Monday, October 24, 2005

How Far Can I Go?

Rachel posted some thoughts last week that sprang from her reading of Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott. It's a wonderful, thoughtful post in which Rachel wonders aloud about Lamott's Christianity. While she's careful about declaring Lamott to be a Christian or not, what she knows of Lamott's beliefs makes her think about what it means to call yourself a Christian. Rachel writes (emphasis mine),

Lamott did have a life-changing 'salvation experience.' She knew about Jesus, knew who He is, resisted Him for a long time, and finally decided (in a rather non-conventional way ;) to let him into her heart and her life. Many, many of the things she says about her life from that point on are sound and Biblical -- in the aforementioned poignant, honest, dark, bleak, uplifting, raw, sweet, heartfelt, real way. That said, Lamott is a social liberal. She's ardently pro-abortion. Now, personally, that sets my teeth on edge, and makes me angry. Honestly, however, I have never related my anti-abortion stance to my Christian beliefs. Yes, there are verses in Scripture that indicate that God sees unborn people as just that -- people -- and that He made them and is concerned for their well-being (take Jeremiah 1:5 for example), but I have been anti-abortion since I was a child, long before I was a Christian, and hence I don't tend to connect the two nearly as often as other people (on both sides of the issue) do....So does Anne Lamott's position on abortion mean that I should not see her as a believer in Jesus? I am less inclined to think so than other Christians are, but the possibility definitely exists....

Lamott also describes (in a scene I loved, where two Christians of violently different temperaments, who annoy the hell out of each other, are able to find community simply in the fact that they love the same Jesus -- one of my favorite moments in the book) a well-known series of Christian novels as "homophobic", among other derogatory terms, some of which I definitely agree with. Now, it's entirely possible that Lamott was referring to something in the books (I personally remember nothing like this, but then I didn't find the books particularly memorable and will never re-read them) that treats homosexual people unkindly, and that she believes the Bible where it says that homosexuality itself is wrong (which doesn't mean that we are allowed to treat the people who practice it unkindly, any more than we are allowed to treat any other sinners -- that's everyone -- unkindly merely because they are in fact sinners). Or it could mean that she thinks those of us who believe that part of the Bible are intolerant, backward nutcases, which is generally the case when people are throwing the word "homophobic" around in the context of Christianity. If the latter is the case (and again, without knowing a lot more about Anne Lamott than I do, it's impossible for me to know) then this is where I have to ask myself: Where is the line? How much of Jesus' teaching and the message of the Bible can you disregard and still follow Jesus?

It's that last question I'm interested in, based on everything Rachel wrote. Her post is titled "This entry really isn't about Anne Lamott," so I hope any Lamott fans out there understand we're not attacking her at all. This question is one that all disciples have to deal with at some point as they wrestle with obedience to God and struggle with temptations from the world, the flesh and the devil. What follows are my thoughts on the subject, which started out as a comment on Rachel's site, but quickly mushroomed into a post size. (Is it me, or do tons of posts start out as comments?)

The question Rachel poses, in the way she poses it, is a tough one. I think we won't know the whole answer until we see Jesus face to face. Maybe in this case, the answer is far less important than the question itself. Becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ is all about surrender to the Lord, repentance, cleansing, new life. I see all of those things as incompatible with an attitude that is seeking to toe the line: what can I disregard? What can I flout and still "make it"? How little can I follow God and still be in the family? It speaks volumes about the heart (again, not talking about Lamott here, but both theoretically and with a view to our own hearts and lives).

For all practical purposes, the question becomes boiled down to how we live our lives and how we disciple others--how we teach them to live. One of the things Ryan and I teach disciples is not to have an attitude of "how much can I get away with and still be a Christian (or go to heaven, or whatever)?" You are either embracing Biblical teaching and listening to the Holy Spirit, or you are resisting both. Yes, holy living is a process, and none of us have arrived or even got where we are right now overnight. But I have always found the Lord to be quite clear about things like abortion and homosexuality, both in His Word and in His communication to my heart.

Frankly, I think that passion for God and liberal stances on issues like abortion and homosexuality are mutually exclusive. The Word tells us that if we love God, we will obey His commandments, and that those commandments are not burdensome, but are a delight. We can argue with the Creator of the Universe, or we can surrender to Him and seek to learn His ways and to know Him.

John 14:15
If you love Me, you will obey my commandments.

Ps 1:1-2
How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.

Ps 119:24
Your statutes are my delight; they are my counselors.

Ps 40:8
I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart.

Matt 11:28-30
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

Asking how far away from those commandments I can get betrays a fundamental gap in my understanding of the Good News itself. The Son of God died--poured out powerful and precious blood--so that I could be freed from the power of sin and death. Why would I want to walk the line between death and life? Why not have the abundant life found in walking with God? When I am running from Him, I feel like I am suffocating: my heart feels like a stone within me, my throat closes and my mind is numbed. No thanks--not the way I want to live. Rebellion against the Lord is walking death. When we argue with the Lord about His Word (which is what people are doing who belittle/reject clear Biblical teaching about murder or homosexuality), it's rebellion against Him, and it won't lead to life. We would do better to ask the Lord to show us His ways and change our stubborn hearts.