"Before you can search for truth, you must be interested in finding it." -Miroslav Volf

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Highway 101 Musings

Joann and I just enjoyed a fabulous extended weekend at the Oregon Coast to celebrate our one-year anniversary. We enjoyed a night of camping in Pacific City, two nights at a hotel in Lincoln City, amazing, sunny (but not too hot nor cold) weather, good food, and lots of relaxation on the beach while reading or watching sunsets.

During the drive home, we had kind of a meandering discussion about various facets of Christian culture that prompted some good reflection in both of us. I don’t know that we reached many solid conclusions about anything, but it was a good reminder of the concern we share for our corporate Christian witness as well as our own capacity to emulate and represent well “the way” of Jesus and the historical, ancient community of which we are a part.

I share some of our discussion, assuming some of you have wrestled with similar matters (and maybe come to more solid conclusions than we did.)

Distinct language. A lot of Christian communities seem to have a unique vernacular. Some people talk about “the Lord” all the time. Certain denominations pray with incessant repeating of “Lord God” and some with “Jesus.” Some take every opportunity to attribute any pleasant occurrences to God: “The weather is gorgeous…God is so good to us!” Is this a good thing?

Joann and I thought there was something nice about continual mention of the person and work of Jesus or of God’s presence and activity in our lives—almost like it has a way of centering us, keeping us accountable, reminding us of who we are.

On the other hand, we worry about such language becoming meaningless with overuse. Does one need to attribute every fortune circumstance or every thing of natural beauty to God? Can’t a rose be beautiful, or must God be beautiful upon our seeing the rose? We want to enjoy the richness and depth of God’s creation…but must we verbally declare everything to “be God?”

Maybe the gift can be enjoyed without constant credit to the giver. On the other hand, maybe the gift is not nearly important as the giver.

Does God bless YOU? And, do we pray for the right things? We talked about the way people ask for specific things from God, as well as assume, when they feel a prayer has been answered or that something fortunate has occurred, that God has “blessed them.”

I’ll admit I don’t ask God to give me specific things that often, for what I think are well thought-out reasons connected to my understanding of the purpose of prayer, the character of God, and my own personal significance. Regarding that last point, I think my holdup is that sometimes I feel like I’m assuming I’m more important than I really am, that the events of my life carry greater significance than those of others.

For example, what about those prayers where, if we are being blessed, others are being cursed? If I pray for financial gain, does someone else experience financial loss? I don’t necessarily think of economics as a zero-sum enterprise where some must lose if others gain (mostly I don’t understand economics), but it seems like there are times when our being blessed or getting what we want would mean indirectly asking God to “curse” or “reverse bless” someone else.

It’s one thing to pray that God would help foster your ability to show compassion for people, especially if you believe that God or specifically the Holy Spirit is actively trying to transform your character. Such prayer has a way of centering us, focusing us, sensitizing us to the presence of God in us and in others. But to pray for sunny weather might be an unfortunate outcome for another person hoping for rain for whatever valid reasons.

I guess that’s what discourages me from those specifics in prayer. Plus the fact that, as I said to Joann yesterday, I’m not always sure I know what’s best for me, what path is most right, what kind of occurrence would really be beneficial for me. Being wrong often has probably shaken my confidence in telling God what God should probably do for me.

Correcting Christians. Is it okay to correct another Christians? I strive to be respectful of other points of view and to be tolerant of those whose lifestyle and beliefs differ from my own. But what role do I have in offering correction, rebuke, guidance, teaching, whatever you want to call it, to fellow Christians?

One could say no one ever has any right to offer guidance to another, unless they ask you for it. I see some validity in that; I think I receive guidance from others better when I ask them for it, because of the state my heart is in when I ask versus when I don’t ask.

I also don’t think I’d offer moral or lifestyle correction to, say, a Muslim, for example. If they asked my opinion, I’d kindly give it, sharing everything from my beliefs about who God is to the status of women to alcohol to whatever. But I think I’d feel it wasn’t my place to call them out, nor would I call out an atheist for their behavior. I don’t really think it’s fair to hold them to the same standards, since our beliefs about spirituality and morality differ significantly.

But what about other Christians who express their Christianity different? We’re all claiming to be a part of a community that is associated with Jesus and, unless you’re very liberal, believes Jesus is unique among other “messengers” of God.

Isn’t this part of what makes us cringe when a pastor intends to burn the holy books of other religions…or when Christian leaders are caught in affairs and deemed hypocrites…or when Christians use very harsh language and images to judge and tear down certain kinds of people?

I think I, though not claiming to be perfect, want to distance myself from such people. But I wonder if it is okay to call people out when I think they are in error, at least according to my own perspective. To say to another Christian any number of things: your views are misguided; your actions are harmful; you are in danger of some serious judgment from God; you’re making the Christian life less appealing to others; you look silly. Is that okay?

Maybe it’s easy to say yes to the obvious errors; if someone is physically abusing their spouse, it’s probably okay to say something to them, right? (Or at least report them to the authorities). But what about some of those more subtle differences? That’s what’s hard for me.

If someone has a very strong view of the authority of men and submissiveness of women in a marriage, and I think that despite their best intentions to “love” their submissive wives they are actually oppressing them, should I say something to them, or simply respect their divergent views on men and women? I’m not as sure about my views on men’s and women’s “roles” as I am about the matter of full-on domestic, physical abuse that I would want to treat my opinion like fact and boldly express it in all cases.

Or what if someone says “the Lord” all the time around non-Christians, and I think that their unique way of speaking is turning people off...or coming across as pushy...or revealing an inability to be aware of other people...or making them seem crazy...or misrepresenting what it is (not simply language or emotions) that should make a Christian different from others...maybe these are just my own biases? Should I encourage such people to be less cavalier or gung-ho or to express themselves differently?

Or should I see their way of speaking as valid, even a sign of someone so filled with devotion and faith that they can’t contain themselves? Maybe I’m the one who needs to mention God’s name in my speech more often so as to reveal the importance of God in my life to others.

Happy Christians? We were talking about a particular denomination of Christians that seem to be perpetually happy. They have strong faith, and while their theology may or may not have depth, we wonder: does it matter, in light of how happy they are?

One can easily (and often unfairly) critique certain segments of our faith for being intellectually shallow or use terms like “na├»ve” or “surfacy” or “sheltered” or “deluded” to describe certain followers of Christ.

But I wonder, for those that aren’t Christians—is this a negative thing? I would imagine it’s the angry, politically outspoken, vocally condemning segments of Christianity that are more problematic to those outside of Christianity. Or at least compared to them, happy Christians are maybe more, as Joann put it, “endearing” to non-Christians than anything.

It seems there’s a subculture in Christianity that is more laid-back and cool but critical and serious, rather than cheery and upbeat. But what’s wrong with being happy? Don’t you know some of these people who you know are Christian and just seem to never be angry or down or stressed about anything? Aren’t they kind of inspiring?

I guess some might call me a “happy Christian,” though I’m not sure I’d agree, based on the kind of person I think I'm describing. But I am happy quite often. And I’m a Christian. So…

Just some thoughts from our coastal trip up 101 yesterday. It wasn’t all serious conversation. Plenty of enjoying the scenery and laughing at suggestive restaurant names.

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