Thursday, January 5, 2012

Blogging Sacrilege, chapter 2: The Nitty-Gritty and Important

At one time Christ followers lived every moment in the teachings and style of their leader. But somewhere along the way these adventurers turned into adherents of doctrine. People of faith became risk-averse. Kingdom revolutionaries succumbed to the world's kingdoms. Counterculture architects became wards of the state, sellouts, and seeker-sensitive consumers.
(Hugh Halter, Sacrilege)
It's time to get down to the nitty-gritty. I find myself nodding in time with many of the statements in chapter 2 of Sacrilege. I agree, the gathering of imitators of Christ has over the last two thousand years become a convention of aficionados. But my question--which I believe is an important questions--is about the specifics and the details of this change. From what have changed? Into what are we changing? What elements in this change are appropriate to the evolution of culture, politics, means of production, etc.? What elements are not appropriate to the Pioneer of our faith?

(For more on the idea of expressions of Christianity being appropriate or not, I suggest an under-appreciated collection of essay edited by Charles Kraft, Appropriate Christianity. A seminary prof assigned selections from it for a course on missiological contextualization, and I've been grateful for it many times since.)

Halter roots fidelity in Jesus' demeanor. We've heard many times that Jesus was a friend of sinners, that he associated with people good society looked down upon, that he was accused of partying too hard. These are true statements. I cannot and will not do anything to draw them into question or to soften the harsh light they thrown on my own bourgeoise, safe, acceptable lifestyle.

Yet . . . yet our vision is out of focus if we see mostly the raw fact that Jesus did thus and such. Reading stories from hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years ago means that we absolutely should ask what Jesus actions meant in the there and then culture of Jesus' day. We miss out if imitatio Christi means for us only literally doing again what Jesus did; if we really intend to live like Christ, we need to discern how to live and act along the very trajectory he's set for us in the God's work.

I've just finished reading for the very first time John Howard Yoder's The Politics of Jesus. (I know, what kind of Mennonite am I to have waited so long to read this?) Yoder makes a strong case that the way Jesus lived had real ethical and political significance for the residents of first century Palestine. He goes further, arguing convincingly that the way Jesus lived had similar meaning for Jews and Greeks living elsewhere within the Empire. Some of Jesus' actions--his rejection of violent grabs for power, both his relativizing and his submission to the powers that be, his commitment to redistribution of wealth for mutual aid--persist in exerting the same kind of influence twenty-first century America.

The question--the one caught up in the details--is what significance Jesus has set for us by his life.

Halter sets out his gauge:
How can you know if you are actually an apprentice: people respond to you like they did to Jesus. People are drawn to you. People seek you out for help. People like you, respect you, and want to live like you live. I'm not suggesting that every introvert will become extroverted or the socially awkward will become the life of the party. I'm suggesting that if we take on the purpose of becoming like Jesus, the people of the world whom Jesus died for will want to be our friends.
Jesus did say, "If they obeyed my word, they will obey yours too." But this the first half of this proverb rhymes, "If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you" (Jn 15:20). The consistent testimony of Jesus and his early followers is that world's response to the good news is ambivalent. Some leave everything to follow, and others hold the coats of the Pharisees so they can stone you. Popular opinion seems to be a fickle-hearted standard for fidelity.

So far, my trouble with Sacrilege isn't its application points (brought home with a reflection question and action point at the conclusion of each chapter). Amen! We need to listen again for who Jesus is and where he's leading us! But I get caught on the blunt, ill-defined edges of Hater's argument. I feel like he's writing found poetry pulled from the popular consciousness of disaffected pastors' kids. Somethings are right on, and some are a mile wide of the target.

So it's back to the nitty-gritty, back to the hard work of listening and praying and talking over what Jesus meant and what he means now.

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