Archive for October, 2010

Re-Thinking The Question, Part 1

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

William Butler Yeats

In our most recent exchange, Prevailing Winds gadfly Ashwin indicts me by association, and not an association with the Christ he and I both worship. He insists that because many non-Christians who call themselves liberals agree with me on various issues of social and ecclesiastical justice, and most of my conservative Christian readers do not, then I must not only be a liberal, too, but unduly influenced by a need to please my friends on the left. I welcomed the recent defense in the “comments” section of Prevailing Winds of an old friend who described my political even-handedness both prior to my conversion and after it, and I then protested that I didn’t care about where, left or right, I landed on the spectrum representing any particular issue — I was concerned only with where the Lord Jesus stood, and with standing with him there as well.

I still feel that way; to place loyalty to any ideology above mine to Christ, or to care more about popular opinion than about his, cannot be an option for me or for any other believer. It’s a notion not worth even fleeting analysis, sort of like the question of whether or not I can please the Lord while rocking out at a Marilyn Manson concert, or if I can remain faithful to Christ while pilfering a stranger’s purse left in a grocery cart. So I’ll say again what I hope to already have made clear:

The only political, social, or theological position I ever want to adopt is that which most reflects the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

That said, something about my previous discussions with Ashwin left me restless. I came to wonder if my zeal to proclaim Christ above all obscured the very real fact that in trying to apply the Gospel to political policy, I do very often find myself to the left of most evangelicals. I’m not ashamed of that. The appeal of any position, perspective, or proposition originates for me in my trying to discern the will of the Spirit, not the whims of the left or the right. Still, it is true that when it comes to social policy, I most often find that the political left — quite unintentionally, I imagine — mirrors best the concern for the marginalized that was a hallmark of Jesus’ ministry. That the right fails miserably, in my mind, to represent the message of Christ is lamentable, and for me the question is if their missing the mark is because of or in spite of its religious wing’s zeal for Scripture. God’s Word is never wrong; those who apply it in anger and haste very often are.

I’ve been quite critical of what I’ve often called Moscow’s Academic Liberal Elite, many of whom seem to have forgotten why they ever bothered to become liberals in the first place, and I lament the preoccupation of some elements of the Left nationwide who either focus on the inane — criticizing food banks for taking non-free-range chickens — or the needlessly offensive, like defending hideous artists who produce hideous art. I have little patience with “liberals” who believe that tolerance is a virtue greater than integrity and courage, and I have none at all with those who’ve forgotten their commitment to the poor, the marginalized, and the powerless — those who traditionally have been the focus, however imperfect, of the political and social Left, and who are called by another name in the Word — “the least of these” Jesus spoke of so often.

But the historical focus of the Left, the belief that government can and should be an agent, and at times the primary agent, of betterment for the citizenry who elected it, is one I embrace. I embrace it because I find it compatible with the Scriptures. The secular, God-hating government headed by the faithful Joseph, for example, took his advice by formulating a grain collection-and-distribution program to save his people from famine. This is the first of many accounts in the Bible of God’s using government to effect the betterment of the people it serves — whether those people are true in their service to Yahweh, or have fallen into spiritual adultery or stupor. And God is clear: Government is ordained to do God’s work in the world by keeping order. Sometimes that “order” is defensive and militaristic; sometimes — most times — it’s both proactive and reparative, and social in nature.

(Part 2 follows)

The Myth Of An Unbiased God

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

“God is not evenhanded. God is biased, horribly in favor of the weak. The minute an injustice is perpetrated, God is going to be on the side of the one who is being clobbered.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa

Let’s Set The Stage . . .

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

I hope never to be away from Prevailing Winds for nearly as long as I was all last month, but I’m finally feeling like myself — and I’m willing to consider that a good thing, however much some of you might disagree. God has been good, and is good whether I’m feeling well or not. In fact, it’s in times of illness and disability that I understand that most profoundly.

Helping with that has been my newfound fascination with Medieval historical fiction, stoked when a friend of mine gave me Ken Follett’s “Pillars of the Earth.” I was puzzled, frankly, when Bonnie gave it to me; as far as I knew, Follett was just a British guy who wrote spy novels. I very rarely read fiction, although I resolved in the New Year to expand my reading horizons further than before — that is, beyond theology, feminist history, and political theory. Still, I hadn’t considered British spy novels, and I figured that growing up Catholic was more than sufficient exposure to the Medieval era.

But at the waterpark in August, the choice was between hurtling down the waterslides with my niece and her friend, or begging off because I had this book I just HAD to read. So I flipped open “Pillars” and was hooked by the second page. I devoured it and lamented its end, until I discovered the sequel, “World Without End.” I finished it during my illness and remembered a book that my then-15-year-old son called “lifechanging” — Stephen Lawhead’s “Byzantium.” I’m now midway through it and thrilled that he has a Medieval trilogy as well.

At this rate, I ought to be able to avoid vacuuming for at least the next year.

But I’ve found that all three books have strengthened my faith enormously. While the pryors, bishops, and prefects in the Follet books are generally scoundrels, the deficit in their characters serves to highlight the moral strength and courage in the humble monks and townspeople around them. And while I have certainly seen the “ecclesiastical leadership as scoundrels” theme played out around me over and over again in real life, Lawhead’s portrayal of genuinely devout monks and their superiors, and his exploration of the profoundly sincere piety they demonstrate, is really quite touching.

These books have deeply affected me. What’s surprising, though, is how much they’ve also confirmed the same passions and focus I initially strove to avoid by reading fiction. In each of these books, it’s clear — and not at all surprising — that the theology of the pre-Reformation Church was both a field of beauty and a path to loss, elements I hope to keep in mind in future posts which, while not Medieval in nature, will explore what’s right and what’s wrong with the Church today as I remember there truly is no new thing under the sun, only different ways the same old sins are played out.

An example? Well, in Follett’s books, it’s clear that gifted, outspoken, and passionate women of the Middle Ages, even those whose lives were infused by ineffable kindness and undeniable devotion, were the objects of suspicion and derision from the masculinist Church. These were the days when an unmarried, vocal woman was presumed to be a witch or seductress until proved dead. While we no longer burn women at the stake, or hang them in the public square, or strip them naked and stone them, those who see the image of the Holy One best expressed in and through a masculinist Church are still trying to choke the Holy Spirit’s working in the lives of women. Then as now, they may have stopped the women’s efforts — but there has never been a time in the history of the world, nor will there ever be an accurate account ever written, in which the Spirit of God was defeated by the sons of Adam.