“Set apart” and “by God”

I recently read an accusation which stuck with me.  I think the reason that it did is because there is truth to it.

The claim was that we emergent/post modern types tend to engage in questionable behavior and actions that are questionable, and that part of our motivation to do this is simply to show off how hip and free we are. 

I think that the context was around drinking, but really, there are dozens of examples that might apply: swearing; Pg-13/R/NC-17 films; listening to music that seems to glorify ungodly things; engaging in expressions of our sexuality outside of marriage… I’m sure we could all add on to this list.

Over the short term, all these things have their appeal.  Obviously, one reason we do them is simply that they are “fun.”  And there’s probably something to the claim that we need to understand the world’s ways, we need to be relevant, we need to be in the world but not of the world.  (Interesting, though, that we rarely seek out ways of emphasizing with others that are less enjoyable.)  

All this notwithstanding, I think that there is something to the claim that it’s also a way to establish ourselves as not legalistic, old-fashioned, pharisee-like. 

What Paul says about not abusing our freedom in Christ is incredibly important.  But it’s not the direction I want to go in today.

There is of course the opposite extreme.  Our little Christian ghettos.  Ruled by laws that are not in the Bible.  They are rigid places.  The word “Gosh” is a no-no, because it sounds so much like saying the word “God” and this would be taking the lord’s name in vain.  A restaurant that served alchohol would never even be entered.  Again, you probably know the drill that these well-intentioned folks live by.

The word “Holy” means “Set apart by God.”  Only four words.  But both extremes only get about half of it right, I think.

The emergent crowd gets focused on the latter half of the definition, and more specifically on aspects of God that are often forgotten.  When we engage in questionable activities we say that God is endlessly loving, radically inclusive, present everywhere.

The ghetto crowd set themselves apart.  Sometimes they aren’t very consistent with who it is that is setting themselves apart.  But they are quite good at setting themselves apart.

The ghetto crowd looks silly.  The emergent crowd looks… identical to the world they inhabit. It’s true that we gain credibility by being understanding and culturally relevant.  But we lose it just as quickly.  On the whole, people aren’t stupid.  When somebody claims that Jesus has revolutionized there life, but they are doing all the same stuff that others without Jesus are doing, there is a disconnect.  People wonder– as they should– just where is this radical change?

The aspect I have been wrestling with is this: how can I transcend this whole question.  Jesus often operated this way: the world makes assumptions that somehow you are on a spectrum in all sorts of areas.  Choosing a place anywhere on that spectrum has limitations, problems, challenges.  Jesus, through out the scriptures, made himself bigger than the obvious options.

I believe that there must be such an option.  There are problems and advantages to being part of the emergent crowd.  There are problems and advantages to being part of the ghetto crowd.  Finding a spot exactly half way between the emergent and the ghetto crowd, will carry half as many advantages and half as many problems. 

I know that Jesus wants more for me.  What do you think?  Can we step beyond the ghetto and the emergent paradigms?


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

2 thoughts on ““Set apart” and “by God””

  1. Hi Jeff,
    Judging by your recent posts (this one and “truth”) we have been traveling on very similiar paths. I think that I was hoping that truth, perhaps even Truth, could transcend the problems you identify in the diversity of believers–but right now I’m thinking that love and forebearance trumps even truth in matters of the Church Truth in the Church

    Regarding what we do or don’t do as individuals–I think that is not a matter of the Church, or fellowships with their lists (or unspoken rules). I think that comes down to our willingness to look for Jesus and our obedience in staying on the straight path He has made for each of us.


  2. Thanks so much Vance. I’d been noticing that you hadn’t posted much lately and am glad to see you still lurking about.

    What you say makes a good deal of sense… perhaps I’ll have more to say and ask later, after I digest your words a bit.


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