Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Actual and Its Decoration

At a wedding, we used to decorate a woman's virginity with a white dress. Such is no longer the case. Women who have lived with their boyfriend for years opt for a white dress because it has become the traditional women's wear for the occasion. It is often the case that that which we valued enough to decorate is replaced by the decoration itself. At least the decoration become as important and folks need to do hard thinking to merely see the thing and its decoration discretely and separately. Do we need a Christmas tree to value the Incarnation? So it is with the Gospel. What is the message that saves and what is its decoration?

"What must I do to be saved?" asked the jailer in Philippi. What would you answer? St. Paul suggested that the jailer "believe in the Lord Jesus". That is the sufficient and necessary condition for salvation but what does this "belief" contain? Does it contain baptism? Does it contain repentance from sin? Does it contain calling on God? Does it contain church membership? The list goes on and many brands of Christian adherents would be happy to suggest additions to that list. Some decorate with the patina of age, some with art, some with new ideas hatched by evangelicals.

Saint Paul in Romans 10 makes it clear:
4 For Christ is the end of the law, that every one who has faith may be justified. 5 Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on the law shall live by it. 6 But the righteousness based on faith says, Do not say in your heart, "Who will ascend into heaven?" (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 or "Who will descend into the abyss?" (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach); 9 because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved. 11 The scripture says, "No one who believes in him will be put to shame." 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and bestows his riches upon all who call upon him. 13 For, "every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved." 14 But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? 15 And how can men preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!" 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel; for Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?" 17 So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ.

The Oracle sez: A propositional agreement to the claims of Christ's person and atonement with the response of turning from your sins and calling on God for forgiveness will bring to you the grace of God unto eternal life. Nothing less will work and nothing more is needful. All the rest is decoration. In some cases we decorate as authoritatively instructed and in some our decoration is ripe with our own artistic developments, now or in the past. Don't confuse the decorations with Faith Alone or it will not be Faith Alone for long.

Monday, August 18, 2008

If Pride is Wrong, Ought we Honor?

"Outdo one another in showing honor" (Romans 12:10). Honor is an odd thing. Most Christians would think that any thought of joy in your achievements would be the immoral Pride of Life. Honor then seems, in their minds, like showing up at church in a short skirt and plunging neckline. If Honor is a pleasurable gift we give to those we honor at the recognition of their dignity or accomplishment, are we not tempting them to pride? Why, in heaven's name, are we are told by the Apostle to do it? Maybe the pleasure serves a purpose for which it is worth risking pride.

We all agree, of course, that flattery is wrong, but why? The Scripture tells us to honor and not to flatter. In this distinction people need, before God, to know who they are, and honest honor is "another lips praising you and not your own" (Proverbs 27:2). This helps them know, confidently and with pleasure, the reach of humanity that they have arrived at being. They need to know, for God has delegated to them this Self, and that Self will one day be judged by God. They need to know accurately (risking, but not necessitating pride) or they, with conceit, would be pleased at the false. "For by the grace given to me I bid every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith which God has assigned him." Romans 12:3. Why is it Christians have, over the years, suspected that any pleasure for self was evil? Why did God make sex feel so good? And art so sublime? And honor about an achievement so satisfying? Those pleasures were made by God, and God, it says, "tempts no one". These things draw us as much to the good that God intended in their creation as to the bad.

All these gifts of God have a service which God desired and to which we must make payments. Husbands and wives must give each other conjugal rights. That there is, in fact, an erotically charged book in the Bible intimates that God wishes His good gifts to be pursued. Praise is an obligation, just like sex in marriage. And just like sex in marriage, it is the other which we serve with our action. The Lover, the Artist and the Praise-giver have their own share in the pleasure, but their task is clearly the communication of pleasures to the Loved, the Audience, and the Honored.

So as we honor, honestly and persistently, we announce the gains a man or woman has made to the ears of that man or woman. We tell them that their efforts have born fruit. Yes, they really do deserve that trophy. Just as when we praise God and we declare His great deeds, so it is with praising others. We announce to them that they are truly becoming that which a man is or can be. Since he is defined by the extent and success of his will, your honor to him is a scale, measuring what he willed and how he succeeded.

A world that markets Fear, be it in the News, the commercials, the worrying mothers, or the wusses we used to call "fathers" or "men", is playing a part in this game as well. While flattery is the usually insincere and certainly inflated measurement of the standing of he whom we honor, Fear is the measure of what still stands outside threatening the success of our will. In the purveying of Fear is the constant suggestion that defeat and loss are its currency. It says "you are not man enough to withstand this...". Fear announces, sometimes truly, that other things, Accident, Luck, Providence, the governments, or God Himself are real agents who rule an area outside our will. Flattery is dangerous because it tells us to go where angels fear to tread. And it is natural that we should fear going where we have not the chops to successfully rule. But where is fear bad? Fear is bad when it makes of us cowards. Fear is bad when your very humanity is jeopardized by an incorrect belief that you could not do what you certainly could and should. You become "safer" and your world becomes a zoo, where you can look "wild at heart" but never wander past unnatural confines. The fences are high, all the rocks are rounded, and they offer a diet and medicines promising to abate all futility— all this because you are too afraid to run your own life at the measure which God assigned. And that fear made you back up from and give up key elements of your humanity. You are left, not with rule by reason and wisdom, but with a packaged and plastic play area in which your most ignoble urges can play.... with a helmet. Perhaps if we honored others like we were told, we could hinder this culture of the terrified.

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Well of Fear

The well of Fear is deep, perhaps bottomless. It will never run dry. We as a nation used to run on Hope, hope in our abilities and hope in our future, and for some hope in God. But now in commercials, news broadcasts, pulpits, and homes the key to most of our choices is fear. Death and calamity lies like a screen before all our eyes and promises to have at us. BREAKING NEWS! We run around in panicked circles, encouraged by the constant cries of alarm, slapping helmets on our children, increasing our chances by 8% against heart attack with Garlique, and finding our stomachs churning at the death of any soldiers in Iraq. The percentage of women in our nation has risen from 50-51% to almost 85%. Timorous wusses.
The smell of our own terrors washes through our homes. The mothers of the land have the support of all communication and product. Little Johnny, just as his Self starts to consciously commune with the Other, finds, (instead of the natural balance of Hope and Fear), finds Fear alone. The parents believe they are protecting him with his helmet and his homeschool but they have merely moved the threat level to High and he has a greater possible likelihood of pulling back. Mother doesn't like him to go very far into the Other anyway. Let us just put up another barrier. Lets not talk to the Other at all. Let us shut the door behind us and have it be the kind that neither we or they can unlock.
No, it is not a mature choice. And no they can't explain it. Yes, someone else's little Johnny got hurt badly on his bicycle. This Fear is inordinate.
So it does not surprise me that more and more children are choosing autism. Safety first.