a result of dead faith. And, in the same manner, that new window dressing won’t help to stabilize a wooden structure weakened by termites, reinventing traditions and rituals will never bring spiritual life back where the church has fallen off its foundation. The foundation of faith is Jesus, his faithful church is constructed upon that foundation—with the traditions it has passed on both in written and spoken form for our benefit—and there is no spiritual life gained in throwing this legacy out.
In fact, it is arrogant to think that we would be better to start from scratch and create our own new orthodoxy rather than draw from the experience and wisdom accumulated over many generations. It is basically to say that we today are better than all those faithful Christians of the past two millennia who kept these traditions and saw fit to pass them on to us.
Does the ritual of Baptism ever take away repentance?
Can our Communion practice come at the expense of our love for Christ’s body?
Should we stop celebrating Christmas and Easter because they aren’t found in the Bible and have been corrupted by American culture?
Our ridding ourselves of these established and orthodox Christian practices will not draw us any closer to God.
Yes, the foot-washing tradition practiced at my Mennonite church is worthless if the act does not truly represent our heart. The veiling is often associated with the failures of Mennonite men to lead in the example of Christ and thus the practice of the veil is often discarded by ex-Mennonite women. But both represent cases of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. It is not the ritual of foot washing or the imperfect application of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 that is at fault. Tradition and ritual should never be blamed for our lack of those things that should come from the heart.
True, faith is not established upon religious rituals or traditions and they certainly can be corrupted. The apostle Paul had to sternly warn early Christians against the abuse of the Lord’s Supper and had to further define the practice in an effort to prevent them from abusing it. But what he didn’t do is throw his hands up and say: “Okay, no more Communion, let’s go back to the basics and just show our love for each other through charitable acts!” No, he urged them to rediscover, not reinvent, and that is what the faithful do.
The solution to dead orthodoxy is not reinvention. The solution to dead orthodoxy is to address the real problem and renew the heart of faith that makes the tradition meaningful and allows the ritual to come alive.
What tradition should we keep?
Every denomination has rituals and traditions. The format of a Mennonite service, for example, intended to be a bit less formal, can be very dry and predictable. The song leader leads some songs, men argue our pet issues in Sunday school class while women sit in stony silence in theirs, the deacon (after pleading for us to think about the meaning of the hymns we just sang) goes through the laundry list of activities and repeat prayer requests, after another song the preacher does his thing as some doze in the pews, and finally, the congregation is dismissed to talk about farming, hunting, sports or politics.
At some point, all-new “movements” end up creating a new ritual and tradition. John and Charles Wesley introduced a radical new “methodical” approach to study and life. This eventually became the “Methodist” denomination. Mennonites take their denominational name from Menno Simons, a Catholic priest that became caught up in the Anabaptist movement, and now are mostly an ethnic church known for a “peace witness” and shoo-fly pies.
Not all religious rituals and traditions are equal in history or value. Sunday school, revival meetings, VBS, “sweetheart banquets,” mother’s day celebrations, Bible schools, and church retreats are part of the Mennonite church calendar, but they are certainly not the equivalent of Ascension day, Lent season, Paschal feast or many of the other long-established orthodox practices that some have abandoned in the past few centuries. I would rather we started to look at what was established early and has worked for many generations than try to create a dumbed-down, less historically grounded version.
The tradition of many Protestant churches has become so watered down there is little left to reinvent besides the Bible. As a result, those seeking an emotional high through change are running out of options and when their current experience isn’t satisfying anymore, some decide to toss the Bible next. That is the progressive approach. That is the approach that confuses their own temporal feelings of pleasure with spiritual gain.
Faith is not created by ritual and tradition nor can it be increased by discarding them. Spiritual life comes through obedience and is also a mysterious work of God. We aren’t saved through our religious devotion. A person can go through the motions of Baptism, Communion, foot washing or any other orthodox Christian practice without ever having a change of heart.
That said, the truly faithful do benefit from the reminders, the structure, and patterns for behavior that orthodox rituals and traditions provide. In my own experience, it has helped me to worship in a manner that has been established over many generations. To join together with that “cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) and to worship as Christians did for thousands of years has been a tremendous experience that cannot be duplicated with a new light show and smoke machine.
A person who burns down their house because they don’t like some of the decorations on the walls might be momentarily free. But the enjoyment and empowerment of this newfound simplicity and freedom will soon be a desperate struggle to protect themselves from the elements. And the same goes for those who think they gain through taking an eraser to the rituals, traditions and established orthodoxy of the church. The benefits are fleeting and the cost of trying to restore what was lost is great.
Yes, some necessary structure can be built back in a generation or two after the full loss of the change is felt, but not without slavish effort to restore it and where is the freedom in that?
A life unfettered by any established ritual and historical tradition might seem ideal for the freedom and simplicity that it promises. However, not all is as advertised, the freedom is an illusion and the reality created is often quite complicated. Taking a wrecking ball to an established order often leads to only chaos and more confusion. Worse, it robs the next generation of their religious inheritance and leaves children worse off than their perpetually dissatisfied parents.
Our faith should be founded on Jesus, our religion grounded on the truth of his word, our life lived in obedience to the Spirit, and that means keeping the traditions passed down by his church. Spiritual life is restored through genuine repentance and not by abandoning ritual. Renewed faith comes with our humble obedience and not by reinventing traditions.
Jesus did not discard all rituals and tradition nor should we. There is a place for both in the church. It is a connection that we need now more than ever in the shifting sands of our time. Perhaps it is time for some reflection, rediscovery, and restoration?
A few weeks ago a story swept across my Facebook feed about a young Mennonite man from Indiana who went missing after a visit with his girlfriend in Arkansas. I quickly determined, after a brief look on Google maps at the points mentioned, that there was very little that I could do to help. There are plenty of situations where my own inputs and interventions are truly needed and this was not one of them.
The need for my personal involvement didn’t change after he was found. Yes, as a normal human being, I was curious about the circumstances surrounding his disappearance and hoped to eventually hear more about what happened. However, there was no reason for me to pry or persist in an effort to find information, I was content to wait until his family was ready to share and truthfully didn’t need to know anymore than I already did.
However, some were not satisfied to simply rejoice with those who rejoice. Some felt entitled to information, they felt that they deserved an explanation and more or less demanded immediate answers. Making matters worse, the online discussion (including a page created to help locate the young man) quickly became and a cesspool of gossip and den of busybodies who seemed to take great pleasure in sharing their scandalous revelations.
Anyhow, because this does effect my newsfeed, and having had malicious nonsense spread about me in the past, and knowing what Scripture says on the topic of gossip, I want to make three points:
1) The young man didn’t ask to be turned into a public figure.
Family and friends decided to take their search public and the network of Mennonites on social media responded in force. But that doesn’t mean that we should not respect the privacy of the young man. The public handling of this was not his choice. If their best interests (both his own and those of the people more intimately involved) are better served by not sharing more than has already been shared, then so be it.
2) You are not entitled to anything more than has already been revealed.
I’ve seen the spreading of rumors explained as need for closure and blame being put on those closest to the young man for their not revealing more information at this time. That, of course, is complete nonsense. Being asked to pray and assist in a search does not give anyone a right to know the juicy details and nor does morbid fascination. There is no need to know anything more than what needs to be known. He has been found, he is with those who love him, and that should be everything a reasonable person needs for closure.
3) Gossip is a sin and busybodies are severely condemned.
Curiosity is excusable. I understand the want to know more about a story than is already known. I can even see good reason to share, in the right time and place, about unflattering things discovered. However, what I cannot excuse is sharing dirt on another person and publicly trashing them for no good reason. True or not does not matter, what does matter is that we show the grace we wish to be shown and handle such matters in the way appropriate for a Christian.
There seems to be some confusion about what is appropriate and inappropriate sharing of information…
Fortunately there are Biblical passages that offer us strong clues. In fact, being a “meddler” (1 Peter 4:15) or “gossip” (Romans 1:29) is mentioned in the same context as theft and murder and slander. We are even told to disassociate ourselves from those who are “busybodies” (2 Thessalonians 3:11, 1 Timothy 5) as a result of their idleness. And, if that condemnation is not enough, there is also this clear instruction:
Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:11-12 NIV)
Slander (etymologically a doublet of “scandal,” from OFr. esclandre, Latin scandalum, “stumblingblock”) is an accusation maliciously uttered, with the purpose or effect of damaging the reputation of another. As a rule it is a false charge (compare Matthew 5:11); but it may be a truth circulated insidiously and with a hostile purpose…
It is important to note that this goes beyond the modern definition of slander. It is saying something, true or untrue, in a way that is unnecessarily harmful to another person. In other words, this means *not* revealing things in public about an individual that detract from their reputation. That in contrast with sharing only what is helpful to another individual and of benefit:
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29 NIV)
There is a time and place for confronting sinful behavior. However, unless the sin is already public knowledge and obvious (as in 1 Corinthians 5) or something that must be reported immediately to civil authorities like sexual abuse, the process of confrontation should always start one-on-one with the offending individual in private:
If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17 NIV)
In light of this, spreading scandalous information about another person just because you can is never appropriate for a Christian. It goes completely against Biblical instruction to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life” and to “mind your own business” (1 Thessalonians 4:11) and amounts to a sin as bad as any other.
As for closure…
There are certainly those who should be working with this young man to help and restore him. But there are many more (in the online crowd) who have no role in that and should be mindful of what Jesus told those who brought an adulterous woman out to be condemned: “Let anyone of you who is without sin cast the first stone…”
Christians should have no time for gossip and no place for busybodies in their ranks. There is no duty to tell the world about things than can (and should) remain private and absolutely no need for salacious appetites to be fed. So, if you desperately need closure, use the opportunity to reflect on your own attitudes and actions.
A couple years ago, upon realizing my life was going nowhere in a hurry and not wanting to settle for mediocrity, I called out for God’s help. I wanted a truly abundant life, I knew that I was wholly inadequate to bring about the necessary changes to make that reality (God knows I’ve tried) so I begged for the impossible be done.
I have seen many dreams die in my life because of fear of failure, inexplicably poor timing, etc. I was well-aware of the cliché definition of insanity (doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result) but could not seem to break from the patterns of life that limited my potential. I was what I was and deeply dissatisfied with that.
There was an undefined something that always seemed to crush my higher ambitions.
I could not beat an enemy that could not be defined. So I told God in no uncertain terms that I would literally crawl on hands and knees across a wilderness of broken glass to be made right. Throwing every bit of faith I could muster, like a gambler going all in with a desperate last gasp effort, I prayed “make the impossible possible for me” and then concluded my morning prayer.
It was an hour or two after that when I hopped out of my truck and went down writhing in pain. My knee buckled under me. In that moment what had been diagnosed as an MCL sprain became a full ACL tear and I knew that the implications were huge. I would be unable to perform the duties of my job and with that was facing financial uncertainty.
Still, despite excruciating pain, I was serene and confident.
God had answered.
Or so I hoped.
“It is what it is…”
My faith crumbled against that awful reality.
“You are thirty years old living in Milton.”
It was true and the implications clear enough.
I was a stick in the mud, already past my prime by the standards of some, and certainly not the adventure her heart was set upon. I simultaneously loved her brutal honesty and hated the harshness of judgment. My worst fear realized.
I had no defense.
When we finally parted ways I was lost in a haze. The rug yanked out from under me. My sputtering attempts to articulate my own heart had no effect on her whatsoever. Blissful hopes were mercilessly cut down by an otherwise nurturing soul.
My conversation with her end with my mouth involuntarily echoing her “it is what it is” plea and with that accepting the rationality of fatalism that had long dogged me.
A continuing cruel loneliness now seemed inevitable. I had tried many times before, taken my hits, always got back up again by believing next time would be better—that something greater would come from my suffering rejection. But this time I could not delude myself with hope.
My faith had lost the day—my hope against hope had failed—and now a terrible fate of a despairingly cold and isolated life was upon me.
My mind, a place normally full of noise and activity, went totally blank as if unable to comprehend any of it. I was in shock about what had transpired and numb.
I wandered off aimlessly.
Into the wilderness of South Dakota.
Into the dark of night.
The storm brewing in overhead seemed to perfectly mirror the log-jam of conflicted thoughts and swirl of deep emotions.
My delusion of hope that a young ambitious woman might find me desirable enough to consider a romantic relationship was shattered into a million fragments. My failure to achieve now clung to me like an unforgivable sin. Very soon I awoke from my stupor into an inescapable nightmare of reality.
The uneasy calm broke when Johnny and Brian somehow found me. The rain, which had coincidentally held to precisely the moment they carried me to the shelter of an awaiting truck cab, began to pour down in torrents and so did my tears.
Escaping reality was impossible.
Doing battle with the it…
Most people nowadays pursue career first and romance second. But I had these things in reverse order. I prioritized relationship and postponed all else.
My reasoning was that it would be better to form life ambitions and goals together as a couple rather than apart. And I might have pulled it off had I been a bit less socially awkward. Unfortunately I had this vexing tendency to freeze up as soon as my interest was piqued and thus my early romantic pursuits failed miserably.
Years were frittered away with unfulfilled dreams, chasing one false hope after another and waiting for opportunities that never came.
Not to say that I did nothing of value in that time either. I gained life experience, slowly built confidence in my abilities, learned to live independently, and gained perspective.
However, it was hard not to feel a failure.
There seemed to be this mysterious “it” that always kept my best efforts from panning out and nobody had the answers for this that I craved.
I’ve heard all the cliché advice I could ever stomach. One person says try harder and the next will say you’re trying too hard. One tells you “you’re intimidating” and the next says you lack confidence. You’re basically wrong no matter what you do.
The same one who says they want someone “mature” rejects your offer and then dates a teenager whom she later marries. It is incredibly confusing when the same person who says you’ll make a “great husband” refuses to even consider a date.
It is impossible to define exactly what the “it” is. It was a ball of anxieties, that inexplicably poor timing, a curse of a jealous enemy, the lack of true community and help.
It was many things and yet nothing at all.
It was an invisible monster that chased me throughout my life. It was the glass wall that seperated me from those who were more able to conquer the obstacles in their way and achieve their goals. It was my doing too little too late or too much too early. It was my always being close to the mark and yet never hitting it.
The “it” is not something external to be vanquished. It is everything from my formative years up until the present moment that I’ve experienced or thought. It is my home, my genetic and cultural inheritance, the good and bad together intertwined and inseparable as part of my own character.
The “it” is a sum total of what defines me as a person.
It was inescapable.
It is me.
It is what we make it…
Her certainty about her own direction was why she was so attractive to me. It was never my plan to grow old in Milton.
However, she seemed to believe that her personal ambitions were something that made us incompatible. To me our lack of similar résumé was not a disqualification, I saw our differences as an asset, considering her strengths as being complimentary rather than contradictory to mine, but she disagreed.
She was my last remaining escape plan.
I did not eat in the days after because I had no desire to continue as I had and seemingly had no escape. I wanted to die and would rather starve than keep feeding myself with more false hopes.
I cried, “I have no vision!”
I so desperately wanted free of a mind seemingly incapable of focus. I had seemed to do fine in a structure. I was a diligent worker, a loyal friend, responsible and dedicated. But leave me too free to choose my own path and I would dither indefinitely in indecision.
God provided just enough reason to get me out of bed. I cleaned up, composed myself a bit, ate the cup of yogurt and glass of water mom provided. I faced her again, my elusive hope against hope, and then in the weeks following I went under the knife to have the torn ligament replaced with a graft and after that began the months of rehabilitation. My goal to come back stronger than before and physically I did.
What also happened in my time off of work was a book (written but shelved pending further review) and this blog. I’ve found some answers in blogging. Writing my experiences and recording some of my thoughts has seemed to help provide some direction. The more vulnerable I’ve become the more friends and opportunities to serve I’ve seemed to gain.
Why am I Mennonite?
I have never been the Mennonite golden boy.
I’ve never had the swooning attention of the favorites who better represent the ideals of Mennonite culture. I’ve always done things a little different. I was who I was and gave up on being anything besides that. But still, I longed to gain acceptance in the Mennonite culture.
In Mennonite culture marriage is acceptance and not all are. Yes, sure, we’ll let most anyone be a member so long as they complete the required steps, but marriage is where the reality of a two tiered system becomes very evident. There are the kids born in the right homes, the ones able to do all the things that make them popular within their cultural context and marriageable, and then there are those of us who don’t fit the mold.
She represents a direction that I thought my life should go in. Her Mennonite idealism, her simplicity of role or purpose in life, represented something deep within my own heart and desirable.
However, many who have read my blogs question this and ask… “why are you still Mennonite?”
It is question that I dislike.
I’m Mennonite because I like being Mennonite.
We have such a neat and tidy cloistered existence. We have beautiful families. We are the happy Hobbits living in the Shire of Middle-earth. Everything we do is safe. Even our missionaries typically go out to all the corners of the world yet never leave the protection of their religious confines.
It has been suggested to me recently that I have “out grown” the tradition. That is the question that I have wrestled with as of late.
Can one actually out grow their home?
I’m running out of arguments why to stay in a denomination that is more about conforming to cultural expectations than transformation of mind and living a life of true faith.
It is hard not to notice that most of the help on my journey came from those leaving the Mennonite tradition or outside of it. The support I’ve gotten from those within has been grudgingly or something that needed extracted and done as mere religious duty. I hear brotherly love spoke of by Mennonites, but it seems more relic or ritual than actually reality. The real brotherhood I’ve experienced, the genuine Christian love, comes from beyond my own Mennonite tradition.
Does a man of faith belong with those who shrug “it is what it is” rather than risk a small step into unfamiliar territory?
Should I have any part with those who eagerly travel over land and sea to win a single convert and yet would never go in a direction they don’t understand?
Still there is a strong urge to remain a part.
I’ve always thought all voices were needed in the conversation and the including mine. If everyone capable of challenging the cultural status quo leaves it would create even more tunnel vision and further imbalance. My strengths, rejected or not, would be of benefit to those who think they have all the answers and are confident about the tradition they received.
Composites make a stronger material than their component parts—shouldn’t the bond of love be able to do the same with two dissimilar people?
There is a time to wait and there is a time to take decisive action. I have given up many opportunities for placing my hopes within the context of my Mennonite culture and gone many years without seriously considering the alternatives.
Mennonite is my cultural identity. Despite my many idiosyncrasies, I’ve always been Mennonite at heart and somewhat proud of my ethnic and religious heritage. How does one unbind and divorce themselves from their cherished past?
It is not like I haven’t ventured out before in search of what I might find only to return again as if drawn by an invisible force that grew stronger the further away I got from whoopie pies and covering strings. But things do change and there could be a force stronger than that which always pulled me back.
When I asked God to make the impossible possible for me, I had a personal vision that included remaining Mennonite and the young woman that I knew was an impossibility as far as worldly logic is concerned. But it now seems possible that my vision then was too narrow and that I should look beyond to the other options available.
Being Mennonite is not the be all end all. God calls us to go beyond the limits we set for ourselves or those set for us by our cultures and that is my intention. It doesn’t matter what my religious peers or even my blood relatives think—Jesus called us to follow Him and leave our fears, insecurities and inadequacies behind us.
Maybe impossibility made possible for me is something I never anticipated?
That is what have I learned since that day tearing my ACL, in recovery from yet another slap of rejection, and from the battle with the “it” which drove me to extremes in search of answers. I learned that I do not have all the answers and don’t need all the answers before I am able to step out in faith.
There are many things that will soon come to a head for me and most I am unable to talk openly about at this time. Many of these things being pivotal life changing decisions that must be made. What happens in the next couple months will determine many things.
Your prayers to help me through this transitional time are very appreciated. Pray that the impossible is made possible.
This is my first guest post. It is written by my mom (a person who encouraged my writing) and resonated deeply with me. It is something my mother shared recently about her own mother’s decline in health and I asked permission to share here. I felt it was something relevant and worthwhile for those who have faced or are facing similar circumstances. A story about memory loss and love…
Sitting on the couch my mom reaches for her phone. She snaps it open and stares at the face that greets her. The man who has been at her side for over sixty years stares back. Her fingers haltingly push the button that calls him. It rings and I hear his voice answering.
She pauses; words no longer come easily for her. But I know what she will say. She will ask him to come back into the house.
As I reach for the phone I reassure her that Dad has just gone out for a walk and he will be back in time for supper. She seems to understand, but I know that as soon as I leave the room she will be trying to call him again. Her mind can no longer retain anything that was said a minute or two ago. She wants her husband, my dad, to be by her side night and day. He has become her memory and her security in this foggy world of hers.
My mother has been given the diagnosis of dementia likely caused by Alzheimer’s. At the age of eighty this isn’t really that unusual. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in nine people over 65 has Alzheimer’s disease. One of three senior citizens will die with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia.
My Mom has beautiful eyes: big, bright and blue. She had lovely long hair which never turned gray and kept its blonde streaks into her seventies. She would faithfully wash it once a week, often using whipped egg whites as conditioner. It was her pride and glory. When she was diagnosed with Non-Hodgins Lymphoma, I believe the most severe blow was that treatment would cause her to lose her hair. But to live she had no choice. The cancer was stage four and her swollen lymph nodes were giving her a lot of pain.
Except for her hair loss, she tolerated the heavy duty cocktail of chemo drugs rather well. It was with much relief that after her last treatment she was pronounced cancer free. However, she seemed to becoming more and more confused. Her once sharp memory wasn’t there and she constantly wanted pain pills for some ache somewhere.
Instead of getting her strength back she wanted to do nothing but curl up on the couch. She began refusing to shower, or even comb the hair which had begun to grow back. Having to leave the house and attend any activity with people made her extremely anxious. My dad desperately held on to the hope that she was still recovering from the cancer. He insisted that once her strength came back things would get better. But after cognitive memory testing by the doctor, it became obvious that she was showing signs of dementia.
I was aware of symptoms of dementia and saw the effects it had on my grandmother and the toil it took on my aunt as her caretaker, but they lived several hours away and our contact was minimal. The reality is much harder when you deal with it day to day.
Dementia is often misunderstood as being something all old people have; however it is actually a part of different diseases. Alzheimer’s is the one that often comes first to mind but mini strokes, vascular issues, Lewy’s disease, Parkinson’s and even brain trauma can lead to the diagnosis of dementia. My mother has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s but the doctors seem to think the cause of her dementia is Alzheimer’s.
Today when I look into my mother’s eyes they look back at me empty of emotion. Occasionally she surprises us with a smile, and for a brief moment I see them light up. But most of the time, they remain dead to her surroundings. Her face seems fixed into some sort of mask of confusion. During her calm times her eyes stare blankly into the distance. When agitated she has the look of a distressed child.
It is now supper time and my mother makes her slow trek to the kitchen gripping her walker for support. I pull out her chair and she sits down. I hand her some napkins which she seems to enjoy folding. It is one of the few things she still can do.
My dad comes into the house, and with his usual style, asks Mom how she is feeling. Although he hasn’t had a positive answer from her concerning her health for months, he seems to retain some sort of illusive idea that it may yet happen.
He deeply misses his soulmate. They were unusual by today’s standards. There was no independence in their relationship: they did everything together and it seemed to work for them. Dad enjoyed driving and Mom did the navigating. Dad liked watching people while Mom did the grocery shopping. They both enjoyed going out for fast food, Burger King was a favorite, and they preferred eating in the car together rather than inside.
Mom always made sure Dad had three meals a day and that his needs were well taken care of. However, that all changed with her cancer diagnosis. She hasn’t cooked since. Today we all take turns making sure they have a cooked meal each day.
At the supper table, I try to bring back some sort of connection by talking about my birth fifty some years ago. Mom is still able to recall my date of birth but she isn’t sure how old she is or even what day or year it is.
One of the frustrating things about dementia is the way it plays with your emotions. One minute the person can be reciting a date or event in perfect order but then a moment later have no idea who they just talked to or what was said. A person with dementia has good and bad days just as any normal person does. This puts caretakers on an emotional seesaw, since the good days make you want to believe that the person is getting better.
The first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word dementia is loss of memory. Of course this is true but we all experience some loss of memories throughout the years. The disease or injury that causes dementia is much more complicated than simply forgetting something. It takes many cranial connections to make a decision, to recall how to turn on a stove, know the steps in taking a shower. Once this processing is damaged, or gone, a person becomes more and more limited. They need someone to give them step by step directions for each and every process of the day.
Today is one of Mom’s good days. She seems relaxed, when several of her younger grandchildren show up, she smiles. Instead of lying on her couch she remains sitting watching the activity. She motions to me. I can see that she wants to say something but her voice is subdued, and hard to hear. I move next to her.
“Do we have any smarties?” she asks me. It is her favorite treat for the children.
I check the dish she keeps next to her bedside. It has several pieces and I give her the dish. Her face lights up as she hands them to the children, and for a short time I see my mom back.
My mom’s biggest goal in life was to take care of her husband and family. She faithfully raised seven children and celebrated the birth of each 30 grandchildren and 20 some great-grandchildren.
My mom enjoyed listening to music, reading and going to church and social activities. Now she no longer wants to attend any type of social activity and refuses to have any music playing around her. She can’t focus to read. Although still able to read the words the comprehension is no longer there. She has always been a follower of Christ with strong convictions but now no longer prays before a meal unless my Dad reminds her.
One of the cruelest things of dementia is the loss of the personality of the person you love. The disease has robbed her and us of some of the most precious parts of the human relationship.
In exception of one thing: unending love. My mom is surrounded by agape love. For sixty years my dad has been with her and is committed to being there until the end. Although he has taken on the role of caretaker, his love for her remains the same.
Each of her four daughters is involved in her care, making sure her daily needs are being met. Her daughters in laws have faithfully been making meals for several years with even some of her grandchildren helping out. We all play different roles motivated by love.
One evening as I sat next to my mom who was lying on the couch with her eyes closed, seemingly sleeping, she reached out her hand and put it in mine. She then took her other hand and laid it on top. A wave of warmth spread over me. I haven’t felt that kind of emotional connection from her in a long time.
In that simple gesture, I knew that in spite of her confused state Mom was feeling loved. In return she was offering the one thing she could still give back: affirmation of her love. No disease can ever take that away.
The latest salvo in the fight is over the current segregation of public restrooms. The proponents of change and traditionalists battle it out for control on social media and in the public arena.
Both argue the moral inferiority of the other side. Both claim to be defending the security of their loved ones. Both threaten to take punitive measures against those who do not comply with their demands.
It is a fight where nobody seems to win and everyone comes out a loser. But what if this two sided debate is actually false dichotomy? Could there be a third option solution where all could win?
Perhaps, if all sides of this struggle for control could put down their rhetorical and political weapons for a moment, there is a better example to follow?
I believe there is a better ‘third’ way that is neither dogmatically religious nor demandingly progressive. I believe there is an alternative where all can win and none lose.
However, before I can get to the solution I need to discuss where the other options fall short and to do this I have defined a few categories.
(Please understand in advance that there is overlap between my categories and many people may not fall neatly into one or another.)
1) Liberal ‘progressive’ or secular values are marketed as love, tolerance, inclusion and open-mindedness. The promise is a more fair or high-minded society, but the result is often as petty and even more divisive than what it seeks to replace. It is morally incoherent, in one breath claiming to be non-judgmental and making more allowance for free expression, but in the next moment enforcing strict dogmas of politically correct language and behavior.
Those who do not comply with the moral edicts of progressives should be prepare to be shamed, belittled and bullied into silence. Those who fall away, question or challenge the new orthodoxy will be labeled as a bigot, racist, homophobe, misogynist, hateful or insensitive. The shouts of “don’t judge me” are often only a tool to drown out dissent and not a consistently applied principle. These bleeding hearts are out for blood as much as those they accuse of lacking understanding or compassion.
2) Conservative ‘nationalistic’ or established values are the present cultural norms and current notions of common sense. This is the flag waving proud patriotic perspective held by those who believe their own values (football, freedom and frequent beer consumption) represent the greatness of the American past, present and future. These are the biggest defenders of the status quo, their status quo, and never minding that their current cherished culture was formed yesterday.
These are the people who complain about outsourced jobs while simultaneously shopping at Walmart and criticizing as lazy those who aren’t as successful as them. This is the moral majority of the moment that sees their own privileges and preferences as fundamental rights without respect or consideration of those who see differently. They have also abandoned the traditional values of their parents and grandparents yet still condemn those who go a step further than them.
In their eyes America was almost always right. Historic injustice is white washed with a brush of romanticism. Slavery, racial inequality, segregation of schools, massacres and other abuses against native people are forgotten. The sins of our modern imperialistic aggression and global hegemony are downplayed. “It’s ‘merica, baby, land of the free, home of the brave!”
3) Religious ‘fundamentalist’ or traditional values are those out of the mainstream who claim to represent God’s will and freely judge all people—especially those outside of their own sub-cultural group. These self-proclaimed sanctimonious gatekeepers to the realm of moral truth annoy everyone who doesn’t share their own interpretations. People call them the “Bible-thumpers” and they come with a “holier then thou” attitude that is a major turn off to those outside their own cult.
They pose as authorities on spiritual matters. However, their knowledge doen’t seem to know much beyond their proof-texting and dogmas. They use “the Bible says” and selectively quote the Old Testament when it suits their own agenda. But gloss over and don’t deal honestly with other culturally inconvenient Biblical realities like captured brides, naked prophets and daughters sacrificed in God’s name.
They make fun of the sensitivity of the progressives and then cry “persecution” when they themselves are opposed. They feel entitled to a special privileged position in society as God’s favorites. They use grace as a cover for their own sins without extending the same to those who sin differently or disagree.
4) Faithful ‘Spirit And In Truth’ followers are those who pick up the cross and live to be a consistent example of self-sacrificial love. These are those who seek to be the literal embodiment of Jesus Christ. This means they follow his commandments to love their neighbors as themselves, to do unto others as they would have them do for us and, while seeking to purify themselves of evil, leave judgment outside to God.
It is a way that doesn’t seek power to impose on others and instead is committed to self-sacrificial love and leadership by example. It is the beautiful alternative to the endless cycles of reaction, retaliation and repeat again. It forgives and frees others of their sin debt to us. It builds a new identity in Jesus and is a truth that is lived more than preached.
How are Christian values different from progressive values?
There are some similarities. Jesus broke from the established religious and cultural standard. He identified with the societal outcasts and was full of compassion for hurting people.
But Jesus did not turn to more law or greater regulation of offending behavior as the solution. He did not urge a political fight or demand his voice be heard by government authorities. He did not lead massive protests against the privileged and powerful. Instead Jesus showed the example to follow, he offered his own life as atonement for the sins of others and forgave offenses.
How are Christian values different from ‘traditional’ American values?
There are many who characterize America as a ‘Christian’ nation and really do a disservice to the truth in this. America does have some ‘Christian’ values reflected in its history and did certainly provide a haven of religious freedom.
However, this conveniently glosses over the fact that founding fathers were not faithful. Thomas Jefferson, for example, cut out portions of the Bible he found disagreeable. Ben Franklin lived immorally according to a Christian standard.
The individualism, materialism and entitlement mentality of modern America is not in the least bit reflective of the teachings of Jesus.
How are Christian values different from religious and Biblical fundamentalist values?
Oftentimes it seems those who are closest to the truth who are the furthest away. Or, at least, this was the case with those who inherited the Scripture in Jesus day and thought of themselves as experts in morality. But human efforts, even the most diligent of human efforts, cannot bring anyone a step closer to the truth.
The truth, as found in Jesus, is not an accumulation of knowledge and careful application that leads to moral superiority. No, the way of Jesus is acknowledgement of our inability—it is humble, repentant and is fully dependent on the grace of God.
Putting down Peter’s sword…
We could have everyone forced to use the ‘right’ restroom without accomplishing anything more than Peter’s sword:
“Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) Jesus commanded Peter, ‘Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?'” (John 18:10-11)
Peter thought he was defending the truth and mission of Jesus, but actually stood in the way of God’s plan. Peter, who was rebuked on several occasions for his lack of understanding and overzealousness, treated the servant as sword practice.
By contrast, the John’s account treats the man Peter wounded as a unique individual with a name: Malchus. And, in a parallel account (Luke 22:51) Jesus demonstrates a different way, he heals the ear of Malchus—a man sent to bring him to his death—and showed the true Christian value.
Peter was fighting a losing battle. He had his own vision different from that of Jesus. He thought he was defending truth when in reality he was a part of the problem. He thought his act was one of total commitment to the cause when it was in fact the opposite.
Peter’s act is perfect a metaphor of what happens when those of us who claim faith in Jesus go out militantly defending our own religious values with political force—we cut off ears.
And picking up the cross to follow Jesus…
“From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’ Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.'” (Matthew 16:21-23)
Here Peter was completely willing to fight for the kingdom of God, but for his enthusiasm is called small minded, a stumbling block and mouthpiece for Satan.
Can you imagine how Peter felt?
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?'” (Matthew 16:24-26)
This was not what Peter or the other disciples had in mind. They pictured themselves as co-rulers of a worldly kingdom and had been arguing things like who would sit on the right hand of Jesus on his earthly throne when they finally defeated Rome.
But Jesus paints a picture entirely different. He’s predicting his death, a painful and humiliating death on a Roman cross, while urging them to follow the same path of self-sacrificial love. He was trying to explain a reality bigger than their worldly political visions and values.
What are Christian values?
Jesus, after being baptized, after receiving the Spirit’s anointing and being tempted in the wilderness, announced the start of his ministry by quoting the prophet Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)
That is where we start. That is Christian values in a nutshell.
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already…” (John 3:17-18)
That’s the good news. Jesus didn’t come to condemn anyone, but to heal the sick, restore sight to the blind, forgive impossible debts, reconcile relationships with God and bring freedom to those condemned to death. It was a message of restoration and hope, not condemnation.
Christian values begin and end in living out the example of Jesus Christ. Jesus was not a progressive, not a defender of cultural status quo nor a religious fundamentalist, his values were higher and spiritual. He was not seeking legal power or political advantage so he could impose on others, that wasn’t his fight.
“Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.'” (John 18:36)
Having Christian values means one shares the same priorities as Jesus. It means talking up the cross of self-sacrificial love and showing the way of grace. Jesus was not a cultural warrior seeking to impose values by force of law or a sword, instead he is an advocate for those lost in sin.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter what restroom your neighbor uses, that is an argument where both sides lose and a distraction. What matters is how our own attitudes and actions reflect those of Jesus Christ.
We must put our rhetorical swords down. We must love our (political) enemies and heal rather than cut off ears.