Tuesday, December 18, 2012

When the Tower Falls

I think I may tick some people off with this post, and I apologize, but not for these words. I don't like conflict and stirring things up, so sorry if I'm getting you all huffy over your lunch break.  But I'm not sorry for these thoughts.

I wrote my piece last week about mourning with those who mourn, and taking  more time for silence after a tragedy like the one in Connecticut. For the record, I STILL feel raw and like it's just so soon for all the shouting across party lines to begin about how we can definitively solve these kinds of issues through some kind of policy.

For the record, I don't know what the solution is. But it's more complex than to just change a law or do one thing. It is also too complex to blame one particular facet of society.  That really gets down to what I want to talk about today: BLAME.  Oddly, I'm not going to talk about the blame placed on gun control or lack thereof.  I'm not going to talk about the blame being placed on mental illness or the challenge of finding adequate help and care to those suffering from it.

I'm going to talk about the blame being placed on our country's morality.  And I'm looking right at you, Christians who are making statements about our country falling under judgment for the ways we have strayed from God.  I have three words for you:  Tower of Siloam. 

Jesus broached the subject of suffering and sin in Luke 13, using the Tower of Siloam as an example. Apparently, this tower fell and crushed some people to death. Jesus asks: "Do you think they were more guilty than any others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no!  But unless you repent, you too will all perish."

The people who discussed this with Jesus seem to be a lot like Job's friends--pointing to a disaster as evidence of sin and need for repentance. The Bible clearly talks about the principle of sowing and reaping. But in Ecclesiastes, Psalms and other places, we can also see people struggling to understand how there are still so many prosperous wicked people. Sometimes the reaping and sowing doesn't line up this side of heaven.

We will reap what we sow, eventually. But we also live in a totally messed up world filled with messed up people. No sin exists in a vacuum. When I screw up, it might have consequences on my neighbor or kid or some stranger on the highway. My sin, your sin, the sin of the guy walking his dog on your street--they bleed freely from one life to the next, a contagion.

Jesus did say that the people needed to repent, and here I am saying I don't like hearing that message with regards to our country today in light of events like the horror of Sandy Hook Elementary. I think the difference is that the messages I'm hearing come across in a very different way. I hear:

-we were better off years ago with the founding fathers
-you need to clean up your act
-your issues and sins are what our country needs to repent from

The dialogue I have been hearing isn't a dialogue, it's more of a diatribe. YOU need to look at how much better off our country was back in the good old days. YOU need to stop your wicked ways. YOU need to repent. You, you, you. My question: where is the "I" in that sentence? I'm fine with Jesus flat-out saying, "YOU need to repent." He was, after all, God come down as man. And even with all the same temptations we face, he was without sin. He can tell me to repent. The very same message, coming out of my mouth has a very different ring to it.

Let me tell you why by way of one of the arguments I've been hearing for quite some time: our country was better off years ago when the founding fathers kicked things into motion. Since then, we have been in moral decline that is worse than ever today.

Did our country appear on the surface to be more in line with Biblical morality 50, 100, 200 years ago? Probably so.

Here's a better question: Were the hearts of the people in this country more tuned into God's heart?  

If you think you have an answer to that, I want to challenge you to think again. I am happy to say that I have absolutely NO idea.  You know why? I don't see people's hearts. That's a God thing. Sometimes there is a tie between that fruit and what's going on in the heart. The book of James definitively tells us that if we believe in Jesus, you'll see it in our actions. But there is also the Pharisee effect, wherein a bunch of people know how they are expected to behave and so they put on a great show, generally involving a lot of finger-pointing. Jesus called them white-washed tombs and accused them of cleaning the outside of the cup while the inside was filthy.

I'm sure that for some of the people spouting the message that our country needs to repent or face judgment, the heart is behind it. What they mean is that they want hearts to change, people to repent and come to God, not that they just want laws that reflect the Bible or a clean cup on the outside. But that's not really what I hear in the message. The message comes across very often like this: "You better clean up the outside of the cup before a tower falls on you.  Oh--a tower did fall on you? Well, you had it coming."

You know what I have to say about blame and repentance?  I am guilty. Me. I am desperately worthy of judgment, desperately in need of repentance. Daily. I am a messed-up person. If a tower fell on me, I feel sure that in the grand scheme of God and his holiness, I deserve it. Without Jesus, I would be simply an object of wrath. With Jesus, I am still a giant mess in need of relying on God every hour, every minute. Today I have judged other people, skipped out on my prayer time to blog, lost patience with my kids, and spent money on things I don't need while other people really have need. That's just a starter list.

Does our country need to repent? I'm guessing that if I need to, then probably our country does. But I think sometimes the heart gets lost in the public conversations that discuss national repentance. I hear a lot of cleaning the outside of the cup talk. I heard it with Katrina--New Orleans was facing judgment for being such a harbinger of sin, they said. I've heard it with virtually every other disaster, natural or human-caused.

As I've written this post, I've come to realize that I am making judgments about the people making these statements about judgments.  Maybe I misunderstand their words, or haven't seen them in the greater context of what they said. Maybe an internet source posted a poor quote.

One more thing I need to repent of today.

But the general conversations I have heard about blame and morality seem to list a few sins--none of which the speaker is guilty of. I don't hear them talking about pride or anger or being harsh with their words. They point to a national repentance, a YOU repentance, not their own need. They seem to suggest that if we changed a few laws and cleaned the outside of the cup, we wouldn't have school shootings or hurricanes. You know what we might have?  People with the same, messed-up hearts and a better-looking exterior.

The message I hear is getting it backwards.

Jesus didn't tell the woman caught in adultery to put on some decent clothes and stop sinning before he spoke gently with her. He didn't tell Zacchaeus the tax collector to pay back all that he had stolen before Jesus would have dinner with him.  He didn't tell the sinful woman washing his feet with his tears that she needed to repent before she broke the jar of perfume to anoint him. Yet after they encountered Jesus, people were changed. They did repent. And real repentance is a heart thing, not a law-changing, morality-smacking mirage.

Jesus called to people with dirty hearts. Being with Jesus has a really amazing effect of revealing your own dirty heart to you. He calls you first to come and he offers you grace.  He lived a perfect life, because you and I never can.  He died on the cross because that's what you and I deserve. When we come to Jesus a transfer takes place: he takes away our sin and offers his righteousness. We are promised that transfer, and promised perfection in heaven, but for now promised a lot of suffering and struggle. With our own sin, with each other.

We are called to repent, but I think it looks vastly different than the message I'm hearing today. I hear, "Clean up your act or else!" The voice of Jesus whispers instead, "Come to me as you are--then we'll do some cleaning."

Do you see the difference?

I have a confession to make. I am at the end of this epic blog post and I am realizing in humility that I started out thinking I knew exactly what I needed to say and that I was right.  Just like all those other people out there offending me with their "I am right and you you YOU are wrong" statements. I'm kind of afraid to hit "publish" on this one. I feel slightly chastised and sort of humbled. I feel worried that I've missed something, that I'm just adding one more voice to the many. I haven't even been to seminary. I'm writing this in my bathrobe. I'm nobody.

I may not know much, but I feel okay confessing that to you. It's embarrassing and a little self-depricating to write something so passionately and feel so passionately and then at the end admit doubt. I always struggle with the intersection of faith and politics, the intersection of faith and life. I like to think that being honest about that struggle is better than the pride of thinking I have it on lock. (Which I don't.) When I struggle with understanding and wisdom, it turns me right to Jesus.  So please, share your thoughts and comments with me and know that I will receive them humbly.

I'd like to close (finally) with this. When a tower falls, rather than pointing fingers outward, I hope that we can instead reach out with loving hands. Any finger-pointing and blame-casting should go inward. It starts with ME.


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