20 September 2018

Being perfect, part two

Unimak Pass, yesterday morning. (Slow boat to Japan.)
(Part one.)
(Part three.)

Few themes of Quaker discipleship fascinate me as much as perfection. It's a theme I can never get my head around except in the context of a conversation. In part one, I imagined a conversation within the pages of the Bible, with contributions from Jesus and Paul. Today I'm looking at two recent blog posts.

Number one. In their article, "The Myth of Missionary Neutrality," Jeff Christopherson and Matt Rogers argue that many if not most Christians live in an illegitimate "neutral" zone between missionary heroism on the one hand, and opposition to God on the other. They challenge us with a big IF:
But if, as I’d submit, all of life is sacred and every activity, down to the most mundane, is done as an act of worship unto the Lord, then everything we do either propels God’s mission forward and fosters universal praise of his greatness or hinders the embodiment of his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
Number two. In his article, "The Meaning of the Cross," Nicholas Sooy argues that Christian nonviolence is rooted in self-negation. Citing Gerontissa Gavrielia, the Greek Orthodox nun, scientist, and nurse, he says,
Gavrielia comments that we completely identify with the Divine Other, and “with every other.” This means that we must also be absorbed in love for every fellow human. Before our neighbor we must also abandon ourselves so that we do not exist anymore. We must become nothing but love, having nothing of the self, but only love for the other.
These two articles seem to come from very different Christian cultures -- American evangelical Protestant (Christianity Today) and Eastern Orthodox. It is probably a bit glib to associate the verbs act and propel in the first article with the Protestant culture, and Sooy's recurring emphasis on relationships and being to Eastern Orthodoxy, but I'm doing it anyway. (Argue with me.) What's more interesting to me is these authors' essential agreement on what qualities characterize the life of a disciple ... and, by extension, when lived fully, constitute perfection.

What do I do with a vision of perfection that involves "everything we do" and requires "abandon[ing] ourselves so that we do not exist anymore"?

The first thing that hits me is the huge gap between this vision and my actual life.  Will these and other descriptions of ideal discipleship serve as causes of despair and disillusionment, or as magnets that attract me through the beautiful prospect of a closer relationship with Jesus and other disciples who wrestle with the same questions? I'm eager to explore this second, non-shaming way of dealing with the gap.

The second thing is the creative value of these different descriptions. I don't see the evangelical and the Eastern Orthodox descriptions (and those coming from other sources as well) as competing for some theological Pulitzer Prize. Instead I see them as making access to the community of learners wider, more available to diverse mentalities. So much of Protestant doctrine seems to me to be transactional, and so much Orthodox thinking seems to be mystical, but I'm convinced that these approaches need each other to avoid succumbing to their own internal versions of legalism and elitism. Today's post is a tiny experiment in promoting this exchange.

Related posts:

Thoughts on innocence.
Games, sports, comedies...

Maybe this article also contributes to a positive discussion of perfection -- it's an affectionate account of the relationship between the Vineyard movement and Quakers.

The Russian Supreme Court takes a step toward defending freedom of speech online.

Hal and Nancy Thomas float over the fields.

Curtis Salgado and Alan Hager ...

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