Thursday, September 23, 2010

Celebrity

Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man. (Proverbs 3.3-4)

Questions

Tolerance is a big topic here, simply because this blog is founded on the principle of proactively offering others what we seek from them. For newer readers who may not know the story of Straight-Friendly’s origins, its title and emphasis were born from realizing as a gay Christian, I’m called to love and accept others regardless of their appreciation or approval. This calling is hardly unique to GLBT believers, though. It’s for all who desire to walk in obedience to Christ. Because tolerance plays such a fundamental (and urgent) role in expression of faith, our discussions typically revolve around why we love and accept everyone God places in our lives—from those we know intimately or interact with frequently to strangers met in passing and individuals known only by reputation. Tolerance for us, however, is something we’ve yet to explore in depth, as the conversation easily escalates into demands to be loved and accepted. That puts us on the wrong side of obedience, shifting the emphasis from what we give to what we get. But getting isn't doing, and doing is obedience’s sole concern.

This raises questions. How do we protect our dignity as true Christians and reflections of our Maker? Do intolerance and rejection ever become intolerable and unacceptable? Does loving those who mistreat us include permitting them to deride Christ’s name? Is there a moment when we stand up to intolerance? Or must we always back down and roll over? These quandaries toyed with me after turning up a Sunday bulletin from eight years ago on which I’d jotted, “Don’t go where you’re tolerated. Go where you’re celebrated.” Nothing in the printed order of service jogs my recall of whence it came. And though I like the ring of it, I keep wondering, “Is this right? Should we really avoid people and places that merely tolerate us for those that validate us and boost our self-confidence?” It sounds closer to the Book of Oprah than the Gospel of Christ.

Anticipate Intolerance, Provoke Tolerance

We're repeatedly told to anticipate intolerance. In Matthew 5.11, Jesus says, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” And 1 Peter 4.12 verges on dark comedy: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.” (Translated: “You’re shocked people abuse you for your faith? Are you kidding?”) Yet in trying to reconcile this with my doodle, it occurs to me we’re never encouraged to be voluntary victims of intolerance, persecution, and evil accusation. When topics like hatred, rejection, and false judgment surface, it’s always assumed they come to us; we don’t go to them. It’s also presumed intolerance we experience results entirely from being who we are and what we do because we’re who we are. In other words, obedience to God’s will—faithfully serving His purpose in making us as we are—causes us to be maligned in some circles, forced from others, and tolerated where it’s easier to ignore why we’re made differently than embrace it. In this context, maybe it makes sense to go where we’re celebrated, because God’s mercy and kindness to us deserve celebration.

Still, my scribble falls apart, I think, by suggesting we resist situations where we’re not wholeheartedly embraced and respected. Why? That’s not how Jesus operated. While He never goes looking for trouble, neither does He avoid encountering it. We find Him wherever He finds potential to exemplify tolerance, forgiveness, healing, and justice. Only when hostility drowns His message—as happens when Nazareth turns on Him (Luke 4.14-30)—does He walk away. Note: He walks away; he doesn’t stay away. He passes His policy to the disciples when He sends them out to minister (Matthew 10). Paraphrasing for brevity, He says: “If you find someone who welcomes you, stay where you are. If not, leave.”

There are two implicit points here that answer our questions about responding to intolerance. First, expecting it isn’t an excuse for not exposing ourselves to its possibility. We never know for sure we’re not welcome until we get there. If no one wants us, we’re free to go; we’re not obligated to abide rejection and hatred. On the other hand, if someone welcomes us, we’re obliged to stick around for his/her benefit, which leads to the second point. We’ll never promote tolerance by confronting rejection in blatantly hostile places. But in less than ideal situations we can provoke tolerance that ultimately ends in celebration, not just of us, but also of those whose hearts and minds change because of us.

Known, Honored, and Welcomed

Proverbs 3.3-4 explains how this happens: “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.” Acceptance and favor we seek won’t come without effort from us. They’re products of behavior that backs up profession of belief. Love and faithfulness must never leave us. We wear them like breastplates. We carry them in our hearts. They enable us to seize every opportunity to love without condition, to be true to our calling without exception. That’s the irony of obedience. In some cases, it brings intolerance and rejection. Yet it also surprises us with favor and acceptance where we don't expect them. Without opening ourselves to potential criticism, we won’t enjoy the wealth of kindness available to us.

When Solomon predicts, “you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man,” he’s promising celebrity, not in the pop sense of fame and fortune, but in the richer sense of being celebrated—honored and welcomed for our love and faithfulness. Knowing the minister who preached the Sunday I took down the motto, I’m sure that’s what it’s saying. But I’ve decided to slightly revise it so I can keep it without confusing its message. Love where you’re tolerated and you will be celebrated.

Exposing ourselves to potential intolerance is the only way we discover people and places that will tolerate us. They open opportunities to demonstrate love and faithfulness that will be celebrated.

9 comments:

claire said...

Oh, Tim, you are so brave to go from 'Don't go to where you are tolerated. Go where you're celeberated' to Love where you're tolerated and you will be celebrated.'

How very brave you are... I am reading a book on Grace these days (by Bill Huebsch) which says that Jesus empowers people he meets. By the way he looks, by the way he speaks. He does not try to control...

Those who 'tolerate' us do not approve of us and either want us to change or to go away. Sometimes both.

Loving others is a grace, I find. Sometimes I am able to love those who tolerate me, but I usually need to keep myself away because not being accepted for what I am feels so painful.

So you must have an aura filled with grace and love for being able to write what you did. I'll have to meditate all this.

Blessings.

Tim said...

Oh my, Claire, I'm fumbling for a response!

My reaction to being "tolerated" is not different than yours. It is very hurtful to know people who tolerate me either hope I'll change or go away. Yet I pray for strength to try to stand in their shoes. Surely the pain they feel--the doubt and misery and insecurity behind their behavior--is far greater than the pain they inflict.

Because I know who I am and believe God has very specific reasons for making me as I am, their judgement and ambivalence don't/can't affect me to the degree they intend. Not that I don't feel it or suffer because of it. But the only way I know to defeat it is by helping them overcome it. If I can survive the howls and whispers just long enough to recognize they're calls from darkness, then I can ask God's grace and guidance to offer them light. If they're unwilling to see, then so be it. But how do I learn that without being there? And what if I'm the only one in the position to bring them light? How could my present pain possibly equal future sorrow in finding that out?

I confess I'm uncomfortable answering in the first-person here, so as not to be misread as some kind of self-aggrandizing jerk knee-deep in platitudes. But these thoughts and questions truly challenge me when dealing with this dilemma, because my first instincts advise me to pull away and not set myself for "unnecessary" pain.

Yet, as you point out, Jesus shows a different attitude and way that often make pain necessary for us when we're constrained to address another's pain. And I'm totally convinced pain that generates intolerance--whether overt or camouflaged by tolerance manqué--is always more debilitating and profound than the suffering it causes. Because of this, anything we do to empower those who bear it to seek/find relief is cause for celebration!

This is one of those tough, tough "not I, but Christ Who lives in me" situations that's hard to do, yet even harder not to do. And since, as the old song says, we've got a long way to go to be like the Lord, we're more apt to fail than succeed. But failure brings us closer to His example than we'd get without the attempt. And since being afraid to try is common to all of us, we should hold one another up in prayer that when the opportunity arises, God will endow us with courage and fortitude to do it.

I hope one day to be worthy of your comment. And with your prayer and support, I will. We all will.

Blessings and much love,
Tim

kkryno said...

This is a great message. We can all benefit from it.

Thanks for this , Tim. You're a true gem!

Tim said...

Thank you, Vikki! I think we do ourselves a great disservice when we fail to look at intolerance from both sides, because it's just as important to know how we should respond to it as how we need to check ourselves from not being intolerant.

So many of us are a lot deeply scarred soldiers who've left the field. We've disengaged to avoid further injury. But we're also so full of love and forgiveness, the world desperately needs us. Yeah, it's risky. Boy, boy, is it rewarding!

Before scooting off, I have to say (as with Claire), as I've got to know you, my admiration for your commitment and compassion has grown to the bursting point. Both of you inspire me with your tenderness and honesty. And I know I'm not the only one. You make every life you touch a better, richer one. I thank God for you!

Blessings,
Tim

TomCat said...

Hi Tim. Pardon my recent absence. I've been somewhat buried between my blog and my volunteer work.

Thanks for the beautiful message, but I'm not sure I can fully agree. Jesus never expressed intolerance for common sinners. He loved them and always met them at their need, but he had zero tolerance for the religious right of his day. He called them "whitewashed tombs" and even whipped them out of the temple, to name just two examples among a host of others.

Modern day Pharisees and Sadducees are trying to impose their hypocrisy on the rest of us, and I believe that only by opposing them directly, with zero tolerance, can I follow the example that he set.

Tim said...

Tom, I follow your thoughts here and agree. Yet I think we must be cautious to emulate Christ's example entirely--which is, while we decry the evils of hypocrisy and injustice, we don't overlook our opportunity to influence those who welcome us, even those who are suspicious of us, or do it because they haven't the gumption to act on their inner thoughts.

Christ's harsh opposition to the intolerant establishment also teaches us that there's very little likelihood we'll change them. If he were a fictional character, it might even be said His courage to confront them proved to be His fatal flaw, as His confrontations with them indubitably steeled their determination to kill Him. His ultimate defiance and victory are seen in the lives He did change, those He could reach. And I'm convinced we can't get so overly exercised about what we're less likely to accomplish with the hard-nosed haters that we miss opportunities to enlighten less closed minds.

And knowing you, I'm guessing we're saying the same thing, only coming at it from different angles.

Blessings,
Tim

PS: No apologies necessary--I've been all tied up myself and fallen perilously behind at your place and everywhere else. It happens to us all.

TomCat said...

I would agree there, Tim. We usually do follow different paths to the same place. I am referring mostly to the leadership, and have found that most in the rank and file are not so hateful in their behavior. Some are even reasonable. A couple have even changed their minds and left the Republican party, and one was even thrown out of her church for discussing tolerance for gay folk. I was sorry that she endured that pain, but feel that moving into authentic Christianity is worth it.

Anders Branderud said...

Hello!
You wrote: “That’s not how Jesus operated. While He never goes looking for trouble, neither does He avoid encountering it.“ and I want to comment on that.

Ribi Yehoshua – the Messiah – taught how to follow the Creator.
It is highly relevant for Christians whom want to follow the Messiah to know what was written in his authentic teachings. His authentic teachings were later redacted into the “gospel of Matthew”. In his true teachings one finds that he taught – just that which is written in the Jewish Bible (which Christians calls the “GT”) – that humankind are required to do their utmost to keep the directives in Torah [“the books of Moses”] non-selectively. These statements are proved in the website of Netzarims website

Furthermore, the historical Ribi Yehoshua was not an “incarnate man-god”, like your post implies by using a capital “H”.

Relating to the Creator exactly in the same way Ribi Yehoshua did – by observing the Creators directives in “the books of Moses” is very meaningful –including having a REAL relation to the Creator , which is highly meaningful!

Anders Branderud

Tim said...

Anders, hello! Thanks for visiting Straight-Friendly.

We are of two theologies, I suspect. While I follow Jesus the Christ--God Incarnate--you appear to follow the Creator in the example of Yeshoshua (new spelling for me, BTW). That seems proper to me, as the Creator is infinite and His creation is as well. The beauty in your comment came to realizing how meaningful both approaches are to those who subscribe to each.

I must confess, however, I am not sufficiently sophisticated to connect your comment to the sentence you reference. But hopefully this will help clarify your understanding of the distinctions between our beliefs.

"Following the Creator" (if I'm understanding what you mean) is not the core objective of my faith. I am a facsimile of the Creator who strives to reconcile my life to His image by being a follower of Christ. Given my limited knowledge, as I see it, that is the central focus of the Gospels and Epistles, and they guide me.

As for textual discrepancies, I admit what we have in the authorized canon is far from perfect. However, your suggestion that the texts were purposefully redacted to redirect the teachings of Jesus presupposes a sort of "hidden agenda" that I find difficult to digest, as it imagines someone(s) somewhere at some time was able to gain near-total control of the texts, revise them, reissue them, and re-indoctrinate the Church. This seems highly unlikely to me--even in the first century, to say nothing of later, since the Church has always functioned as a diaspora. While I'm not qualified by any means to dispute your theory, neither am I inclined to accept that an undertaking of the scope and mechanics you imply could succeed in a time when revision, duplication, and retrieval would require concerted effort spanning several generations.

Thus, we who follow Christ accept errors in the text, yet believe the essence of His teaching--and the doctrines later instituted by the Apostles--are basically intact. And the consistency among them seems to verify it. For those of us who choose to base our faith on the widely accepted texts (just as you choose to look to alternative renditions), the New Testament could not be more clear. Jesus is the Christ--the Eternal Word made flesh--and, by His grace, we are able to believe this and follow His example of life. Since faith negates the value of human proof, none is needed. Yet I will say I have see faith's evidence all around me, in my life, but also in the lives of others and historical continuity evidenced over two millennia. Time tells what moments can't explain.

Personally, I embrace my inadequacies when I say this is more than enough for me to understand and work on. At the same time, I encourage you to continue your quest to understand and follow the guidance you've found in your faith. I will do my best to "relate to the Creator exactly in the same way Ribi Yehoshua did" according to the faith and knowledge I have received from Him. And, as I find my way, I will be gratified to know you're doing the same according the faith and knowledge you've received.

Blessings, my brother. I invite you to comment on anything you find here with the understanding that all points of view are equally welcomed and respected. This is a safe place devoted to common purpose, therefore not amenable to disputes. I look forward to anything you can contribute to conversations, and trust you will respect my responsibilities as caretaker of this space to maintain its harmony and spirit of respect.

Peace,
Tim