Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A grace-filled letter to Ghandi

"I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ" - Mahatma Ghandi

A few months ago a young couple invited me to their house for dinner. I showed up and we had a wonderful time dining together. Shortly after dessert, the wife cleared the table and went into the kitchen to wash up. The husband was a friend of mine and so I said to him, "Thanks for having me over. It was truly kind of you. The meal was was delicious and I am thoroughly satisfied. You're a great guy. But your wife! I can't stand her! She's completely unlike you! I don't like her and I can't enjoy your company when she's around!"

"Look, don't get me wrong, man. I've got nothing against you. I think you're awesome. But I really dislike your wife."

Okay, that never happened. Let me be very clear about that. I should hope that I have more tact than that. But seriously though, WHO WOULD DO THAT?? That story is so unrealistic and outrageous, you couldn't even find that situation in a crappy sitcom. Even if you truly don't like someone, you don't badmouth them to their spouse!

It's ludicrous for more than one reason. On the one hand, anyone with more than a few milligrams of common sense know that there are certain social norms that you are ignoring when you're that blunt with someone about a person they care about. However, I think there is something more disturbing about this story than just the number of social rules of behavior you break. I think it's that intuitively, we know that no matter how much you dislike someone's wife, you CAN'T disparage someone in front of their husband. No matter what you have against someone, you can't just criticize them before someone who loves them!

Why? Because you have to figure that if he married her, he's got to love her. And that love is real whether it's love because of her character or love despite her character.

I'm thinking what the venerable Mahatma Ghandi said about Christians is just as denigrating to Christ as it is to his people. The Bible says that the church is the bride of Christ and that he paid no small price and went through nothing less than hell to have her. In Ephesians 5, Paul says that the love that husbands have for their wives should be modeled after the love that Jesus had for the Church, his people. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and worthy of him as a husband. He is at work to cleanse her and make her a radiant, beautiful bride, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless (Eph 5.25-27).

Ghandi, when you profess your affinity for Jesus but not his followers, you are in essence slapping his wife across the face while at the same time calling him your friend. What you fail to understand is that Jesus does not love his people because of who they are, but rather in spite of who they are. Furthermore, you fail to understand the nature of the Church; your presumption is that the Church is an organization of people who seek to look more like Jesus. While that is true in a different context, you miss the entire point of grace. You fail to understand that one does not become a Christian by what he or she does, but by what Jesus has done for him.

Ghandi, You make an astute observation that Christians are so unlike Christ. The reason is because Christ has become for us what we could not be; perfect in holiness, compassion, and love. The beauty of being a Christian is that its only requirement is to admit failure and come empty-handed before God to receive mercy. "The Church is a society of sinners - the only society in the world in which membership is based on the single qualification that the candidate shall be unworthy of membership" (Charles C. Morrison)

The failure of Christians to be like Christ does not merely point to the hopelessness of humanity in willing to be good; it also points to the depths of God's mercy and grace shown in the undeserved love of Jesus for a broken, evil, people. Ghandi, your presumption that Christians can flawlessly emulate the goodness of their leader, Jesus, is at best a deep misunderstanding of who Jesus is (that he alone is good), and at worst an arrogant belief that you're capable of accomplishing what other humans cannot (perfect goodness).

Your work in bringing peace to India and justice to her people is admirable and immense. As a Christian, I strive to bring justice to the world because I believe in a God who is perfectly just. I seek peace in everything because I believe that God wrought peace in his damaged world at great cost to himself. I do not call myself a Christian because I seek to be like Christ. I call myself one because by grace he has sought to make me more like him.

Your believe that peace in the world is attained through a system of moral values. I believe that peace is attained through a peacemaker and a sacrifice of peace. You believe that the world needs more good, compassionate, loving people like yourself and the person of Jesus Christ. I think the world only needs one perfectly good person.

Ghandi, my Christ is not like your Christ. Your Christ is utterly inadequate; powerless to save the world. If Christ were your Christ, the extent of his influence would be to inspire a bunch of miserable misfits to attempt to be loving and fail catastrophically. But the true Christ is not like that. The true Christ did not entrust the salvation of the world to anybody. He just went and did it.

I thank you Jesus, for you even though I am so unlike you.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

What makes a boy a man?

Above is the subject of my current existential crisis. It's not something I haven't wrestled with before. It's something I tried and failed to get into the conversation of the Boon boys last year when I organized our first ever "Boon Church ExtravaMANza". It's something that Mark Driscoll originally got me interested in when someone sent me a near-viral youtube clip of him lambasting the boys in his church. And nearly three years ago, on my xanga page, I wrote that my lesson for the year of 2008 was:

Passion without temperament is immaturity

Anyway, as life cycles, I find myself revisiting this issue and experiencing a deep discomfort with where I am right now, prompting this following brain dump.

Last December, right before I left for my MAP internship in Australia, Stanley asked me how I saw myself in terms of maturity. My reply was, "severely conflicted". When I look around at those my age, I see many ways in which I am clearly ahead of my peers. I am wiser, more biblically literate, more responsible, more driven to pursue God, more articulate, and I had a car. But when I considered the spiritual giants that I endeavor to imitate, I feel miles behind and despair at the long way I have to go. I feel self-centered, self-conscious, irresponsible, uncaring, unthoughtful, unsteady, under-dressed, rash, temperamental, immoderate, immodest, and immature. I know that last one kind of covers the whole thing, but I needed a third "im-" for the poetic value. I feel like a sapling next to a mighty oak. I feel like the Stuyvesant freshman with the giant backpack taking the LIRR with all those well-dressed Wall Street big guns who live out in Manhasset. Like I said... brain dump.

Some days, I make decisions that surprise myself; decisions I wouldn't have had the godly wisdom to make in the past. Some days I make decisions so appallingly boyish that I wonder if I might have even grown backwards. It doesn't help when people remark about how young I am to be a MAP apprentice. Before I came to Australia, one of my desires was to work a year or two before locking myself into the ministry track. Conversations with Don eventually convinced me to dive right in. I wish I had thought about it some more. Back then, I didn't know that certain plumblines of worldly maturity overlapped with biblical maturity, such as financial responsibility. That one still really kills me.

On Friday evenings I feel like line (a) and on Sunday evenings I feel like line (b.)

In me is an ever constant fear that I may slow down in growth, regress to the mean, and even begin to lag behind those in my cohort. A great part of that fear is sinful. It arises from my desire to stay ahead of the pack, to shine, to be the young gun. It's pride and I need to daily repent of that, asking God to help me make less of myself and more of him to works in me and him whose energy I daily labor with. Actually, this fear is mostly that. It's mostly pride. But it reminds me of an issue I faced also about a year ago: the issue of whether I run to finish first or to avoid finishing last. For some people, the verb "to chase" is in an active voice and for others, it is in passive. Why are some people chasers and other people ones being chased? Why do I consistently find myself in the latter category?

It's not that I haven't considered the ways in which I've clearly grown. I've taken a major step forward ("Major Stepforward") in romance and relationships. Ironically, romance and relationships is the subject matter than launched me into this crisis. Another way I've grown is out of the pathetic shell of fatalistic determinism. I've grappled with the angst of my ownmost possibility and won. I can accept the responsibility of my choices now. My life is no longer ruled by cause but by will.

Having said that, last night I woke up in the middle of the night and made a major realization ("Major Realization"). I realized that demographically, there is no one in the world with a greater capacity to do ministry... nay, to do anything, than me right now. I am a young, healthy, single male with minimal relational attachments and very few financial obligations. I can survive on rent money and oatmeal. Actually, that thought's crossed my mind many times before. What was new last night was the frightening irresponsibility when I do less than more than other people.

So as not to end this post Psalm 88-style, here is an article by the world's most boring tweeter, Reverend R. Albert Mohler, on the marks of manhood. It is oftentimes hard and confusing to distinguish what the world says about manliness (enjoying the taste of rare meat, able to hold down large amounts of alcohol, opting to "walk it off" instead of seeing a doctor) and what Scripture says. It's really a mess of truths, half-truths, and complete lies out there. This article has helped me to identify categories that I may think about and reflect upon separately.