Sunday, July 4, 2010

Designated Drivers

Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins. (James 4.17)

Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people. (Proverbs 14.34)


I’m not easily offended. I’ve inadvertently offended enough people in my time to grant license to others, assuming it’s never their intention to offend. The other day, however, I saw a t-shirt that truly galled me. “Designated Driver,” it said, with this below: “(I drive people to drink.)” The pun worked on a literal level, but it didn’t sit well with me. It seemed to indicate sober, responsible people are dull, boring, unpleasant company, etc. In this instance, I took offense for very personal reasons. My father lost his only sibling to a man who was too drunk to know he was driving full speed, lights-out, down the wrong side of a two-way highway. As often happens, the other driver lived. After serving time for involuntary manslaughter, he reunited with his family. Meanwhile, our family lives in hope of the day we’ll see Cyrus again. Had the t-shirt said I save lives or I protect families, I’d have hugged the guy who wore it. But picturing designated drivers as dull enablers rubs me the wrong way. Given my family’s tragedy, I find them uniquely exciting disablers. They perform a civic duty of highest importance.

With numerous national celebrations slated in July (Canada Day, Independence Day, Bastille Day), civic duty merits sober consideration for people of all faiths. God appoints us as His surrogates, to protect and care for His Creation—all of it. We serve as stewards of righteousness in our homes, our communities, our nations, and our planet. We’re essentially designated drivers. Our task consistently boils down to disabling potential harm to others by shouldering responsibility for their travel. To push the metaphor a bit, we’re charged to maintain sobriety, vigilance, and concern for the greater good. Sometimes this requires bold action to take keys from people reeling under the influence of popular poisons. Sometimes we forego indulging in our favorite intoxicants—behaviors and attitudes that make us high—to remain clear-headed so we can help the staggering and disoriented around us safely find their way home.

Dual Citizenship

Separation of church and state is a divinely ordained principle. The Gospels record a well-known episode in which the Pharisees and their political allies attempt to trap Jesus with a civics question. First, they butter Him up, saying, “Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.” (Mark 12.14) Then they come in for the kill. Having implied Jesus’s sole concern is obedience to God, they ask, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Their hypocrisy is transparent to Jesus. The group challenging Him verifies Israel’s religious and civic leaders have bedded down together. Their purpose is luring Him into a policy debate. Jesus doesn’t falter for a second, though. He shows them a coin and asks, “Whose face is on this?” They tell Him it’s Caesar’s face. That settles the question. “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” Jesus says, after which Mark notes, “And they were amazed at him.” (v17)

Jesus teaches politics and faith are mutually exclusive—but He stresses we’re to honor our duties to both. As followers of Christ and members of society, we hold dual citizenship. The laws of God’s kingdom govern our participation as individuals in human affairs. Paul brilliantly encapsulates divine governance in Romans 14.17: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Our sacred and civic duties as designated drivers synch up in our commitment to righteousness, peace and joy. We embrace religious and political policies ensuring justice, amity, and personal happiness. On the other hand, we abhor all policies—church or state-mandated—that poison with deceitful rationales for injustice, strife, and human suffering. Our obligations as dual citizens of God’s kingdom and His world demand this of us. We’re ever aware service to God is service to others, and service to others is service to Him.

Righteousness Flows Up

Contrary to received thought, politics and faith don’t intersect in the public arena. They don’t meet in personal life. Their paths cross in the privacy of one’s heart. It’s there we retain the knowledge of right and wrong, good and evil. This holds true for everyone, regardless of faith or civic conviction. In Romans 2.14, Paul explains human beings’ instinctive capacity to know what’s right and good shows “the requirements of the law are written on their hearts.” Thus, righteousness flows up. It cannot be legislated top-down. It must grow in obedience to laws inscribed in our hearts, where desire to please our Maker is born and dwells.

Should we override our hearts, we can easily forget our responsibilities as Christians and citizens. While this is unfortunate in human terms, in God’s kingdom, it’s a prosecutable offense. “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins,” James 4.17 warns. What’s more, the ramifications of neglect cross all borders. They shame God’s people and our fellow citizens. Proverbs 14.34 says, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” In the midst of this month’s fireworks and anthems, as our pulses pound with patriotism and our lips recite idealistic platitudes, we hear our hearts call for righteousness. When that call drives our thoughts and actions, we’ll become worthy Christians and citizens, the designated drivers God would have us be.

It's our duty as people of God and citizens of the world to uphold righteousness and help those who’ve lost their way safely home.

Postscript: Listening

Writing today’s post brought to mind a favorite Carole King song—“I Think I Can Hear You.” This is the only video I found of it, and its imagery appears chosen for personal significance. But as I watched it, the pictures still spoke to me as random images of life and how listening to our hearts leads us to righteousness. I hope you enjoy it. (And for my American friends, have a safe and happy Fourth!)


gmc said...

I never knew Carole King sang praise songs - cool...

Here's another song by a Vancouver-based musician that touches on the same theme - "... it's so amazing how your voice keeps breaking through..."

I Can Hear You
(I don't know why that one's chopped ....? )

Another of Carolyn's classics:
Seize the Day

Thanks Tim

Tim said...

And see, Grant, you've done it again--added a whole new playlist to my iPod! I'd heard Seize the Day before and loved it, but I didn't know who the artist was. I Can Hear You is another great one.

Re Carole: To my knowledge, this is her most overt song about faith. But several of her songs (e.g., Way Over Yonder, Been to Canaan) have faith-infused tones. (BTW, I'm seeing her with James Taylor this Friday night--can't wait!)

Thanks for the music tips.


Sherry Peyton said...

Indeed Tim, we are called to exercise civic responsibilities along with our Christian duties. And I agree, they marry in the human heart. They are not matters of policy. A wise group of men and hopefully a few women determined that part of following God was allowing people to come to him in their own way without state mandate. You do well to remind us all of our jobs. Blessings,

Edgington said...

Great song and wonderful photos too. Thanks for sharing Tim.

Tim said...

Sherry, it baffles me how many people don't grasp that church/state separation protects the freedom of both. One's imposition on the other invariably leads to the ruin of both, and multitudes end up suffering in the process. If only we knew how to convey this more clearly!

Byron/Mariah, great to see you! I'm glad you liked the song. It's one of Carole's overlooked masterpieces, I think--so simple, raw, and honest.

Thanks to all of you for commenting. I trust you had a marvelous holiday.

Blessings always,

Philomena Ewing said...

This has certainly got me thinking !!
I get most of what you are saying and I agree generally on separation of state and religion but when I get to this part I have to say I am struggling !
"Contrary to received thought, politics and faith don’t intersect in the public arena. They don’t meet in personal life. Their paths cross in the privacy of one’s heart."
Social justice is an individual and a state responsiblity. Let me give you some examples : there has been a debate recently in the UK where Catholic adoption agencies were going to be forced under European Human Rights Law to change their policy to allowing gay parents to adopt. The Church vigorously defended against it because and one of the arguments they used was that the state had no right to impose laws on the church. So the debate was not about whether gay people had the same rights to adopt as heterosexuals but whether or not the church had the right to be uphold its separate beliefs.They said that there were other agencies gay people could go to.
Now I personally think this is a bit of a minefield. Also in Italy the Church are fighting the governments stance on removing crucifixes from all state school classrooms. Do you see where I am coming from ? But yet I do agree that in the field of conscientious objection and healthcare re abortion and euthanasia issues a person has the right to exercise their personal conscience and religious beliefs and choose whether or not to withdraw themselves from situations where their faith would bring their work into conflict with their beliefs.
this is as far as I go or I will run out of space !! Can you see what I mean ??

Philomena Ewing said...

Hi again Tim!

Just after reading your blog and making my previous comments I came across Ron Rolheisers most recent post here at his blog and it had some useful reflections that bear on your post too.
Here is the link below.

I hope my previous commenta don't seem too incoherent.they were straight off the top of my head and really should have been edited.

Tim said...

Phil, I didn't mean to suggest faith and politics don't converge in either the public or personal arena. But they won't converge there without first intersecting in the secret place of our hearts. For years, I wondered how the vast majority of Christians could sit silent while social policies and personal "beliefs" overtly contradicted Christ's Gospel.

And then one of those "aha!" moments came--straight out of the Gospel, of course: "The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow his heart his mouth speaks." (Luke 6.45)

Why is there no unified Christian outcry against blatant injustice? Only a very few of us have trued politics and faith in our hearts. Of course, those of us who've done so must be the Savior's voice. What's in our hearts will overflow. That's what I mean by "righteousness flows up." Global, national, community, and domestic change starts deep inside.

I apologize for not being more clear about this. I was hoping to be provocative in how I put it, setting off a "what-what?"--followed by an, "Oh, I see..." Apparently I did better with the the "uh" than with the "oh."

Thanks for the Rolheiser link! I'm totally on-board with him. And for those of us who've got it in our hearts and flowing out of our mouths, I especially like his closing observations:

Our prayers are generally too reverential: We need to pray more like Moses and remind God of what he promised us.

And: We are the only ones in town who know the way out of this crisis!

Hope I helped bring some clarity to my intentions here. And thank you so much for challenging me; it's so easy to miss the mark and not know it until a gracious, good reader points it out!

Blessings, dear friend,

Philomena Ewing said...

Dear Tim,

I do get it now- !! Thanks for the extra help.

While I am here I may as well ask you another question- when you pray do you ever experience the physical presence of God ?
If so how would you describe it ? I'm just interested in people's experience of the divine. I was listening to a radio programme on different views of this from monotheistic religions v polytheistic ones e.g. Hinduism. The commentator said that Hinduism has a generous aspect of accepting different aspects of sexuality much more so than Christianity and I found that really interesting. It got me to think how in Hinduism the fact that there are different deities and manifestations make it much easier for people from this tradition to physically relate to

Tim said...

Dear Phil, to say I've ever felt the physical presence of God in prayer (or otherwise) would be misleading--an overstatement of sorts. I have felt and still do feel the palpable presence of the divine on occasion. For me, it most often comes in praise, rather than prayer.

So I do my best to devote separate time to praise. Sometimes I sing, sometimes I dance, most often I walk and talk, just telling God how marvelous He is and why I adore Him above all else. I've heard people refer to this as "making love to the Lord." And while I'm not altogether comfortable with this (as modern culture has cheapened the phrase past redemption), I do find it apt. It is a "sensual"--vs. sentient--experience of being lifted out of oneself to join a thing beyond his/her conscious ability. I've found it is "presence"--though not presence apart. In other words, I can't objectify it in terms of placement or source. And when I try, I'm returned, almost rebuffed.

I was taught God dwells in our praises, a psalmist approach, if you will, of invoking His presence by creating a holy atmosphere through exaltation. Unlike prayer, which I believe entails approaching Him by faith--and thereby minimizing trust in our senses and sensibilities--praise is the reverse. It sharpens our responsiveness to His touch. It is metaphysical in the strictest sense, I suppose.

When I pray, I do "hear" God's voice and "feel" His Spirit's guidance--but they're ineffable more than intangible or intuitive. The words He speaks and comfort He gives create the sense of being "planted" in my own spirit. They remain. I know they're there. On the other hand, the "presence" I feel during praise is not a thing I can contain. It's exactly as Jesus described. "It comes and goes like the wind..."

I have no idea if this makes any sense. I pray it does--and attach a caveat that, of course, God visits each of us as He wills, so what I know/feel may not resemble anything anyone else experiences.

Wow, Phil, this is a tough one, something I don't contemplate very often. So I'm grateful you brought it up!


claire said...

I am so glad you talked of dual citizenship for this is truly what it is. I don't think I will ever look at this the same way again. I love the way you open my mind :-)

Thank you.

Philomena Ewing said...

Dear Tim,
Wow !!
This is a wonderfully fascinating and very moving personal description - thank you so much for taking time to answer at length what began as an off the cuff question.
Funnily enough, Fr Austin Fleming at a Concord Pastor Speaks blog has a post today on prayer and I did a post in response to this but I would love to write more and I wonder if you would mind if I quoted what you have said here on your own prayer when I do the post?
Refusal will not offend !!
My partner's birthday is this Friday and I am running around putting final things together for his celebration for the evening so am not sure when I will get round to doing the post eventually !
Thank you again dear friend. You are amazing .

Tim said...

Claire, the dual-citizenship concept has been very helpful to me in terms of understanding how to embrace the church/state separation to the neglect of neither. Indeed (in my mind, at least) it elevates the notion to become the sanctity of each. Our duties to both become sacred. Thus, blurring the the boundaries between them--as so many, particularly in the US, feel compelled to do--reduces the purity of both. But the worst of it: when the two institutions/"countries" merge, their complementary strengths dissolve: freedom of government is no more for the state, freedom from government is no more for the church. So we must live in both simultaneously, yet separately.

When conservative friends head down the "Christian nation" path, I'm quick to remind them the US is not a Christian nation--it's a nation predominately populated and governed by Christians. The minute we become a Christian nation is the moment when Christianity as we know it will cease to be. The state will decide what we as a nation believe. As believers, sanctity of church and state should be our most highly prized religious and patriotic legacy. But it is not.

How I'd love to take credit for the dual-citizenship idea. But, though I can't remember where, I'm sure I've heard it taught somewhere along the way. It is a mind-opening explanation, isn't it?

Blessings always,

PS: I so want to blather on a bit about dualisme français--your nation's ability to combine revolutionary passion with cool-headed objectivity in service to patriotic principles. No people I know are more attuned to why personal sacrifices are endemic to protecting equality and common good. Nor is any more willing to wrestle with this principle (albeit with varying success) . Walt and I laugh affectionately while watching French news reports of strikes and controversies (i.e., the ban on religious attire in public schools). Invariably, a good citizen will say something like, "I don't like it personally, but I support the principle!" That's often how dual citizenship works...

Tim said...

Phil, anything that's mine is yours. I'm honored you would include bit s of my jumbled-together response in your post and look forward to reading it!

Peace and joy,

PS: Happy birthday to your partner!

PPS: "Amazing"? How kind, too kind, of you to say. Had I sufficient time and space, I could provide an endless list of people who would question that. Since they're off doing other things, though, I'll savor the warmth and affection of your generosity! ;-)

Philomena Ewing said...

Muchas gracias Tim.

TomCat said...

Well said, Tim. It is difficult for the voices of authentic Christians, like yours, to be heard amid the din from Pharisees and Sadducees.

Tim said...

Tom, the absence of authentic Christian voices is the problem. In our conscientiousness not to offend, we've become the Silent Majority. But has happened with Nixon's "SM," I'm sensing a rumble among true believers to be seen and heard. We need not take to the airwaves--that venue has been discredited as a carnival boardwalk. But we can be heard across the diner table, in community gatherings, over the backyard fence. It's there that the change happens. That's where we make heart-to-heart contact.

Thanks for your thoughts--and a belated Happy 4th to you. I hope things are cooling down a bit around your place.