Monday, July 20, 2009

Superseding Christianity & Musings on Dialogue Methodology

In the following blog, I err by being judgmental. If you start reading, please continue to the end, where I try to keep my judgment in check. The following represents a man processing information, emotion, and spirit.

Dr. Livingston, I presume?

As many of my blogs begin, this one was birthed by Sunday school, my ever-faithful midwife. This week we began Sunday school with a quick recap of last week. Last week, we talked about how our church congregation--as an "institution"--helps the community and each other, especially in these hard economic times. Interest in the class exists to find an innovative way to help our "walk-in ministry" somehow, but we haven't delineated how just yet.

After that discussion, I had prepared a few things to look at in the Bible, most involving a recurring use of "living" as a metaphoric descriptor: Living bread (or bread of life), living water, living sacrifice, living stone.

We started with "living sacrifice" from Romans 12. This passage was the one that prompted me to investigate other examples of the "living" adjective. Really, the adjective became a lot less interesting when investigated, although it packs a lot of meaning.

"Living" simply contrasts with something that is neither dead nor nonliving. It is, well, alive. Sacrifices aren't so much alive. They might start out alive, but they die, because their life has been sacrificed. Sacrifices sacrifice life. A living sacrifice turns out not only to give up life, but to remain alive.

We read the rest of chapter 12, too. It describes some ways a way to be "a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God." We started to talk about how this list is hard to comprehend today. Specifically, someone mentioned giving generously (or cheerfully; v. 8), sharing with others, and opening your home to strangers (v. 13).

I mentioned Shane Claiborne's book, about how he and I mentioned Shane Claiborne's book, about how he and the Simple Way have some really great ideas on how these ideas really work. And not only work, but work safely. And work even if you have a spouse and kids. Shane is single, but people in his "church," the Simple Way, have kids (those in the Simple Way might not call their group a church, that is my word).

I think we should help people pay for their prescription medicines, but if we stop there, then we might as well stop helping period. If we're Christians, then we have disgraced the cross and might as well stop pretending to carry one around.

Living sacrifice.

Yes, being friendly to strangers can be dangerous. Not living in a so-called "good neighborhood" could be dangerous for you, your spouse, and your kid(s). Could be. Sometimes. Not nearly as often as you think. Especially if you give yourself to the community. Friendship makes safe so many dangerous situations.

I know of this one parent who purposely sent their kid to a "could-be" dangerous situation. Turns out things went pretty well for about 33 years. After 33 years, this son was put on a cross and died. I won't say his death was "worth" it, because good does not redeem evil. But, good forgives evil and people are redeemed, for sometimes they don't fully comprehend what they are doing--nobody taught them about what they were doing.

And then we read 1 Peter 2. In this bit, we read about living stones. Stones, like sacrifices, are not alive. Stones, unlike sacrifices, are not dead; they are nonliving. 1 Peter wants people to be living stones so they can become a whole building--a spiritual house, with priests who can "offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God." The stones are living and the house is not physical. It is a house that can move and do things--like the glory of God in Ezekiel.

Superseding Christianity

Sometimes people look back at Second Temple Judaism--the Israelite religion of Jesus' time--and think the temple and the religion surrounding it was dead. I wasn't there, I won't judge. But whatever you believe, please be aware that current-day Judaism is not Second Temple Judaism. If you believe the Israelite religion in the first century CE was dead, know that you need to know more about current-day Judaism before you can make the same accusation.

And instead of pointing your finger at Judaism, look around you. Did God really choose Christianity to be the living stones?

Today I was disillusioned. I looked around me in Sunday school and saw a building made with nonliving material, a building that makes people come to it instead of going to people. It was a building where people came to put their belief into action--dead action.

Dead action is what you have when you turn the AC on ridiculously high to accommodate your temperature comfort based on the ridiculous amount of clothes you wear during the summer--clothes that could help people in job interviews, clothes you only wear on Sundays, clothes you do not need, because your closet is bulging.

Dead action is when your Eucharist--the Lord's Supper--is coffee and donuts with family at the expense of sharing a meal with people who need friends. There is nothing wrong with food with family and friends, unless it takes the place of helping people. An ancient church leader, Basil, said:
When someone strips a man of his clothes, we call him a thief. And one who might clothe the naked and does not--should not he be given the same name? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat in your wardrobe belongs to the naked; the shoes you let rot belong to the barefoot; the money in your vaults belongs to the destitute."
We would be much more willing to help people if we started to get to know who needed help. And as friendships blossomed, loneliness wouldn't be a growing issue in the church.

I'm only 25, I haven't seen every the community inside and around every church building in the world. But, I've been involved in more churches than some twice my age (for better or worse). From what I can tell, Christianity has superseded nothing. If it has, then it needs to be superseded, if it hasn't already.

One of these days I hope to be part of that supersession, and a prophet calling people towards it. I like to think I am heeding the call of prophets, but I know I'm not perfect.

Adding Dialogue to Judgment--Nothing is Untouchable

A lot boils down to interpretation. I think God modeled humanity in Jesus as Christ. I think Jesus shared time and resources with the poor--people who behaved in ways he may not have approved of. People who were sick. People who were lame. People who may not have been the best conversation partners. People who slept around. People who likely stole, because the economic situation surrounding them forced them into poverty.

Jesus loved those people. Jesus fed those people. One time, Jesus fed those people by asking a young boy to give up his meal. Jesus didn't use children as an excuse not to love people.

That is the Jesus I know. Others know a Jesus who wants you to give money and time to a church you ask to serve you. You get something, the church gets something, the community gets a little.

I am frustrated and harsh. So many good people worship a Jesus I don't see. They are good in ways I may never see. And I need them, because they do things I don't do. They love in ways I don't love. They minister in ways I do not minister. And we worship together. I don't agree with them and I think they are wrong about many things. They don't agree with me and the think I am wrong about many things. We need to continue in dialogue, so we can mutually benefit each other.

And one of these days, I hope they will see that their actions are dead and their building is not living. And then we can worship side-by-side in service, not in a service. But, as a good adherent of dialogue, I might see the error of my ways and join them by becoming a member of a church building. I doubt it, but it is possible. In dialogue, any change is possible.

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