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Saturday, October 5, 2013

Can't We All Just Get Along? (The Answer to Christian Cannibalism)

You've probably heard the term "Christian cannabilism." It gets applied to situations in which one believer or group of believers has disagreement with another individual or group, and rather than building one another up and affirming the positive, one side (or both sides) tries to consume the other. Left unchecked, all manner of schisms can occur, from lost friendships to rifts in congregations to even divisions in denominations. The point of this blog entry is not to argue that there is never a reason to divide. But it is to point out that maybe if we could try to understand one another before reaching that point, then perhaps it would either happen less or happen less painfully.

First, we start with the foundation of how we know and relate to the world. As our God is triune in nature, he often designs triads into our existence and experience, and this relationship we have with our physical world and life in it can be placed in one of those triads.

The drawing below shows that each individual person has a point from which he or she views the world. This is me, in the existential position--I exist. From that point of existence, I look outward to everything that touches my life. The world and all my decisions and choices in it: what I value, how I parent, which job I take, who I befriend, whether I save or spend or share. Everything lies before me and is seen from the point of my existence.
But I view all those things through a triadic structure. And here's where it gets interesting.

There are two elements that I am in relationship to, which affect HOW I view the world and all my decisions I must make in it. Coming down from above, from outside this created world, is revelation. It comes with authority from God. This is scripture primarily, but also general revelation and the revelation of conscience. Across from me is the situational component--the life situation, the physical world and the time as well as space I inhabit. This is the culture I live in, complete with the conventions of the day, the traditions the culture upholds, the story of the history that brought this culture to this point in time and space. As I look at the world and the decisions and choices for me to make in it, my view will be shaped by both the culture I live in (and its conventions and traditions) and the revelation of God.

In an ideal scenario, there would be a very easy, balanced view of that world which we all commonly held. So this arrow here (I won't scare you non-math folks off by calling it a vector, as author Dr. Esther Meek did) shows that view. Bisecting perfectly the midpoint between revelation and culture, one might make decisions and choices that gave equal weight to God's revelation and to a (hopefully trustworthy and on-target) set of conventions and cultural norms and expectations.

But they say "There's no such thing as an average citizen." And that's the rub that causes Christian cannibalism. Because there's also no such thing as an average Christian. In my case, for instance, I'm always going to be just a little bit unconventional. I'm not outrageously so, but I am never completely satisfied with the status quo unless I've evaluated it to own it myself, with confidence that it's consistent with a real Christian calling for how to live. I also tend to expect that everyone else has done the same evaluation. So I'm far more likely to crank my view upward, emphasizing more the revelational than the cultural (even with all its historical support, or its reactionary support). But as it turns out, that isn't always very popular in conservative communities.

 In fact, I've met all these responses as a result of that perspective. Some are perplexed, worried, not sure what to make of such an emphasis. Some get angry and feel the need to put a stop to anything not as conservative as the way things have always been viewed or done. Others are downright scandalized and shocked. It's an uncomfortable place to be.

 On the other hand, some people (far less likely to be me) trust that the culture they live in really must be the most correct. (I am referring here mostly to the conservative Christian community, since that is the only one much concerned with approaching life through this triad.) As those look at the world and their choices, they are content to let the familiar culture and its norms which they know and operate in guide them. They expect that the conventions and traditions they were brought up in are biblical, and therefore the right way to approach whatever lies before them (and others).

 The result of being conventional, then, is that a few of the community may be pleased with you. And pretty much everyone else doesn't notice a thing. They go on about their own life-making, with a blissful apathy as you fit in well with their expectations. It's freeing, in a sense, because the worry, anger, and scandal is off the table. And no one really likes to be negatively the center of attention, right, even if there's something good to come of it in the end? If I do what everyone expects me to do, I can coast through this thing called life, right? Right?

 Well... maybe some can. I, however, do not feel God's pleasure when I take that approach. I hear his voice sometimes above the conventions of the Christian community. I hear him wanting me to wake up. I hear him telling me that being satisfied with the way so-and-so does things isn't the calling he has for me.

"What is it to you?" he said to Peter, when Peter wanted to know John's story. "You follow me." 

And so the bunch of us may set our arrows at any point along that line of being informed and guided, some more by biblical revelation and authority, and some more by culture and accepted convention. And we're a big hodge-podge, then, of how we approach this Christian life. And over the course of a life, one whose arrow is cranked far over in one direction may find God moving his perspective to a different focus.

And you know what? That's really not dangerous. Or evil. It's not sinful to be more given to question tradition and search the scriptures for the heart of the truth, even if it changes how you relate. It's also not sinful to do the best you can in this life, leaning on the framework set up by others of the faithful while you are weak, or young in your faith, or just uncertain at times, taking the crumbs that fall from the Master's table to nourish you until he gives a Feast.

As long as the focus is somewhere between those points of revelation and situation, you're on the chart. It's when we get outside of those points that things get dicey. Crank your view up too high, so that you completely reject any influence of the physical world and the situation you are placed in, and you're in the range of the radical zealots (which occur in almost--possibly all--religions as well as those who claim no religion). Radical zeal that cares nothing for the community in which it is placed is what results in terrorism and anarchy.

On the other hand, tradition that will not be informed by genuine revelation--entire revelation, the whole of God's merciful plan--results in hyper-legalism. Merciless rule-making with concern only for doing things the way WE, the powerfully self-justified, do things. There's an ethnocentricity, arrogance, and judgmental piety that comes in here when the culture trumps the humility of the God who enters the physical world to go to the cross on its behalf.

Both positions are damned.

 And both of those positions should strike fear in us, because they are truly dangerous and spawn nothing of any earthly or eternal good.

But here comes the real kicker, for me, in this triad. Revelation came through evidence in creation, through the given scriptures, and through the embodiment of God in the person of Jesus Christ. Revelation was always meant to come directly to the individual as well as to the whole of the culture. God enters in for the purpose of transforming me and the time/place/community I live in, and to unite to himself and to one another, and to reconcile (bring peace) between himself and individuals, between himself and a people, and between individual-to-individual relationships. Revelation is FOR the real world. It's for me and it's for my culture.

And that in itself is evidence of the biggest, really the only, answer here to Christian cannibalism.


God did not have to speak into his creation. He did not have to enter into it. He did, though.

And for ALL, me, you, others, who believe, no matter where our perspective falls on that bond that connects his revelation to our world, we are all covered, equally, by his grace. Grace applies to every single decision, choice, even error (yes--even in the times when our journeys deviate off course--"When you turn again, Peter, encourage the brothers") we make, as long as we are approaching our world and everything in it through that triadic structure, and not outside the lines.

So if my attempts and your attempts are good enough for God, shouldn't they also be good enough for each other? Am I a stricter judge than God? Can we not wait patiently enduring in love with one another for our time here? Can we stop chowing down on one another because I hear the Holy Spirit calling me to live this way--a bit outside another's conventional comfort zone--and you hear the history of your Christian culture telling you to hunker down where you are, the way it's always been--even if I might want to see you burst into passionate response to the Savior and be willing to step out of the boat onto the surface of the water? I mean, really--only Peter, of all the disciples, actually stepped out of the boat. Were the others any less safe in God's grip because they stayed on board? Or were they justified at all if they chose to judge Peter for trying?

Can't we all just get along?

1 comment:

Janice said...

Thank you thank you for your wisdom! I love this picture, I love the truth if it, and the encouragement to love!