Sunday, November 19, 2006

Anxiety and Servanthood, Part 1

As I've indicated before, I tend to look out for therefores (and therefore equivalents) when reading scripture. They give us an chance to check out if our logic and God's logic are the same. Especially, I watch out for oft-quoted verses that begin with a therefore (or the equivalent). It's unfortunately not that unusual, and the fact that we start the quote with the 'therefore' indicates that we're starting in the middle, and leaving off the reason for what follows. It's at that point likely that we're missing part of the message.

One such place is Matthew 6:25:

For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing?

'For this reason'? For what reason? For that you need to go back one verse:

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other; or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

Now this is a little scary. If 'You cannot serve God and mammon' logically leads to "don't be anxious about even such mundane, everyday concerns as food, drink, and clothing", it would seem to follow that worrying about such things constitutes serving mammon. And serving mammon will keep you from serving God.

Note that this isn't a question of God arbitrarily deciding that if you serve mammon, He won't let you serve Him. It's not 'You may not serve both God and mammon', as though God was laying down a (hopefully waivable) entrance requirement for the Serving God Club. It's 'You cannot serve both God and mammon'. The thing jest ain't possible. If you're serving mammon, you don't have the ability to serve God, no matter how much you may want to. Which means "Don't be anxious about food, drink, and clothing" isn't some high (and, to many of us, irritating) spiritual ideal attainable only by the most advanced Christian. It's informing us of a basic practical fact: worrying about where your food, drink and clothing will come from will rob you of the ability to serve God. If you want to serve God, you will have to deal with this.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Locusts & Honey: Men and Contemporary Worship

John points to an article by Dave Murrow on why "men" don't get into contemporary worship, and I found myself for the most part agreeing with John's criticisms. And yet....

It struck me that I'd have a lot less trouble with what Murrow is saying if it wasn't couched in terms that seemed to make the kind of men he's arguing on behalf of normative, and those who differed something less. Tell me there's a group of men whose spiritual needs aren't met by modern praise and worship styles and we can discuss how to meet those needs(which may be exactly what Murrow's aiming at). Tell me, implicitly, that those men should be regarded as normative and, like it or not, whether we're aware of it or not, the underlying argument is going to shift to who can claim to be a normal, "real" man.

We can attribute this somewhat to the fragile male ego. But another aspect of this, I think, is the framework we use in dealing with masculinity and femininity. We tend to regard masculinity and femininity as if they were each a single, monolithic thing. To some degree, this is understandable, as we live in a worldly culture which tends to blur the distinctions, and in asserting that there is a distinction, it's easier to do if if we regard each of them as a single monolithic characteristic. But this tends to lead to a strict conformity-based identity, with not much room for individuality.

At this point, I'm going take C. S. Lewis's tack, and say that if what follows helps you, good, but if not, ignore it. The framework I work with on masculinity and femininity is that they're distinct, but not monolithic. Each is a melange of ingredients, with each ingredient capable of existing in a stronger or weaker state in an individual. Part of what makes up a man's individual personality is the individual strength or weakness of each of the ingredients that make up masculinity. Strength of a particular ingredient doesn't mean he's 'more masculine', nor does weakness mean he's less, but the various strengths produce the particular 'flavor' of a man's masculinity.

Complicating this whole mess (and it is complex, because a person's personality is much more than that person's masculinity or femininity - there are plenty of ingredients which are separate from either, and it's possible to have a personality 'ingredient' that's typical of the opposite sex, but is part of one's personality, but not part of one's sexuality) is that we're fallen. And to me that means not only that we tend to sin, but that our humanity has been twisted. As G. K. Chesterton put it, the answer to the question 'what, then, is the meaning of the fall' is "whatever I am, I am not myself". The fall tends to twist and pervert the good things God has created in us, making them more selfish and self-centered. This means that our pursuit of holiness is going to involve not getting rid of ingredients, but finding out how they've been twisted, and untwisting them. This is partly why I tend to see restoring a Biblical sense of servant authority and leadership (something that seems to be generally lacking) as more important than dealing with gender issues, as our approach to dealing with gender issues seems to be that of removing ingredients that would actually end up 'untwisted' if the servant leadership issue was dealt with.

With that in mind, I have to wonder if the problem with the particular ingredients Murrow is emphasizing is that we normally deal with or think of them in their twisted form. If so, then in responding, we need to both seek to understand where the twist comes in, which will give us a clearer picture of what the untwisted ingredient would look like, and seek to make sure that the need represented by the untwisted ingredient is given a place to be met.

Sigh. Is that coming across as as mixed a metaphor as I think it is?