Monday, July 23, 2012

A Time for Reticence

I used to have a little resentment toward the blogsphere.  It seemed too accessible to be helpful.  It invited expression without reflection.  It encouraged anonymity.  It seemed to empower lazy thinking.

Recently, my marginal resentment has turned into grave concern.

I used to say sarcastically, "Want to see the underbelly of the human condition exposed to the world?  Read the comments section of any article on the major news websites."  Now, the same applies to so-called "Christian" blogs.  The hateful poison that seems to flow so quickly from the keyboards of posters is breath-takingly grievous.  It wounds my soul.  I used to think I wanted to eavesdrop on these "conversations."  Not anymore.

So, here's my bold proposal (ironically issued on my blog).  It's time for us to stop talking--or at least take a sabbatical.  Think about what that would mean?  In the sixties we impetuously burned vinyl records.  What if Christ followers refused to enter the fray of social discourse for a while?  Would anyone notice?

Jesus didn't act like he had much to say until he turned thirty.  Thirty years is a long time to think about what you're going to say.  We might choose our words more wisely if we had to wait thirty years to speak our mind.  What if we followed his example?  What if we said, "You don't have anything to say until you're thirty"?

Of course, such an attempt would be ludicrous.  The blogsphere is equally patrolled by the plus-thirty crowd--the older folks can dish out hate speech just as effortlessly as the twenty-somethings.  Age is no guarantee of temperance.  But, I have found the mature (regardless of age) to be a little more circumspect, a little more reflective, a little more reticent to speak their mind.  I wonder why.

Honestly, the older I get the more I'm convinced I have little to say.  Perhaps it's apathy ("he's shirking his responsibility to speak out").  Maybe it's a sign of the approaching, typical curmudgeonly ways of the elderly ("I've turned into a grouch").  It could be that I'm too proud to be associated with the cacaphony of voices competing for attention ("he acts like he's above it all").  All I know is I used to think everyone was entitled to my opinion.  Now, not so much.

I'm going off the grid for a while.  I need rest for my weary soul.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Sympathy for Politicians (or, unmasking the pretense of infallibility among the righteously indignant)

I was preaching last Sunday from Matthew's gospel, talking about how Jesus tried to get the Pharisees to "go and learn what this means:  'I desire mercy and not sacrifice'" because Jesus shared table with Levi and his treasonous tax-collector friends.  Then, a few stories later, after the Pharisees called Jesus on the carpet for the grain-forraging ways of the twelve, Jesus said (loosely paraphrased), "You didn't do your homework.  If you knew what it meant--'I desire mercy not sacrifice,'--you wouldn't have a problem with my disciples."  We explored a more nuanced view of the three groups--tax collectors, Pharisees, and the twelve--in order to appreciate the storied-level of the inclusio.

Toward the end of the sermon, I asked the congregants, "So, now that we know these people in more charitable terms, who would qualify today as traitors, beyond hope of God's mercy?"

Their nearly unanimous response floored me.  "Politicians!"

I'm becoming more convinced that we are completely blind to our own self-righteousness.  All of us are politicians.  It especially shows up in social discourse over political issues.  (Now, I'm not even going to jump into the quagmire of sorting out why politics/power tends to turn gray issues into black-and-white realities--"choose a side:  it's us versus them!")  Notice how often we work with the unquestionable presumption that our politics are indivisible.  Our cause is righteous.  Our argument is undeniable.  And, if you disagree, you'll discover the indignation of those who are right . . . about everything.

I marvel over this.  Take the issue of gay marriage (those who are facebook friends are expecting this).  Recently, I tried to enter the social discourse by making a comment about the politics of social discourse.  But, it took a while for most to see my point.  Of course, gay marriage is a charged issue.  Of course, everyone is convinced they're right.  But, whenever this happens, I become immediately suspicious.  Usually in conversations (I use the word very loosely) like these, there is no giving ground.  No benefit of the doubt.  No humility.  It's amazing how "absolutely" correct we can be in this post-modern world.  After all, when a righteous cause is at stake, don't we all operate with an infallible position?  Such is the nature of the politics of holiness . . . but, who will go to the sinners and eat at their table?

"You say, 'Love is the answer.  Love the highest call.  Love is the answer.  Love the highest call.'  You ask me to enter, but then you make me crawl.  But, I can't keep holding on to what you've got, when all you've got is hurt" (to paraphrase Bono).

Jesus, I'm so glad to know you even came to the table of Pharisees when invited.  Please come and eat with me and my self-righteous friends.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Craving applause

I recently spoke during a retreat at the Laity Lodge near Leaky, Texas.  It's a great place that always seems to attract great people.  But, what happened this time took me by surprise.  I learned a lesson about myself (is that being reflective or merely narcissistic?) that I'm a little disappointed to admit.

We all enjoyed the beautiful music of two, well-known musicians.  A brilliant children's author shared her story through her clever stories.  Every time they finished their part, the intimate crowd of 60 participants applauded.  Whenever I stopped talking, there was always an awkward silence.  It happened over and over again.  Music, applause.  Speaker one, silence.  Speaker two, applause.

I was walking with one of the participants to the favorite spot of most retreaters, "The Blue Hole"  (a spring-fed swimming pool encased by beautiful rock formations of the Rio Frio).  She said, "Well, Rodney.  You sure have stirred up a lot of conversation--made us wrestle with many questions."  I said, "Yeah.  I get that a lot."

"It's been really good, though.  Your talk is unsettling, then Sally tells one of her stories and everyone laughs."

(Laughing) "Oh, I get it.  I'm the irritant and she's the balm.  I like that."

"Yeah.  No, wait, that's not what I meant.  It's just that we need both, don't we?"

"Yes, I think we do."

Then I shared my observation regarding the "irregular" applause and made her promise not to tell anyone.  At which point this young lady, being a kind and sensitive person, tried to cheer me up:  "Well, I've never really heard many preachers get much applause when they finish speaking.  Besides," she said perceptively, "you probably wouldn't want it."  "Yes.  You're right.  Applause would make me feel like I'm not doing my job."

But, deep down, sometimes I wish there were applause.  Then, the pretentious "prophetic voice" rises within me and says, "What are you whining about?  Just be glad these days they don't kill you."

"Yeah.  Who needs applause, anyway?"

But sometimes one gets weary of the calling.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Circus fatigue

I'm not going anymore.

The barkers may make it sound so intriguing.  The people drawn to the big tent may incite the herd instinct within me.  The sights and sounds may lead me to believe I'll miss out on something delicious if I take a pass.  But, I must say I'm done.  The thrill is gone.  The game is over.  Don't want to be the sucker to P.T. Barnum's exhibition anymore.

Our circus culture feeds on revelation--the unveiling of secrets, the sensational drama thrust upon an "unsuspecting" world, the shocking news of the latest gossip.  "Step right up, see the most amazing thing you've ever seen . . . "

The script is so old, so tired, so predictable.  The television personality announces his gay and all the world is a twitter. "Who knew?"  The famous atheist declares she's converted to Christianity and everyone's buzzing.  "Who would have thought?"

But, I don't care.  I really don't.  Is that unChristian of me?  I don't know these people.  They're "coming out" has nothing to do with my little world.  So, I have no opinion about the latest, greatest, sensational news.  It doesn't matter to me.  I have nothing to say about whatever is going on under the big top.  Rather, I have enough to talk about, think about, care about within my little tent.

The teenage son of a former student of mine was seriously injured in a car wreck.  My father-in-law has a brain tumor.  A friend's house may have burned down in Colorado.  I have enough drama in my little life.

"Step right up, see the most amazing thing you've ever seen . . . ."  No thanks.  I've got a life of my own.