So I’m reading this book these days by Walter Brueggemann (isn’t that a sweet last name? I’m seriously considering changing my last name to Brueggemann. Ok, I’m not. But Belteshazzar’s always been an fun name to bounce around inside one’s head to change one’s name to as well, if I must confess. Plus, if you ever want your kid to get railed in the elementary school playground, name them one of those great Old Testament names: Mephibosheth, Sabachthani, or Zophar the Naamathite or something like that. Or, if you’re a real sadist, name your daughter Dorcas. She’ll never make it out of first grade alive. Seriously.) Moving on…
Brueggemann’s book quite obviously focuses on evangelism, which is an extremely live issue right now, considering that we hear about it a lot and most of us are averse to the methods in which it is typically defined. I mean, really, why is much of evangelism defined as door-to-door or parking lot accosting in the pattern of Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons? Don’t we hate it when we get visits from them? Then why in the heck do we think it’s any different when someone gets piled on like this at the entrance of his home? Oh, because we’re talking about Christ, and this is what we should be doing? Brueggemann will bust your thinking about evangelism out of this either/or mold right away; don’t let the chintzy cover fool you.
Anyways, returning back to one of the points of conversation with the fellow in my class from last week, Brueggemann makes an incredible point while talking about typical expectations of both boys and girls growing up in terms of stages of development and prevailing messages. Check this out.
“I suggest that the moral nurture of our children as it is concretely practiced tends to be excessively idealistic when they are young, and excessively calculating when they are older, but both the idealism and the calculation miss the main claims of anything like a (God-driven) ethic. It is our habit to teach only our very young the radical moral dimension of our faith, because we know they are powerless to enact any of that radicality. As soon as our young are old enough to enact (that) vision, we induct them into a quite different ethical practice of calculating pragmatism.” pg 110
This relates well, it seems to me, to the endgoal the church most often holds before those who claim the name of “Christians” of establishing a good moral foundation. When we’re kids, it’s vogue for adults to tell us we should love our enemies (and we immediately think of the playground bully) or share freely (b/c it’s only a peanut butter sandwich, or Fruit by the Foot), etc. But as we get older, we are taught to be more and more pragmatic, so eventually loving our enemies is replaced by a utilitarian concept of love (what’s best for the most people), and sharing freely means we should give to United Way some, and at least every other Sunday drop ten bucks in the offering plate. Because a good moral foundation is the goal, the radical commandments of Christ are dropped in favor of maintaining the status quo and allowing us to walk on the same path others in our society walk; and in the process, our lives speak no more than the Unitarian Universalist, or Bah’ai, or Buddhist down the street.
Brueggemann goes further;
“I suspect that traditionally, young women have been kept longer within the idealistic mode, but clearly that is because they were longer kept powerless to enact those claims in any significant way. It is clear that in conventional nurture and education, young men are given a sort of “rite of passage” into the cynical world of conflict and competition, and away from any visionary radicality. This is in part accomplished through athletics…By contrast…at the time when young men are being transposed away from radicalness into “realism,” young women are intentionally nurtured into domestication (withdrawal), and tilted away from anything that smacks of ethical radicalness, or anything else radical that touches the real world. As women gain access to real power, conversely, they are brought more fully and quickly into a practice of calculating pragmatism.” (same page)
The more I think about this issue and the lifestyle we hold up as the endgoal for the Christian life, more often than not I’m recognizing how much we’ve domesticated the gospel (or allowed the gospel to be domesticated incrementally without our knowing). Jesus’ life shouts from a mountaintop that this life is defined by a radical commitment to a lifestyle in the Way God is calling us to, but we mute those teachings b/c they “don’t make sense.” The Sermon on the Mount today is a disconnected batch of teachings that only have to do with something going on inside us as opposed to Jesus calling us to engage in practices of: radical forgiveness, radical love, radical faithfulness, radical pursuit of righteousness, radical sharing, etc etc. And in case we had any room to make the move we’ve made with these teachings, he hammers the point home in Matthew 7 at the end, saying, “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like the wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, but it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rains came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
I guess this is where I stand up on my soapbox and plead with those around me. When we’re sharing the truth of Christ in both our words and life, we cannot allow ourselves to settle for goals less than those we are commanded to set up as goals by God. A solid moral foundation will flow from a heart transformed by Christ, but our lives are meant to represent so much more! When we lose the radical nature of a life in the pattern of Christ, we’ve lost the core reality of what God is shaping us into as His people, and we’re essentially no different than Religion A, B, or C just down the street.
Somehow words from Jeremiah about cracked cisterns in a dry land are haunting me right now. Do we want the God of the Bible, the God of history, and a transformed people? Or would you and I rather settle for a deistic, disconnected God, a faith defined by an inner reality that doesn’t manifest itself outwardly, and other authorities having the ultimate claim on our lives? We’re faced with that choice every day.
Maybe some people will run for the exits when I talk of potential little Nates running around in the world, but I’m convinced my (future) kid needs to know from the very beginning how counter-cultural the lifestyle of a Christian should be, and how big the dreams of God are for his/her life. May we never settle for less than the best.
p.s. read the brueggemann book, if you value your life. 🙂 ( but skip the first 60 pages, b/c they were so boring I seriously felt my life ebbing from my veins. Literally. Then come back after the last bit fires you up) It’ll change the way you think about evangelism.