Saturday, January 15, 2011

What's It All About?

A colleague of mine enjoys teasing me because I (a) am married to an ordained United Methodist clergywoman, and (b) do all sorts of things one does not normally associate with what this person calls "being a churchboy", including liking psychedelic music (which this person refers to as "stoner music"). I find it fascinating not only because this person, who neither goes to church nor cares all that much for Church, seems to think it perfectly fine to tease me, with an undercurrent of moral scolding, for not conforming to some notion of what a "real Christian" does. Like, say, not listen to psychedelic music.

In a similar way, one of the recurrent right-wing scolds insists that I, and others, are "immoral". It is different only in degree rather than kind than my colleague's sometimes not-so-subtle scolding. Both charges - real Christians don't listen to all that weird music! Real Christians are MORAL! - hinge upon what is an irrelevant, and actually insidious, understanding of what it means to be a Christian. I was trying to figure out a way to sort through all this when I came across this post by John Meunier.
A holy person does no harm to himself or to others, either by what he does or by what he leaves undone.

A holy person does good to all people she encounters. Her life is one that enriches others in their bodies, their minds, and their souls. And she cares just as much for her own body, mind, and soul because there is great joy in living fully into the goodness of her own life.

A holy person knows where the power source of life can be found, and he is constantly found there. He worships with passion and reverence. He prays without ceasing. He searches the word of God with expectation that it has a word for him. He draws close to God by letting go of the world through fasting. He seeks out brothers and sisters to talk, listen, cry, celebrate, and mourn with because where they gather, God is.
This is a good start, and is very much in line with Wesley's understanding of holy living. All the same, I think there is a bit too much asceticism, a bit too little of the Bible in this. In particular, St. Paul. Paul's vision of what it means to be a Christian, at least in my understanding, begins with, "Christ came so that we have life, and that more abundantly." For me, holiness embraces not only the things John describes. Like St. Paul, and Jesus, it includes going about one's life no longer afraid that, in that living, one might slip and fall so far there will be no getting up. Jesus went about his work not caring for the moral scolds who insisted he hung out with the wrong crowd, or violated the rules set forth by God. St. Paul went about his missionary work even as he was chastised by St. Peter and the rest of the apostles. Why did they do this? Because both understood that, at its heart, being a Christian means being free.

It does not mean being free to do anything one wants to do. Rather, it means free to be as God intended. Living in service to others. Living with the understanding that God's love for us is real not because of what we do, but just because we are.

St. Paul does not speak of holiness directly. Rather he speaks of the fruits of the Spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. While he certainly insists that we are to conduct our lives in a manner blameless before other persons and God, it is in these expressions of a full human life that a Christian demonstrates what it means to be fully human as a Christian.

I'm not one to sit around and write about the moral failings of others. This isn't because I am an immoral person. Rather, it is because conventional morality is irrelevant to the Christian life. Again, not because I believe God is immoral or amoral. Rather, the Christian life both embraces and transcends any passing ideas on conventional morality, seeing the Christian life as one lived freely, for others, in love and joy and all the rest. Further, I honestly cannot imagine any circumstance in which God cares what music we might choose to listen to, anymore than I believe God cares whether we wear a suit and tie to church, or shorts and flip-flops (I once raised eyebrows in a eucharist service at Wesley Theological Seminary by showing up in shorts, a t-shirt, and flip-flops; the celebrant, indeed, was "offended").

As long as we focus on non-issues - how we behave in inconsequential matters speaks more about who we are before God - the Church will always run in to trouble. Instead, we need to be living our lives full of joy and laughter, love and patience, with a heart and mind turned out to the sufferings of others, seeking to help them, be a presence in the midst of their pain. That is true holiness. That is what the fruits of the Spirit yield. Whether or not I tell other people they are immoral or bad or evil is immaterial; that we show them God's love through our freely-given love for them - that is what matters.

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