A Theology of celery and ice cream Sundays.

Sometimes, my kids will want to eat more junk food than I want them to eat.  One of the ways they attempt to justify this will be to say “But I’ll have something healthy later.”

It seems built into us, this flawed way of thinking.  While I no longer think I can justify having a big, gooey Sunday by chasing it with a celery stalk or something, I do engage in similar mental gymnastics.  I think so many of us do.

When I do something I know is wrong I’ll justify it by planning on doing something which is exceptionally moral.  Or sometimes, I’ll put a twist on this.  I’ll do something wrong and then I’ll use this to get some good result… I cheat on my taxes, perhaps, but donate the money to a good charity.

We keep these mental score cards.  We think, at the end of the day, if we’ve shown a profit of goodness that we are a good person.  Somewhere deep down, we even maybe believe that this balance sheet will either get us into heaven or keep us out of heavan.

It occurred me today: part of this is rooted in the idea that Good and Evil are equal and opposites.

If Good and Evil were equal and opposite then the whole object of life would be to end up closer to the side we identify as “Good”.  The way we would ensure that this is where we are would be to total up all of the good things we do, subtract from them all the bad things we do, and hope we end up on the right side of the dividing line.

  There’s a variety of decent reasons to think that Good and Evil are equal and opposite.  But I’m not sure that any of these reasons are in the Bible.  I think, in fact, that scripture implies quite a different view.

The two biggest reasons that it seems like Evil and Good aren’t equal and opposite:

#1) Satan is Evil personified.  And yet he is created. 

#2) We are promised Good’s ultimate victory over evil.

Being created is in some ways inferior to being The Creator.  In this sense, Evil and Good do not seem equal.  And it seems to me that if you can guarentee one side’s victory over the other, then, furthermore, they weren’t really evenly balanced.

The only way to make sense of all this– and a variety of other philosophical issues– is to suggest (I think Augustine held this position) that evil is a lacking of Goodness.  In short, Evil isn’t equal to Good.  Evil is a lacking of good.

Dark and light (which are often used in the bible to stand for good and evil) actually share a similiar relationship.  At first glance, it might seem that dark and light are equal and opposite.

Yet, we can’t flick a switch and have darkness cast by a dark-bulb.  Darkness is simply the absence of light.  It isn’t really equal or opposite to light at all.  Dark is simply what happens when there is no light around.

I used to feel frustrated when Christians spoke about how God’s standard is perfection.   There are passages of scripture which are taken to mean that the only way to heaven outside of Jesus is total perfection.

If Good and evil are viewed as equal and oppsites, this doesn’t make a lot of sense.

But if God is the ultimate good, it suddenly does.  Because I can never be as good as God.  And perhaps this is Jesus meaning when he asked why someone called him good.  He said that only God is good.

We have the potential to be Godly.  It’s not a theoretical impossibility that we might be good as God, in the same way that’s it’s a theoretical impossibility that we’d be as wise or powerful as him.

But is a practical impossibility.  On the ground, we never make it work.

And so let’s go back to the celery and Sunday mentality.  The bottom line of why it is so silly:

We began with the idea that we might do something evil or immoral.  It is a thing occupying the country far from God.  It is a thing which has nothing to do with God.   In the same way that a giant gooey Sunday is so far from healthy, so too is our action so far from God.

The issue isn’t that it’s evil, really.  Evil is simply a lacking of Godlines.  The issue is that it’s far from God.

And a celery stick?  It’s closer to healthy.  But a celery stick isn’t the ultimate act of healthiness.  We can’t, in practice, engage in one ultimate act of healthiness.   We’re closer to healthiness, when we eat the celery, and it’s generally smarter to eat celery than Sundays, but  so what?  Eating the celery doesn’t erase the ice cream…

Nor do our attempts at engaging in Godly acts erase our ungodly ones.  Even if we could truly become Godly, even if we could engage in one single, supremely healthy act, even if there was some sort-of super food that instantly met all of our dietary requirements, it still wouldn’t erase the ice cream.

And so as I’m writing this I realize that this even begins to drift into the realm of faith vs. works.  Perhaps our faith can come closer to Godly perfection than our works can?  Maybe the reason that our hearts condition is so much more important than what we’re doing on the outside, is that God’s image resides in our hearts…

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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.

2 thoughts on “A Theology of celery and ice cream Sundays.”

  1. Well written, well stated.
    i would add this: extrapolate on the eating balance. If eating the celery compensates for eating the ice cream, it shouldn’t matter how much ice cream you eat so long as you offset it with the appropriate amount of celery. To this point you’ve implied that all you need is a little ice cream to affect your body, and that the celery doesn’t undo the effect.

    But the license to eat as much ice cream as you want can only escalate you into a fat-s###.

    Like

  2. People think in the way you describe because they also think that they can get enough of Jesus, whether or not they admit it. When you know that you can’t get enough of Jesus, your pursuit of Him in every moment, pursuit in the sense of following not seeking (as many people mean), causes the weighing and counting mentality to evaporate, “gone like snow on the water.”

    When parents are raising a family, they somehow think they have to ease their kids into Christianity, make it pleasant for them, so they are not discouraged and give up. Church leaders do the same with their congregations. Orthodox bishops will give the people permission to sit down during long services when we would normally be standing. That’s dadliness for you, but it sends the wrong message.

    Following Christ is not really as hard as people make it out to be. Developing personal discipline does not have to be a ladder to heaven mentality. The fact we exist at all is ample proof of the love of God, who doesn’t create us just to destroy us if we aren’t “perfect.” Our living lives of personal self-discipline is just doing what we have to do to fit into God’s family, because we are part of it by His grace. He adopted us orphans and we don’t want to disappoint Him. We don’t want to embarass Him in front of His enemies.

    Our kids should see us living our lives this way, and it should make them want to “grow up to be like Mom and Dad” rather than their opposite. So don’t cheat them out of their inheritance by offering them cheap grace.

    Jesus says, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
    But what does He mean by “perfect”?
    The sun shines on bad men as well as good, and the rains come down on the fields of the wicked as well as those of the righteous.
    The perfection Jesus exhorts us to is not moral perfection in the human sense, but the kind of incorruptible life that is so confident in the providence of God that it takes no notice of external conditions, but lives in a state of unshakable certainty. Why? Because we are the recipients of an unshakable kingdom.

    You know the rest…

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