Both Sides

In John 15 Jesus talks about being in the world but not of the world.  What does this mean?  The realities for those who are in the world seem to be the same as my reality.  In spiritual moments I can talk about a future hope I have, but that doesn’t seem to change my everyday experience.  Everything from how am I going pay for my boys college education to what will happen if we bomb Syria? Jesus was really good at speaking out of both sides of his mouth.  One moment he is calling his followers to pick up their crosses and follow and the next he is calling people to himself because his yoke is easy and his burden light.  Which is it: the heavy burden of the cross or the weightless yoke?  Experience tells me it is a little of both.  And we don’t always get to control if it is easy or hard.

In some ways the ministry I work for operates out of the same spirit.  We are both tolerant and intolerant.  On one hand we are open to participants who “don’t get it,” but on the other we do not have a whole lot of tolerance for people who are content to live out their racial prejudice or stereotypes.

The willingness to live in tension seems to be a critical trait for followers of Jesus.  Rarely does the Christian faith fall into neat packages.  And quit frankly I am tired of people who keep trying to jam a neat prepackaged faith down my throat. It doesn’t feel authentic.

Any of us living in the real world know that a prayer of faith does not always result in healing, but praying for healing is still a good thing to do.  Giving my 10% does not mean God will bless me with an abundance of money, but giving does help me to see a world beyond myself.  As a pacifist I am not going to stand idly by and do nothing when justice is required; I just get to be more creative in my responses.

I once had a college professor who said that consistency is the pursuit of the fool.  I am still working out the “truth” of his statement.   In that spirit a Christian faith that doesn’t speak out of both sides of one’s mouth might not be authentic.

Don’t you believe what the Bible teaches?

The other day I was asked to sign a petition.  It had to do with one of those burning “Christian” issues.  At this point you need to know that I am not going to name her issue, as naming it would shift the focus of this blog to the issue. My standard response to petitions is that I am a Canadian and probably shouldn’t sign.  Most people let me off the hook at this point.  In this instance I was once again let off the hook, but before she went on to ask for more signatures she proceeded to lament to me about the state of Christian belief in this country.

“Why can’t people just believe what the bible teaches?”  For her the Bible spoke clearly to her issue.

I have thought about her statement for a while now.  Like her I believe that Bible is clear about some things.  For me loving God and loving neighbors are at the top of the list, but once we get past these two subjects clarity quickly fades.

Think about all the things that divided Christians:

There are many believers who defend a literal six day creation. However, Christians were among the first to suggest that we need to understand the Genesis stories symbolically.

Christians are among the strongest supporters of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and Christians are among the strongest opponents of these conflicts.

Think about the current debates over gay marriage and women’s right to choose. It is Christians who are the strongest supporters and opponents.

Then there is the healthcare debate.  You can find committed followers of Christ across the “what should we do” spectrum.

Taking Jesus and Scripture seriously does not always provide clear-cut answers.  It takes a tremendous amount of courage to accept people of faith who fundamentally disagree with you and your understanding of the truth.  That said, authentic Christianity always allows for the possibility that my particular understanding of the issue might be wrong.

Really?

Last night on my flight home I finished reading Marcus Borg’s latest book, Speaking Christian.  As is typical, this book was provocative, thoughtful and edgy.  Borg has a way of making folks take a second look at many of our deeply held Christian assumptions.  In the concluding chapter he took edgy to a whole new level.

“The combination of being Christian and American creates a very ambiguous situation.  We are the most Christian country in the world – and yet we are the world’s greatest military power… Not surprisingly, the United States Air Force is the most powerful in the world.  More surprising is the second most powerful air force: the United States Navy…  Though our national motto is “In God We Trust,” clearly what we really trust is power, especially military power.”

My initial reaction was, “Really?  We have the number one and the number two air forces?”  That sounds ridiculous at best and wasteful at worst.  How can we as a country justify maintaining the top two air forces in the world while cutting things like education and social programs.  It just seems wrong.  Can’t we be content with just having the top air force in the world?

The real question, especially for Christians, is not about being number one and number two.  It is a question about what we trust and who we serve.  After all, Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters.”   This is a verse that is easier to ignore than to deal with.  Is Jesus just taking about money?  The verse ends by saying you cannot serve God and wealth.  Or is Jesus saying something more?  For example, can you serve both God and country?  Being a believer has something to do with putting our faith and trust in God.  Is this really the case for American Christians?  When things go bad where to we turn?