Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Why Christians Need the Final Judgment

The stereotypical view of Christians is that we believe that "we" (however that is defined) go to heaven and everyone else goes to hell. That Jesus has given us a card that not only gets us out of hell, but out of punishment altogether (we wouldn't want any overtones of purgatory, now would we?). We, I use "we" intentionally as I am not apart from this, seem to have forgotten about the last, or final, judgment. We need to remember.

We need to remember because Jesus does not give us a free pass to do and be whatever we want. Disinheritance is a real option, even if we don't talk about it much. Those who, even though they claim Jesus, worship other gods -- whether actual other 'divinities' or money, self, sex, war, whatever -- won't inherit this Kingdom, so say the Apostles Paul and John. When Jesus calls a man, as Bonhoeffer witnesses to us still today, he calls him to come and die. Die to his old life, his old ways, his old self and identity. But Jesus does not stop there, he calls us to die daily. The last judgment calls us to this: we must die not only to our sin, but to our ecclesial pride ("we have the right interpreation" -- whether that interpretation is based on the latest findings of historical science or the oldest traditions of the Fathers), to our legitimizations of power and lust and war that hurt the least of these, or aggrandize the truly evil. It is true that Paul gives hope that in the last reckoning we will be "saved, yet as through fire," but this is also a day of gloom: have you cared for the least of these? If not, do not be surprised when they rise up against you, either in the here and now, or in the judgment. Have you cut off hand or gouged out eye to enter life maimed? Or are you going to go to hell whole and secure?

I'm meeting more and more people who aren't convinced of the Gospel because they see no difference between Christians and pagans. In fact, Christians are often arrogant, isolated, and stand-offish. I'm seeing more and more people turned away from the Gospel because we hide behind our theologies, which often serve those in power instead of the One enthroned above, who calls us (both Old and New Testaments) to love our enemies, to take care of the poor, the widow, the orphan, to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. They see us engage in wars that decimate Christian populations in other parts of the globe (for example, the wars persecuted by our current and former presidents have been the direct cause of the slaughter of many Assyrian and Palestinian Christians) because the cause of godless democracy is more important than the cause of Christ. Judgment always begins in the house of God, we must not forget.

The Cross is foolishness. It doesn't make sense. It never has. It never will, God willing. We adopt arrogant attitudes when we think that our position is logical and obviously true in the world's way of reckoning things. Nobody wants to look like a fool, even though that is what the Apostle Paul calls us to. Apologetics has never started with this premise because it seems self-defeating. That may be so. But apologetics has never converted an empire, not even the Roman Empire, certainly not the American Empire -- the foolish work of Christians to exercise, not their own political dominion, but the dominion of Christ in healing the sick, educating the poor, interposing between power and wealth and the disenfranchised and weak, dying to self and for others, that is the blood of the martyrs which is truly seed, as Tertullian rightly saw.

Maybe the faith of the martyrs is what we need to recover. We are not even willing to give up our favorite TV shows, much less our lives for the cause of Christ. We have stopped believing that it is better to die for Christ (in both the literal and metaphorical senses) than to live in this world. We have decided, like the rich young aristocrat, to go away sad with our many goods, rather than forsake all and follow the Christ. No wonder they don't believe; we are telling them to follow One who we don't even know.

Whether we are rich or poor, male or female, Jew or Gentile by descent, black or white, slave or free, we must sit loose to the things of this world, even as God has entrusted them to us. Certainly, there may be rich Christians, but those riches are not yours -- they are Christ's, to be used according to his rule (which he gives us guidelines about in both Old and New Testaments, and shows us wisdom through Church history). There will be poor Christians, our poverty is to Christ, who became poor for our sakes. We must forswear envy and jealousy of those in power and with wealth. Has God called us poor or to be poor? Then follow the poor Christ and minister to your fellows in privation! Has God made you a male? Follow Christ the Man, the only guide of manliness -- who chastises those in power, builds up the lowly and downtrodden, and calls all to repentance (no one gets a free go, rich, poor, male, female). Are you a female? Follow Christ the Groom, who values women as no man ever has (read the Gospel of Luke): be the woman who God has made, Eve redeemed, a picture of how the Church is to act.

It is time to live in light of the final assize, it is time to act like Christians, the humble servants of the King who rules through the Cross.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Closing Time

Another school year has ended. Another set of students, some that I've gotten to know quite well, are gone. Maybe forever. Bethany and I wondered, when we were in college, how professors managed after pouring their lives into students for 4+ years to just let them go. Now that I've been teaching half a decade, I still don't know. It is hard. But it is good.

It is good in a way that is hard to explain. I'm not so far from graduation myself that I've forgotten how the 'real world' seemed. We were frightened and bitter in no small measure that all our education had not prepared us for taxes and leases and car payments and gas bills (we then realized that this was not education's job, but ours). I cannot believe that it will be much different for other students that I've seen graduate -- some go out and conquer, some just go out, some get conquered.

It will be 6 months after graduation for some of them to learn what we strove to teach them freshman year. For many others, it will be much longer, if at all. Our public school paradigm of careless knowledge dumping (this is an overstatement, of course) does not work with Wisdom -- you cannot teach wisdom, you can only point the way and say 'The Lord precedes you; walk in faith." That is a hard lesson for me to follow, much less an 18 year old. But we point as we walk, knowing that they will quickly overtake us. We hope for postcards.

It is rarely the "good" student (the A+ student, stereotypically) that really shines. Too many years of working the system can damage your ability to really grow (I speak from experience -- my own shining, if indeed there is any, comes from my decade long "dark night of the soul"); those who get Bs and Cs, who scrape by it seems, often make something of themselves in ways that are refreshing and surprising -- they break the industrial paradigm and seek green pastures, so to speak. They often remember to send postcards. They are the ones, it seems, who when pointed towards the Way actually make it on the narrow road. Obviously, this is not always the case: sometimes the "successful" student does it, sometimes the "failure" does also. Often times "average" students don't make it. Maybe it is just that I have a few who have shined so brightly that I think immediately of them.

At the end of a semester, it is good to be a teacher. It is hard. But it is good.

Send postcards.