Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Holy Shamoley

Because, really, there's little else holy about it. From Teflon of Molten Thought*, a cautionary tale about -Ianity without Christ (and a much better title than the one you see here).

Every time I share a tale about something like this, I'm met with a warning "not to judge." In the sense that I am forbidden to say that I'm going to heaven and any of these folks aren't - absolutely. But in the sense that of the two of us, one may be getting more help - of course I can. In fact, I have to, in order to put myself in the position to get as much help as I can toward heaven, because Word has it that it's not easy to get there. Simple, yes; blessedly simple. It's simple to fly, too, as Douglas Adams reminds us: Throw yourself at the ground and miss. That doesn't make success any easier.

In this case, the trouble isn't really with any one thing. Praising God with contemporary song? Not bad in itself; even done badly (as it often is) it can be a help to some people. A down-to-earth pastor**? Good for him. Friendly milling about? My own Roman Catholic parish has the friendly milling down perfectly.

Now, add them all together, and one gets the impression that the whole affair lacks focus; that following Jesus involves nothing in the way of sacrifice or penitence or even basic solemnity. Not all solemn things are unhappy, you know. The key in Teflon's post is here: "The choir director was allowed to exalt God one more time with a hymn..."

Eureka. If you want to know what worship is about, that's it: we exalt the Lord our God. People don't like to do that, which is why churches in general have traditionally been solemn and serious places; to remind us visibly of the importance of being a congregation that belongs to Christ. Anyone will tell you that the lesson we hate most is usually the one we need to keep coming back to - in this case, every Sunday at least. We don't do this to make Him like us, but to express our gratitude that He already loved us, and died for us while we were yet His enemies.

It's certainly possible that a person at home in the First Reformed Comfy Couch for Believers is holier than I am. (To quote CS Lewis, for his sake I hope he is.) But it's possibly certain that this atmosphere is an obstacle to the faith, because it spits out the hard bits and leaves behind the mush. It's quite easy to come to think of Jesus as a buddy and thus as a helpful extra or a refined taste for well-rounded people, rather than as the Savior of the world. Or to put it another way - if you're really convinced that mankind is fallen and needs to be ransomed from evil, who would you trust to be capable of it: hand-holding, head-tilting Jesus, or table-flipping, storm-rebuking Jesus?

To go further, I don't think that the hand-holding Jesus makes much sense at all without the table-flipping. There's been no shortage of people willing to pat us on the head and say, "There, there, it's OK and so are you." There is a decided shortage of people willing to smack us on the rumpus and say, "It's not OK, but you can still do it if you're willing to get back up and keep going." Comforting only makes sense if one is first un-comfortable.

As the Man himself said, Test the spirits to know if they are true - and in this test we see that exclusive hand-holding is a loser. We do this stuff all the time to our kids nowadays. They can't play overly physical sports because someone may fall down go boom. They can't keep score because losing is disappointing and sad. They can't play pickup games and thus they never learn how to work out their own problems. They can't play cowboys and indians because it's culturally mean, nor cops and robbers because guns are wrong, whether or not it's the robber shooting children or the cops shooting the robbers to stop them.

Sure, kids did feel bad when they lost, and when the winners rubbed their noses in it. But the lesson came when strong role models told them not to do that if they won the next time, and taught them how to honestly deal with disappointment. And when they did win, it was sweeter because it was earned honestly, and not given to them in the spirit of "fairness." (In fact, in this sense "fairness" is dishonest, because it unfairly confers a reward on failure and slacking, making them equal to success and diligence.) The alternative is to never be able to cope with failure, making one whiny and miserable all one's life.

Losing is, in fact, a true life lesson - one learns that others are superior in all sorts of skills and contests, and one can (given healthy guidance) remember to be happy for what one actually is, instead of resenting what one is not, and indulging a grievance against the world for exceeding one's own capacity. Think of the mess if everything was like that - a Vonnegutian nightmare where the best medicine, symphonies, cuisine, engineering, athletics, etc. were no better than what any one average person could accomplish on their own. It would be a terrible world if nobody in it could sing or cook or paint better than I could. We want and need people to be vastly better than us in some areas, and it's better for all concerned if neither we nor they were made to feel guilty about it.

So what does this have to do with church? Simply put, what people are trying to do to all of us, they've first tried to do to Christ - He is infinitely better than every last one of us in the one thing that really matters - He is perfect, sinless, God-made-man. If we do not have ANY acknowledgement of this, then the news that He is also our friend loses all its impact. The Methodists that Teflon describes, in focusing exclusively on the friend part of things, lose the power of that revelation. God Incarnate cares and decided to use His might to free us from bondage; in fact, the only possible way that it could work is if He is in fact the Son of God as well as the Son of Man. Lose that grandeur, and you lose everything else. Fail to come to grips with our own failure, through sin, and one can scarcely grasp the Good News that even this can be remedied. Lent comes before Easter for a reason.

*I have GOT to get these guys onto the sidebar before too much longer.
** Pastor "Honky Cat." Heheheheheheh.

No comments: