Wednesday, March 30, 2005

MARCH BOOK REVIEW: "Searching For God Knows What" by Donald Miller PART III

In this way, the chief difference between morality in a relational context to Jesus and morality in the context of the lifeboat is that one system works for people and the other against them.

It is obvious when reading Scripture that what you and I commonly think of as morality is thin in definition. Some Christians, when considering immorality in culture, consider two issues: abortion and gay marriage.

Moral ideas presented in the New Testament, and even from the mouth of Christ, however, involve loving our neighbors, being one in the bond of peace, loving our enemies, taking care of our own business before we judge somebody else, forgiving debts even as we have been forgiven, speaking in truth and love else we sound like clanging cymbals (turn on Fox News to hear what clanging cymbals sound like), and protecting the beauty of sex and marriage.

Morality, then becomes the bond, the glue that holds our families together, our communities together, and our churches together, and most important, builds intimacy with Christ. Morality, in the context of a relationship with Jesus, becomes the voice of love to a confused community, the voice of reason and calm in a loud argument, the voice of life in a world of walking dead, the voice of Christ in a sea of self-hated.

* * *

The trick Satan has played on us involving his spin on morality has not gone unnoticed by those outside the church.

In his book “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them,” Al Franken included a provocative multi-page comic strip about a man named Supply-Side Jesus. In the strip, Supply-Side Jesus walks through the streets of Jerusalem stating that people should start businesses so they can employ the poor and should purchase exotic and expensive clothes and jewelry so their money will trickle into the economy and, eventfully, bring bread to the mouths of the starving.

In the comic, the disciples come to Supply-Side Jesus and say they want to feed the poor directly, but Supply-Side Jesus says no, that if you give money or food or water directly to the poor, you are only helping them in their laziness and increasing the welfare state. Eventually, Rome catches up with Supply-Side Jesus and, before an angry mob, Pontius Pilate asks the masses which man they want to crucify, Supply-Side Jesus or another man, who, in the comic, stands beside Pilate humbly, a disheveled and shadowy figure. The crowd chants they want to free Supply-Side Jesus because they like his philosophies, and they want to crucify this other man, the shadowy figure standing next to Pilate. Pilate tells the crowd this other man is innocent, that he has done no wrong, but the crowd refuses to listen and instead chants, “Crucify him, crucify him.” Pilate then lets Supply-Side Jesus go free, and orders the innocent man, whose name was Jesus of Nazareth, to be crucified.

I sat there reading the book at Horse Brass Pub in amazement. Here was Al Franken, a known liberal who often lambastes the conservative Christian right but who also, somehow, understands the difference between the Jesus the religious right worships and the Jesus presented in Scripture. One Jesus is understood through conservative economic theory, the other through the Gospels.

* * *

I recall watching a documentary detailing Muslim frustration, both domestic and Middle Eastern, with the perception that all Muslims subscribe to the sort of angry and dangerous extremism propagated by terrorist hijackers on September 11. “It was more than those planes that got hijacked,” one Muslim woman commented. “It was the nation of Islam. In the eyes of the world, they took our faith and flew it into those buildings. The damage may never be repaired.”

I wondered if the Christian faith had not been hijacked as well, hijacked by those same two issues: abortion and gay marriage. How did a spirituality such as Christianity, a spirituality that speaks of eternity, of a world without end, of forgiveness of sins and a mysterious union with the Godhead, come to be represented by a moralist agenda and a trickle-down economic theory? And more important, how did a man born of Eastern decent, a man who called Himself the Prince of Peace, a man whom the sacred writings describe eating with prostitutes and providing wine at weddings and healing the sick and ignoring any political plot, a man who wants us to turn the other cheek and give all our possessions if we are sued, become associated with—no, become the poster boy for—a Western moral and financial agenda communicated through the rhetoric of war and ignorant of the danger it is causing to a world living in poverty (emphasis mine).

My only answer is that Satan is crafty indeed.

I realize there are people reading this who will automatically dismiss me as a theological liberal, but I do not believe a person can take two issues from Scripture, those being abortion and gay marriage, and adhere to them as sins, then neglect much of the rest and call himself a fundamentalist or even a conservative. The person who believes the sum of morality involves gay marriage and abortion alone, and neglects health care and world trade and the environment and loving his neighbor and feeding the poor is, by definition, a theological liberal, because he takes what he wants from Scripture and ignores the rest (emphasis mine). Make no mistake, there is a lifeboat motive in play, a join a team and fight feeling that is roaming around like a lion, searching to destroy men’s souls.

* * *

The reason I bring this up is to plead with evangelicals to return to the sort of call Christ has given us, to obey Him and experience intimacy with Him through sharing our faith, loving our enemies, serving and feeding the poor and hungry directly, and to stop showing off about how moral we are and how that makes us better than other people. I assure you, once we leave the fight over our country’s future and enter the spiritual battle for the hearts and souls of the lost, the church will flourish, and the kingdom of God will grow. God is not in the business of brokering for power over a nation; He is in the business of loving the unloved and pulling sheep out of crags and bushes.

The greatest comfort I can feel in the middle of this is that Jesus did not lend Himself to war causes, to tax issues or political campaigns. For that matter, He did not lend Himself to raising money for education or stumping for affirmative action. It was as if He did not trust us to build a utopia (emphasis mine). He kept it very simple, in fact. Follow me, He said. I have no opinion about what color the paint should be in this prison. Follow me.

Is Jesus angry? Sometimes. Does He speak of sin and morality? Yes, quite frequently. Does the contemporary evangelical model of sin and morality reflect the teachings of Christ? As a flea is a part of a dog, but not to be confused with the dog itself. Is Jesus frustrated with sinners? Yes. Is He frustrated with religious zealots who use His Father’s name to build businesses or support agendas? He is violently frustrated. Is there a penalty to pay for rejecting Him? Yes, apart from Christ we will die and are dying. Does Jesus like liberals more than conservatives? He will be nobody’s flag.

* * *

I suspect any lack of love or feelings of anger we have toward the culture around us are not feelings that come from God, but rather our souls arising again to cast rocks at women caught in adultery (emphasis mine). We should not expect Christ to respond any differently to us than He did to the moralists of His day:

They dropped their stones and walked away, feeling ashamed that each of them had been proved a sinner, too. And Jesus went over to comfort the woman, telling her, “Go, and sin no more” (see John 8).

This concludes the chapter.


Blogger Josh said...

Brandon: I don't believe we've ever formally met, but I'm an old friend of the Schierholz family. I first discovered your blog in an email from Stephanie a long time ago, and I remember a post or two about NPR that I rather enjoyed. I recently found my way back to The Ready Room, and I feel compelled to comment. Your review of Donald Miller's first book, Blue Like Jazz, caught my attention. For the first time in a long time, I had come across a book on Christian spirituality that looked like it might be right up my alley. I noticed today that you had taken the time to post an entire chapter from Searching For God Knows What, and if no one has thanked you for that yet, let me be the first. I can't even begin to tell you how refreshing it was to read Donald Miller's take on the Gospel and it's application to the world and culture around us. I think I might have finally found a text that makes Christian spirituality as exciting and vibrant and wonderful as I remember it.

I'm a Christian-gone-stale, what some might call backslidden, and it hasn't been until recently that I've begun to re-awaken my spiritual being. I've been just a bit disillusioned of late when it comes to spiritual matters, and one of my biggest barries to re-exploring a relationship with Christ has been the notion that all Christians must also be card-carrying members of the religious right (my hometown is also Colorado Springs, which may be where that notion was first planted in my head). Donald Miller seems to be onto something, and I can't wait to read both of his books from cover to cover.

I also wanted to take the time to tell you that I enjoy your blog. Your writing is compelling, and you seem to be an avid traveller, which is something I aspire to be. Tell Stephanie I said hello, and keep writing. Thanks again.

3:59 PM  

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