Monday, March 31, 2014

Forceful [Men]

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.
Proverbs 3:7-8

In the course of remembering who we are and who we've been, we have spent no little time looking at and naming "our own understanding," "the way that seems right to us but that, in the end, leads to death."

Neither have I been shy about the promises we may or may not actually be signing up for when we truly give ourselves to and wrestle with this love/faithfulness/trust business.  So what draws my attention today is this:

There is absolutely no passivity in these verses - not in any that we have come across so far:


Wisdom is not passive.

Another translation says "turn away from evil."  Sound familiar?  If there is one thing these passages are good at, they are absolutely dogmatic about the kind of  aggressive action  that it will take to love, to be faithful, to pursue God, to be healthy.  And it requires both turning away - forcefully repelling, keeping watch for and taking evasive action from, escaping - and turning toward - binding, writing, trusting, acknowledging, submitting.

It brings to mind a wedding ceremony I recently attended.  It was one of the strangest liturgies I have yet experienced, with the presiding pastor making random and vague references to the honor of marriage and the significance of the vows while reminiscing unapologetically about his own marriage and appealing indirectly for the audience to "come to Jesus."  Somewhere in the milieu he threw in bits of sage advise that he had heard from another pastor.

"Fight fair!" he urged, asking them to raise their dukes.  "Remain pure!"

I confess that I cringed through the whole procedure. As a newlywed myself I came to the ceremony with fresh experiences of the harsh realities of early marriage.  Moreover, I knew these two young people more than casually: He was recently divorced and she had just found out that she was pregnant.  These two were jumping fairly unwittingly into the deep end without life jackets.  They were launching their new relationship full speed down a black diamond course.  And their life-guard/ski instructor seemed to be waving merrily from the sidelines shouting cliches.

Can I take a moment to say here that "remain pure" is just an outright offensive phrase?  As if any of us were pure to begin with and all we have to do is somehow stay that way!  The admonishment itself is passive - and it invites passivity.  It's like saying to your child on her first time at the pool, "Don't drown!" and then chucking her in.  If you think that is even remotely helpful or somehow more appropriate than, say, floaties, swimming lessons, and adult supervision, then PLEASE DON'T HAVE CHILDREN.

On the same token, if there is any kind of purity [read: faithfulness, which is active and practiced, whereas purity implies passive, possessed] worth cultivating, then it is not inspired, planted, grown, nor harvested with weak admonishments!  No, you have to take purity by force, people!  You have to carve it out of the very rock of human existence!  You have to till up the hardened earth with some serious equipment and a lot of sweat, then plant it with seeds of self awareness, water it with grief, and fertilize it with your own blood as you let both truth and love crucify you.  You have to teach people how to do it - but moreover, you have to teach people how to unlearn the ways they already think, the behaviors they already practice.

So here's the moral I am getting from Proverbs 3 so far:

You should take it as some relief to know that you automatically have the wrong understanding.  

You start out being wrong - there is no shame in it.  

We all desperately need wisdom - we all desperately need God - in order to have the hope of life and good things.  The good news is, wisdom, God, life, truth, and good things are within reach!  The bad news is, it is going to take one hell of a fight to grab hold of them, let alone hold on to them!

And today's lesson:

It's not enough to tie yourself up with the bondage of faithfulness so that whatever you do, love, truth, and God are ever before you, in mind in every situation; it is not enough to make every action an acknowledgement of God and an act of faithfulness, you also have to be alert, conscious of evil and the ways that she deceives you, an expert at your own weaknesses, so that you can push her away when she comes for you, so you can mentally, emotionally, and physically turn away and run in the opposite direction.

If you are passive, then evil has already won.

That is why I observe Lent.  That is why I practice the 12 Steps.  That is why I offer even these meager meditations here, spurring you on to remember who you are and who you've been, to face and name your slavery.  It is the painful way of communion with God, of love and truth, of freedom.  It is taking the land of promise.

...the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.

Matthew 11:12b

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