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.
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.
"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.
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 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.
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?