Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Follow Me

Recently, I finished reading the powerhouse biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by E. Metaxas.  This should be required reading for everyone, especially those who have forgotten or ignored the recent dark history of our planet.  The spiritual and physical lessons to be learned from Bonhoeffer's association with an once civilized society that turned barbaric are invaluable to us who live coincidental to a surprisingly similar world.  It would seem that most of humanity has forgotten or worse denied the horrors of only a mere seventy or so years ago.  But isn't that just like us?  We tend to remember only the pleasant moments in our pasts, and always to everyone's detriment; because lessons forsaken will need to be learned again.  The tragedy of this, of course, is the tuition always goes up.

The purpose of this post is not to extol the virtues of Metaxas' magnum opus, but to briefly comment on a frustration Bonhoeffer had expressed to his dear friend, Bethge:

"The more we have known of good things, the more insipid the thin lemonade of later literature becomes, sometimes almost to the point of making us sick.  Do you know a work of literature written in the last, say, fifteen years that you think has any lasting quality? I don't.  It is partly idle chatter, partly propaganda, partly self-pitying sentimentality, but there is no insight, no ideas, no charity, no substance and almost always the language is bad and constrained." [E. Metaxas, Bonhoeffer Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy: Thomas Nelson, Nashville, 2010, p. 461.]

Hum.  I had to laugh because every generation, it seems, sees the contributions of the incoming generation as lackluster and in want of the quality, depth, and prestige of the past.  We tend to see the past as a kind of golden era, where if we could just go back, like returning to the idyllic River City, Iowa, life would be happier, more meaningful, less trite, less superficial, more sincere, and therefore much more secure.  I'm guilty of this with my own children, as I have for years decried what I see as a fatal decline of the arts--movies, literature, and especially music--in the hands of their incompetent practitioners (although, perhaps I'm not a good example because in my case I'm right, just ask my daughter).

Woody Allen deftly explores this phenomenon of the inviolable golden era in his recent film, Midnight in Paris.  Allen channels himself transparently through his main character who longs to be a part of the glory--and, yes, decadent--days of literature and art that burned brightly in the second decade, twentieth century Paris.  The hapless protagonist gets his wish and soon learns that there is no end to this romantic reactionism.  In the end, he realizes that we are meant to build on the achievements of our forebears and not be paralyzed by them.

We Christians--particularly American Christians--tend to assess the current sad state of affairs through rose-colored lenses of a past golden era.  We think if only our society returned to the clear principles established by our fore-fathers of morality, patriotism--the solid line connecting God and country--and clear black and white expectations demanded of everyone, we wouldn't experience the confusion, depravity, and chaos so evident today.

First of all, there has never been such an Eden in this or any country, either in recent or distant past--except the original Eden.  Sure, there may have been pockets of our society that experienced approximations of this perceived nirvana--rural homogeneous communities--but they did so by rigorously sweeping under the carpet everything that made them uncomfortable.  As with all denials of reality--both good and bad--all that did was create a dysfunction that has now come to roost.

And secondly, we will never effect positive change on the current world by trying to impose on it mores that have died along with the cultural contexts that made them relevant.  Our culture has changed from the past; it demands a fresh approach precisely because its context is out of touch with previous ones.  The present has its own unique context.

The only way we can help the present world is to continue to address the problem common to all the eons of diverse cultural contexts that came before, because the problem is fundamental to the human condition. And we must do this using the current context with all of its assumptions, perspectives, arts, sciences, and technologies.

The problem of all ages is humanity disenfranchised itself from God.  Today, because of the current cultural milieu, this problem may manifest itself it seemingly unheard of ways (I suspect if we really looked into even this we would discover we are mistaken), but the problem is the same as it has always been.  The solution is Jesus the Christ.

We will not lead people to Jesus by imposing past mores on them, but by introducing them to Him.  They should meet Him in our eyes and lives; they should see Him evidenced by our love practiced in holiness both between each other and everyone else.  Unfortunately, one attitude that hides Him is the all too prevalent notion that Jesus is all those things that seemingly comforted us in our past golden days; we have wrongly replaced an unqualified love for Him with a love for artifacts of Him.

Jesus calls us to follow Him.  The world contexts may change, but Jesus never does, nor does the kingdom He calls all of us into.  We will never lead others there or ourselves remain unless we follow Jesus. He will faithfully show us how to apply and demonstrate the eternal kingdom principles of love and holiness in the changing contexts of each new generation, so all who have and will listen will be gathered into His kingdom on that day when God is all and in all.

Do you accept this?  Don't answer until you hear what Jesus says about it:

As they were walking along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus said to him, “Foxes have dens and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Jesus said to another, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say goodbye to my family.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” [Luke 9:57-62][NET]