The refining fire of this moment

Life has a way of sorting out your priorities for you.

We all have a story we tell ourselves and maybe others about what’s really important to us, what our core values are. A lot of times, that story reflects what we want to be true about ourselves, but maybe not our reality. Usually (at least in my life), we excuse the inconsistencies between what we say is important and all the other stuff that we give our hearts to by saying that they work together toward an integrated whole. My career supports my family. The time I spend watching TV or playing fantasy football refreshes me so that I can be a better parent. It’s all good.

That’s especially true with seemingly innocuous stuff, I think. If you’re spending time on things that aren’t innately bad and are generally socially accepted, it’s easy to fit them in to your professed value system. For a while.

But Life has a way of intervening in a way that shows you where the seams are between your integrated system and asks you to choose which is more important: you say your marriage comes first, but it’s your next promotion you can’t get your mind off of. You say your kids are your priority, but you won’t get off your Facebook feed to spend time with them. Eventually, those cracks show and you have to choose what really is important to you. Even if you don’t acknowledge the choice as such, that’s what it is. You may have told yourself that all of the elements of your life fit together just fine, but that was a ruse to explain a gap in your professed and lived values.

I raise this because I’ve been reflecting on a couple of items that came across my feed this week and their broader import, particularly for Christians in America today. The first impetus of this reflection was a blog post by Beth Moore, about her “identity crisis.” While she does not explicitly spell out the context for this crisis in the post, it’s pretty reasonable to assume this loss of identity, which is really a distancing from the community she identified with, has been sparked by some of the more scandalous elements of the Trump campaign and presidency – the Access Hollywood video, the “whataboutism” of his soft stance on the “alt-right” in the wake of Charlottesville, maybe some other things. It appears from her post that many of her friends, the community she identifies with, are excusing or justifying comments or actions that she don’t think jibe with the ethics of following Jesus. Based on the comments on her blog, she is not alone in this.

The post as a whole reads as a very personal elaboration of the tweet pinned to her Twitter profile:

And as much as I ache for this woman I know only as the author of my wife’s favorite Bible studies, I know that what she’s going through is, if not inevitable, for the best for those who, like her, truly want to be followers of Jesus. We are at a moment in America in which many Christians are facing a rapidly opening gap that had been just a seam not long ago between their politics and their profession of faith. Let me explain.

Sociologists of religion and anthropologists will tell you that religion serves a culture by legitimizing the power structure of that culture; this is the primary “feature” of a religion from a sociological perspective.

But Christianity (and, I suspect, other religions) has a “bug” that undermines this feature. Its foundational belief is in an omnipotent God who merits all respect and honor and who calls for a response of radical and unremitting love for God and neighbor (universally defined). If “loving God through loving each other” is our prime directive, it’s a directive both insatiable and simple enough to overcome qualifying and contextualizing.

We who profess this faith tend to layer on other things on top of that faith. We are Christians, sure, but we’re conservative Christians or progressive Christians or nationalist Christians or Catholic Christians or Evangelical Christians, or, or, or. We tell ourselves, especially because those around us in the Christian Community think and act and talk the same way, that these modifiers integrate into a larger whole that binds together, but the seams always fray eventually. It does so for progressive Christians and conservative Christians when they dive so deep into the Gospel and soak in its message that they are confronted by the places where their modifier doesn’t quite breed the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control that Paul describes as the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5. People struggle to keep the seams together, and sometimes they push away from focusing on God so much so they can stay comfortable in their modifier. But, again, that’s a choice of it’s own.


I drafted this in August, then, uncharacteristically, left it in draft. That was pre-#MeToo. Still works, I’m afraid.

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