Beware of those who Shout the Loudest

Immigration ProtestsThe televangelist who preaches the loudest about the sin of adultery is discovered checking into a seedy hotel with a prostitute.

The preacher who decries most vehemently the homosexual ‘lifestyle’ is found to be having an affair with a young man in a nearby town.

The politician who campaigns on the ticket of ‘family values’ ends up having a fling with one of his staff, leaving his own family when it’s discovered she is pregnant with his child.

The youth pastor who is known for his long sermons to his youth group on the subject of purity winds up in prison convicted of sexually abusing a girl in the same youth group.

It appears that one very common tactic to distract folks from an unpopular action is to shout very loudly against whatever one actually practices.

And its not limited to sexual hypocrisy.

The alcoholic speaks the loudest about the evils of drink.

The obese woman preaches the message of healthy eating to her family.

The environmentalist makes regular use of toxic chemicals and pesticides in his garden.

Isn’t this a little like the Tupperware lady campaigning against the use of plastic? Or the oil company promoting electric cars?

There is a common misconception that being seen to loudly oppose something will make you more able to resist the temptation. It doesn’t.

But maybe it’s not about resisting per se, but being seen to be so much in opposition that people watching would dare not think you could actually do that.

If we have learned one thing from years of watching momentous ‘falls from grace’ unfold on The Evening News it is this: vehement opposition to a particular vice, addiction, or suspect behaviour often signals participation in the very thing being condemned.

We have learned well the lesson: Beware of those who shout the loudest. It’s they who (usually) have something to hide.

Perhaps this is what St Paul meant when he wrote: “Let your moderation be known to all.” In other words, don’t go overboard. Maybe he took his cue from the teachings of his Master, who instructed his disciples not to blow a trumpet when they gave alms and not to stand on street corners praying loudly. Instead, live a humble life before God and before others. Let your actions speak louder than your words (or trumpet).

In a world of biggest, greatest, loudest, richest and most bedazzling, may we have the grace to live quietly and let our deeds speak for themselves.

 

 

Facebook Me and Real Me

facebookThis morning in our Sunday gathering, Mike was taking us through the gospel terminology used in the New Testament book of Galatians. While explaining the term ‘righteousness,’ he made mention of the way we see ourselves against the way we want people to see ourselves, using as an example Facebook.

It is obvious that the stuff we put on Facebook is filtered reality–it’s what we want others to see in us. We try to build an identity so when people look at our page, they see the person who is better, more confident, more positive than we are in real life.

We want to appear more ‘righteous’ than we really are.

I know it’s hard to believe, but that’s exactly what I do. I know how I am and, in the words of someone whose name escapes me at the moment John Powell (see, I don’t have such a perfect memory either!), “I am afraid to tell you who I am because, if I tell you who I really am, you may not like me.”

I’d like to think I’m getting past that (insert ‘You know when you’re getting old’ joke here).

Truth is, I’m not . . . not as much as I would like to. I care about what you think about me. I try to present myself as clever, deep, spiritual (but not with my head in the clouds), active, mostly positive, involved, compassionate, controlled, massively ripped (OK, maybe that’s too obvious an exaggeration) . . . and I am all those things to some degree (except for my abs, alas!).

But I’m also short-sighted, stubborn, proud, intolerant, and sometimes downright unkind.

I am not as ‘balanced’ as I appear on my Facebook page (Those who know me well, say ‘Amen!’ but stay away from the ‘mental’ references, please).

I lean more to the left than I present myself to be. (Onya, Barack!) I’m not ashamed of my progressive (or what some may call ‘liberal’) leanings, but I know some of my friends are not at the same point on their journey. For the sake of those whom I know (hope?) will one day see things differently, I temper my comments, I filter my reactions, I watch which pages I ‘Like’ because I know they can see everything I do on my timeline.

I love my family and I’m really proud of who they are and what they’ve accomplished, but I never post a status of how sometimes they aren’t as awesome as I’d like them to be (or I’m not as awesome to them as I like myself to be–more like it).

I comment when I feel it is safe to do so. I weigh my responses to others’ posts about the hot button issues in the world today.

Is that a lie? After all, I’m not saying that I’m fully on one side or the other . . . the intention of my social media presence is not to be an activist . . . . my family might see it . . . you may misunderstand my intentions . . . I may get cornered after Church by people whom I really care about and love who want to show me how much they love me in return . . . I could get in trouble at work (um, wait! That’s right, they’re Anglican and are used to accepting all sorts of people–balanced and otherwise).

Or should I be more honest and vulnerable and show my true colours, my heart, the way I see the world, people, and God?

St Paul is known to have coined the phrase, “I have become all things to all men . . .” Surely this is what got him in trouble on more than one occasion. Is it worth it?

Well, I guess that you now know who I am, I’d better do the best thing by all of us . . .

. . . I’ll just have to de-friend you.

Brian McLaren on Islamophobic Evangelicals

Brian McLaren has written an excellent piece on CNN.com about the Islamophobia which is becoming more and more widespread in Christian circles–particularly in those who claim to be Evangelicals. Do yourself a favour and read his post. Especially with a view to recent events, it makes more sense than ever that those who are followers of Jesus need to start living as disciples and not like fearmongers. As Brian writes:

Islamophobic evangelical Christians – and the neo-conservative Catholics and even some Jewish folks who are their unlikely political bedfellows of late – must choose.

Will they press on in their current path, letting Islamophobia spread even further amongst them? Or will they stop, rethink and seek to a more charitable approach to our Muslim neighbors? Will they realize that evangelical religious identity is under assault, not by Shariah law, not by the liberal media, not by secular humanism from the outside, but by forces within the evangelical community that infect that religious identity with hostility?

If I could get one message through to my evangelical friends, it would be this: The greatest threat to evangelicalism is evangelicals who tolerate hate and who promote hate camouflaged as piety.

No one can serve two masters. You can’t serve God and greed, nor can you serve God and fear, nor God and hate. (Read the full post here.)

And if you haven’t ordered Brian’s new book, do yourself another favour and get on to it!

Under Attack?

Last week there was a major development at the University from which I graduated–a student was expelled for watching the ‘morally reprehensible’ TV show Glee on his computer, off-campus, at Starbucks. This wasn’t the only thing that led to his expulsion, but it was the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ so to speak. However, the list of offenses for the preceding months was just as ludicrous. Keep in mind we are talking about a ultra-conservative, Christian University.

People may argue whether or not the University was right or wrong to expel him, knowing that he signed a statement saying he would abide by the University rules when he enrolled. But the fact is that he organised a student protest last year against the University for allowing a pastor who had covered up and mishandled a case of the rape of one of those in his care to serve on their board. The protest did not draw a huge participation by the students, possibly because they feared the would become targets for harassment or possible expulsion. It did, however, draw extensive media coverage including some of the national networks in the U.S.

Now, after the College has taken this step, and people, organisations and the news media are once again scrutinising the University, those who support the College are posting on Facebook and Twitter comments which ask for prayer because the University is experiencing “an attack of Satan.”

So let me get this straight: You know this is an “attack of Satan” because…? Are you good at recognising these so-called attacks? Do you get them often? Could you be mistaking them for what happens when institutions do dumb things–could it be that what the University is experiencing is the result of its own actions? Is it possible that they are being seen by people outside of its “hallowed halls” as being arrogant, ignorant, and antiquated? (On arrogance, how arrogant is it to think that the Prince of Darkness would leave whatever ghastly, horrible torture he is afflicting somewhere else to personally attend to thwarting your righteous and holy activity?) Could it possibly be that it is the University which is being the evildoer by harassing, intimidating and provoking fear in its students?

Time will tell.

In my opinion, student numbers will drop somewhat as the media and blogosphere publish their take. I would be surprised to see much coverage nationally due to the way the media has gotten used to the lunatic-like activity of fundamentalists, but it will provide fodder for the tabloids and comedians as well as discussion topics for the disenfranchised ex-fundies. In the long run, such actions will hurt the College and it will lose any status it may have in the community as a credible educational institution.

Meanwhile, I am looking forward to seeing a Glee episode that has the expulsion of a student from a fundamentalist Christian school as its storyline.

Champions of the Abstract

There is safety in the abstract.

Much as we celebrate community, relationship, and inter-connectedness in our faith communities, we often find ourselves drawn back to the abstract. We talk about God, seek to understand all the intricacies of theology and religiosity, study the Bible and learn the nuances of its original languages, write beautifully-crafted liturgies and prayers, and compose great hymns and songs.

In all this, I sense we are afraid: afraid of being seen for who we are, afraid of being “found out,” afraid of our reputation or our character being tainted by what others may perceive to be shallowness, “worldliness,” or immaturity.

I am somehow fascinated by the stories of those who have been brought up in a fundamentalist environment only to find freedom from this way of living in their adult years. What I have seen as a common thread throughout the vast majority of these accounts is the fear of being found to be a “compromiser” or a “traitor” by family, friends, and fellow church members. What happens, more often than not, is that, once they start asking questions or doing things that are outside of the list of permitted activities, they are shunned by their community. I have heard recently the sad story of a man whose parents told him “We cannot speak to you until you repent”—effectively severing their ties with him as long as he continued to behave in what their church considered to be an “immoral activity.”

So we talk in abstracts, saying things in such a way that we cannot be nailed down on a specific meaning. Our pastors preach sermons in the third person, lest their own experience weaken their reputation and cause the congregation to question their suitability for employment. We speak of our own lives in general terms, unwilling to give voice to our own struggles, questions, or understandings.

We are afraid of being misunderstood, rejected, disconnected from our community, or condemned for going against the tide of our subculture’s opinion.

We settle for the abstraction of an academic understanding of God and God’s revelation, and bottle up our own stories, feelings, beliefs, and our own real selves. As Parker J. Palmer writes:

“Instead of telling our vulnerable stories, we seek safety in abstractions, speaking to each other about our opinions, ideas and beliefs rather than about our lives.

“Academic culture blesses this practice by insisting that the more abstract our speech, the more likely we are to touch the universal truths that unite us. But what happens is exactly the reverse: as our discourse becomes more abstract, the less connected we feel. There is less sense of community among  intellectuals than in the most “primitive” society of storytellers.” (From A Hidden Wholeness as quoted in MINEmergent)

And so we have people living within a community feeling a sense of “detachment” or “unconnectedness” with people in that same community. The same is heard from those in many different communities of faith: “I can’t be myself.” It’s a perception that, while many freedoms are afforded, that of being able to freely tell your story is one that is too dangerous and, possibly, detrimental to maintaining unity within that organisation. Therefore, we sacrifice reality and connectedness for the safety of what is more acceptable and palatable to those who share our own cultural context. We become champions of the abstract, keeping our own subjective feelings, interpretations and experiences within.

When we dig deeper, we realise that this way of living is dangerous—it is detrimental to our wellbeing in so many ways, leading to resentment and bitterness which can then lead to all kinds of mental and physical disorders.

How can we rise above our fears and open up to the freedom of being who we are? I’ve got to do a lot more thinking about this because, I presume, there is no easy answer. However, I strongly suspect whatever resolution we find to this problem will be found within the framework of Jesus’ commands to “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27)

Is this possible, given the context of our human tendency to judge and condemn, putting down others and refusing love when another does not meet our standards?

With God, I believe, it is.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

I’ve just finished reading an insightful book by Andrew Himes called The Sword of the Lord: The Roots of Fundamentalism in an American Family. He traces his own family tree in light of his grandfather’s high popularity in 20th Century American Fundamentalism. It is an enlightening book full of history lessons as well as a deep understanding of context and culture that birthed what is so widely known as “The Religious Right” in America. Yet, as one who was in the centre of this cult-like phenomenon, who turned to atheism and Marxism in his College years, and who came out the other side to witness his own redemption and understanding of the other, Andrew shares his story to show how understanding and grace trumps judgement and bitterness.

I’ll write more about this in a future post.

Relational Integrity

I was raised surrounded by a strong sense of purpose: to present our best side to “the world” so we may perhaps win them over to faith in Jesus Christ. My parents were quite strict in guarding the way we spoke, the music we listened to, what we watched on TV (when we finally got a TV when I was in grade 7), how we dressed or had our hair cut, and what manners we displayed in public.

This was the public image we needed to display, as Christians, because we well knew the verse (although we learned it from the King James Bible):

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. (Colossians 4:5 TNIV)

But in our private life, we made jokes at the expense of the “unsaved” and laughed at other Christians who “didn’t get it.” (We made a lot of fun of the Baptists especially, singing songs like “I’ve got the belief that baffles Bible Baptists down in my heart”). We found amusement in the antics of “lost” people and we were—dare I say it—quite arrogant in thinking that we were better than they simply because we were on the “inside” and they weren’t.

I must clarify that this was my perception as a child/teenager and, looking back with an adult perspective, my parents weren’t intentionally training us to see things in this way; this was a deduction I made from information I was receiving into my young mind at the time through undeveloped filters and an incongruent paradigm (love big words!)

But this does cause me to continually question my own perspectives, heart attitudes and motives today.

Am I exhibiting integrity in the way I look at those different than me? Is how I interact with them to their face the same way I interact about them when they’re not present? Is the way I behave around them not in keeping with the thoughts I have towards them? Am I using “us” terminology when I am around such folk and then reverting to “us and them” when they are absent? (Um . . . these questions are tough!)

Relational integrity means that when I am present with someone, I act the same way, use the same words, have the same attitude towards them as when I am absent from them. I need more of this in my life. It’s too easy for me to behave with civility towards someone and then blacken their reputation behind their back. It’s also far easier to be kind to someone I don’t agree with than to think kind and generous thoughts about them.

In our quest to build the kingdom of God, we must learn and grow in the kind and gracious way of Jesus, following his command to love one another as he loved us. Yes, we will have moments of dishonesty and hypocrisy. Yes, we will have moments when we are tested by the best “grace growers” God can bring across our path.

I know it won’t be easy—kingdom stuff rarely is. But it’s part of what this journey is all about. Awareness. Growth. Change. Integrity.