Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Gathered around the table, round one

“What do I still lack?” 
Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Matthew 19:21

So yesterday, as usual, we gathered together to break bread after the Sunday service. Well, actually, divvy up cheese chicken nachos with lots of extra slices of fresh jalepeños at Bisonwiches. 

And we started talking with a great guy who is committed to bringing the gospel downtown and who is all about urban ministry. But then somehow the conversation twisted into bringing not only the gospel but orthodoxy to the foodie hipsters and drunken college students and wandering artists and musicians and sundry street people and marketed children. And what is orthodoxy, which according to him is being diluted and mingled and is the work of the church to build up. 

If you love Jesus you will read the Bible and do everything He says. 

But (see above) people just don’t do that much these days. Except for the thousands of joyous European youth gathered in Assisi this weekend to celebrate a Pope with a fresh take on an old familiar story. 

And his contention struck a nerve around the table. Is the job of the church to build up Orthodoxy? Or something else? Because I am old and not particularly hipster, my only experience with doctrine has been division and not They shall know we are Christians by our love, by our love.

Because sometimes people read the exact same Scripture and yet disagree as to what it means. Which brings us all into the world of hermeneutics, biblical interpretation. The complicated world. Because it is all well and good to set up general guidelines that our understanding must be Simple.  Consistent. Not subjective. And must fall under the big guideline of Jesus: Love God, love your neighbor. But each of us still picks and chooses wantonly until we get tangled up in all of the loose threads and fall to the ground and wonder how this Bible could possibly be God-inspired and profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.

But all the wandering around hermeneutics websites just makes me a little sad and tired, with the mixture of rather snide little digs to the not-quite-as-Orthodox, unlike swimming a hard 400 meters on Monday morning, which makes me happy and tired. And while there is a great deal of joy in envisioning a redemptive-movement hermeneutic that speaks of a God at restorative work in which we are called by Him to join, it is a different sort of joy than that which bubbles out of Nicole and her Do What Jesus Did love and the Yes, you can quote me God-is-bigger-than-you-think peaceful joy of Cameron, and the simple although a tad weary joy of Mike Birrer who was meditating on God for August, and His Word in September and here it is already October and he still hasn’t picked a theme because he has been pretty busy just loving on Tucson.

Thus I turned to Mr. Jolly G. K. Chesteron and his Orthodoxy tome for a little century-old perspective.

Somehow one must love the world without being worldly. 

And though St. John saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators.

To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain. The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits. 

As we have taken the circle as a symbol of reason and madness, we may very well take the cross as a symbol at once of mystery and health. Buddhism is centripetal, but Christianity is centrifugal: it breaks out. For the circle is perfect and infinite in its nature; but it is fixed for ever in its size; it can never be larger or smaller. But the cross, though it has at its heard a collision and a contradiction, can extend its four arms forever without altering its shape. Because is has a paradox in its center it can grow without changing. The circle returns upon itself and is bound. The cross opens its arms to the four winds; it is a signpost for free travelers.

Although very little of it addressed the question at hand, what does He mean when He says, “sell all you have and follow Me,” I felt cheered.    Except for this, framed in the background racket of fiddling politicians, there is one more thought to consider:
The whole case for Christianity is that a man who is dependent upon the luxuries of this life is a corrupt man, spiritually corrupt, politically corrupt, financially corrupt. There is one thing that Christ and all the Christian saints have said with a sort of savage monotony. They have said simply that to be rich is to be in peculiar danger of moral wreck.

Perspective is good. Some things never change.

But I am still mulling over what it means to be perfect.