Identity and opposition

I’ve been contemplating how much we define ourselves by the people, things, and ideas that we oppose.

For example, it’s easy to say “I’m a Christian, so I don’t…”  Fill in the blank.  Often times we probably fill in that blank with lots of things we are wise not to do.   And other times we probably fill in that blank with things that are kind-of silly.  And of course, it’s not all about Christianity.  “I’m a Republican, so I don’t…”  “I’m a Democrat, so I don’t…”  “I’m a member of the middle class, so I don’t…”  “I belong to such-and-such a group so I don’t…”

There are some dangers, though to this.  The first danger is that as soon as things we are opposing ceases to exist, then so do we.  If my identity as a Christian is wrapped up in the idea that I don’t listen to punk music, what happens when punk music goes away?  At some point, I’m tetheting my faith to the whims of public opinion, as much as if I worshipped punk music.

I don’t want to start a debate about whether or not homosexuality or abortion are good things or bad things.  But I know that this is a single-minded obsession for some of my brothers and sisters in Christ.  I wonder about these people: What if they got what they wanted?  What if they managed to outlaw abortion, or even homosexual acts?  What if they managed to actually be able to enforce these laws and they did away entirely with homosexuality or abortion?  How long would the celebrations last?

I suspect for some of them, it wouldn’t last for very long.  Because I think that some people define themselves by these sorts of fights. 

There are all sorts of issues we use in a negative way to define ourselves.  I’m a good Christian because I don’t drink.  Or watch R-rated movies.  Or vote for pro-choice political candidates.  

More subtely, we emergents do the same thing in reverse.  It can be easy for me to define myself as a not-conservative.  I’m a good Christian because I don’t follow those silly legalistic rules of the traditional folks.  I’m a good Christian because I don’t seperate myself from the world.  I’m a good Christian because I don’t…

If we started considering Rob Bell’s opinion Orthodox and started looking at Pat Robertson as a heretic, it would be hard for me.  Some of my identity is wrapped up in not only affirming Bell’s opinions about a bunch of things, but I also have parts of my identity wrapped up in being against what Robertson says, just because he said it.

The definition of Holy is “To be set apart by God.” I used to think that what we were being set apart from is the world itself.

There’s a problem with this idea, though. 

The problem is that this is a self-defeating idea.  God wants us all to be holy.  If we made all of us holy we’d all be set apart by him, together.  That doesn’t really make any sense.

It’s a bit like a recipe.  Sometimes a recipe says you need 2 cups of something for the whole recipe.  You might need that something for two different parts.  Maybe it’s sugar.  And the sugar is needed inside the muffin and also for the crumby topping to the muffin.

It would make sense for the recipe to say “Set aside 1/2 cup”.  It would even make sense, (though be a little stranger) for the recipe to say “Set aside 1 1/2 cups”  But the recipe wouldn’t bother to specify “Set aside the whole 2 cups” If you started with 2 cups, you can’t set aside the whole of the 2 cups. 

If I hold on to the idea that holiness means to be set aside by God, it doesn’t seem like it could mean being set aside from other people.  Because at some point, we’ll all be holy.  And who are we set apart from then?

To be made holy must mean to be set apart from my own self desires, my own flaws, selfishness, and greed.

On the ground, it could end up looking the same.  I have a desire to fit in, to belong, to be one of the cool kids.  Holiness is being bigger than these desires.

So God might call out a person or a group to do something different.  In scripture, he often calls on the Israelites (and later, the first Christians) to act differently, to eat differently, to dress differently, to speak differently.

We always talk as if the idea is to seperate them from other people.  He’s making them holy by placing them in a different group. 

But what if we’ve got the cart before the horse?  What if all those things weren’t done to make them seperate from the other groups: what if they were done to seperate them from the worst parts of themselves?

And once they’ve been made holy, that group could serve as a shining example to everybody.  If they taught everybody what they learned through obedience to God, we could recapture a closeness that is so much more important than the tread mill of popular opinion.  The closeness we’d experience would be so much greater than the faux-closeness that they experienced before God went began the process of “seperating” his people from those around them.

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jeffsdeepthoughts

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.

One thought on “Identity and opposition”

  1. I hope I’m following your line of thought here. There’s a couple of things that confused me but were you saying that everyone will one day be with God and there is no one that will ever be separated from Him eternally?

    I agree with the line of set apart mean separating ourselves from our evil desires, etc. but I also believe it does equate to certain practices we believe we should be set apart from because they ignite or reflect those evil desires, etc. And I suppose you are agreeing with this and are just mentioning some issues that seem to divide even those who call themselves “set apart.”

    I also think that God does set us apart in order to a service for Him to a group of people who are not set apart.

    Set apart as I’ve understood it is a state of holiness that demands some change in character, actions, choices opposed to that which is common. It is this uncommon (holiness) that is most like God and is what God uses for His service.

    I think we’re agreeing on most of the philosophy behind all this (don’t understand what you were saying in the middle, but…) and it seems like you’re just trying to make a point against those who just sit on those same soapbox issues as their cause or mission in life.

    Like

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