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Monday, May 30, 2011

Ghandi: Another reason to hope for a better righteousness

In my experience, no figure of recent history has been as frequently compared with and inserted into the same sentence as Jesus than Mohandas Ghandi. I know I for one have quoted Ghandi. Recently utilizing a quote of his to say, "Hey, even Ghandi (you know, respected-by-every-religion, Ghandi) believed in the concept of the need to be born again" (Ghandi once said: "Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next day, when I wake up, I am re-born").  There is no doubt that the Mahatma was a preeminent political and ideological leader in India's achieving independence from Great Britain. And his life-philosophy of nonviolent resistance inspired many followers and admirers, including Martin Luther King, Jr. 

However, the Wall Street Journal published a recent review of a book written by a respected journalist about Ghandi -- the review questions not only Ghandi's demigod status, but also his relative 'sainthood' in popular thought. I'm going to post a short list of bullet points summarizing the article below if your interested.

And while some of the points listed below re: Ghandi's life surprised me (and, in some cases, disgusted me), I'm honestly don't write this in order to start a "Ghandi-bashing" session. Only that, in examining the less glorious details of his life, I'm reminded that Ghandi stands as one of many in a long line: 

Another reason to hope for a better righteousness. 

His life is worth examining, worth considering. But like all lives of our heroes, the glimmer of righteousness exemplified in their lives leaves us thirsting for a full-blown, "won't let us down" righteousness that we can put our faith & hope in.

Veiled Grace, Flawed Righteousness. In fact, this basic truth helps us understand the Old Testament better and how it all points Jesus. The Old Testament, from Genesis 3 to Malachi (good book), displays two major threads: Veiled Grace and Flawed Righteousness. The grace of God: but the kind of grace that comes and goes, through covenants that can't permanently change hearts, and generally God working in a way that was often in the shadows. I could write more on that, but I'd like to focus on the people we see in the Old Testament.

There are so many heroes of the Old Testament who are examples of Flawed Righteousness , including the sacred triumvirate -- the three most widely respected and admired OT figures by your average Jewish person. Abraham, Moses, and David. Great men of great faith, but deeply flawed. Abraham's rap sheet includes two potentially life-altering lies to his wife and commits adultery with a woman who is not his wife. Moses kills a man. David had a man killed in order to sleep with his wife and doesn't really admit to doing anything wrong for at least nine months. So, yeah, Abraham, Moses, and David would've been fired from your church. 

How to benefit from lives of flawed righteousness. When observing lives of flawed righteousness (and I mean that in an admiring manner) whether in your everyday life, in recent history (see Ghandi), or in the Old Testament, ask yourself: 

  • Where do I see God's righteousness displayed, though flawed? 
  • What righteous aspect of this person's life do I see fully fulfilled and gloriously magnified in Jesus Christ?
In doing this, we can continue to read biographies, listen to stories, and watch uplifting accounts of real lives while letting such accounts deepen our thirst for a fuller righteousness and ultimately point us (and others) to Him who is and can freely give perfect righteousness: 

17 If, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, 
much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift 
of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.  18 Therefore, 
as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness 
leads to justification and life for all men.  19 For as by the one man's 
disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience 
the many will be made righteous (Romans 5: 17-19).


(If Interested) Bullet Points re: The Flaws in the righteousness of Ghandi.

- Although credited with leading India to independence from Britain, Gandhi also jeopardized this effort. Between 1900 and 1922, he suspended his civil disobedience at least three times, even though more than 15,000 supporters were in jail for the cause. (When Britain finally did withdraw from India, it was largely motivated by their anti-imperialist Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, and the fact that Britain was nearly bankrupt from the war.)

- Gandhi was dangerously unwise politically. He advised the Jews to adopt nonviolence toward the Nazis, and wrote a letter to Hitler starting with the words “My friend”. He also advised the Jews of Palestine to “rely on the goodwill of the Arabs”. Fortunately for their existence, the Jews ignored him.

  • - As well as calling Hitler his friend, Gandhi and Mussolini got on well when they met in December 1931. Gandhi praised Mussolini’s “service to the poor, his opposition to super-urbanization, his efforts to bring about a coordination between Capital and Labour, his passionate love for his people.”

  • - Gandhi was demonstrated moments of racism, describing “the raw Kaffir” as someone “whose occupation is hunting and whose sole ambition is to collect a number of cattle to buy a wife, and then pass his life in indolence and nakedness,” and saying of white Afrikaaners, “We believe as much in the purity of races as we think they do.”

  • - Like all of us, Ghandi could be remarkably hypocritical. He prevented his son marrying a Muslim despite publicly promoting Muslim-Hindu unity. He denounced lawyers, railways and parliamentary politics, yet he was a professional lawyer who constantly used railways to get to meetings to argue that India ­deserved its own parliament. And although he is known for his hunger strikes, his official position was that these were “the worst form of coercion, which militates against the fundamental principles of non-violence” (in which he believed).

  • - His views on nakedness and sexual chastity were especially emblematic of his depravity: when he was in his 70s he encouraged his 17-year-old great-niece, Manu, to be naked during her “nightly cuddles” with him. After sacking several long-standing and loyal members of his 100-strong ­personal entourage who might disapprove of this part of his ‘spiritual quest’, he began sleeping naked with Manu and other young women also.

  • - Despite being considered a peaceful man, he could be callous, even vicious. “There will be no tears but only joy if tomorrow I get the news that all three of you were killed,” he once told some of his workers. To a Hindu he once said, “I do not mind if each and every one of the 500 families in your area is done to death.” And he forced Manu, his niece (remember the “nightly cuddles”), to walk through a jungle known for harboring rapists—just so she could retrieve a pumice stone he liked to use on his feet. When she returned in tears, he “cackled” with laughter and said: “If some ruffian had carried you off and you had met your death courageously, my heart would have danced with joy.”

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Sunday Follow-up: What to do with my Swagger?

Joan Rivers, here at her 140th birthday party,
is impervious to pain.
I have a pick-up basketball game I play in most Thursday evenings. If playing well, I'll stay for an hour or more; if I'm playing poorly, I'll stay for 30-45 minutes and talk about how much I miss my kids who probably want a father to put them to bed. But seriously, while I am only in my thirties, I am jeered as the old guy at these games (there is one guy who is older, but he's so much older he's impervious to jokes about his age -- much like Joan Rivers). Anywho, my best hoop years are behind me but once in a while I can bring the thunder...or at least mild rain shower. Such was the case this past Thursday. I had a good groove going: steals, cold-blooded jump shots and...I barely had to play defense. A perfect trifecta.

I had an old feeling arise at this moment. It was convinced it wasn't temptation. In fact, it felt pretty pure. It was the desire to stick out my chest, strut my 'stuff', show a little swagger (and not the Old Spice Deodorant & Body Wash that goes by the same name...that stuff smells like rubbing alcohol). After making a jump shot, I felt like thumping my chest (see below) or giving the "ok" sign around my right eye, which says to your opponent:  "I don't know if you realize this, but I just made a 3-pointer right in your eye..." (see below).

 Let me back up for a minute. It was an awesome privilege this past Sunday to preach about God's glorious grace and how He uses it to help both individual persons and churches grows. But for some, as it was for those attending the synagogue in Nazareth listening to Jesus' ignaugural address in Luke 4: 16-30, grace can become a bitter pill to swallow. One of the reasons is that we start to trust in self and own ability to do good and, even while we give God credit still for all the BIG stuff, we hold one to little shreds    of "I did good" (a.k.a. self-righteousness) for ourselves. In doing so, we begin to erect a separate (lower) tier of Christians for those who don't follow rules quite as well as we do.

But even as I preached this and even told myself: "Every single good thing comes from Jesus not from you, Ryan...stay humble...,"  I was haunted by the occasional desire to swagger, to boast as evidenced just a few days earlier in this basketball game. I think if you are of the male gender and reading this you might relate to this desire especially. On Sunday Night, during a really cool worship event I attended, God's Spirit led me to a passage in Galatians and not only did it help me with this boasting issue but with another one as well, which is this:

The God of the Bible does not mean to neuter desires, only re-direct them.

I spoke recently on Easter Sunday about this same concept, but at that time specifically with regard to pleasures. Our problem isn't a failure to deny ourselves of pleasure, it's that our ultimate pleasures are too low, too base when we have God who means for us to re-direct our quest for pleasure to find a far higher and more lasting pleasure in Him. As the David prayed in the Psalter, "You make known to me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Psalm 16:11).

But I think we often get stuck believing in a caricature of God who engages in the never-ending quest to neuter all these desires (and sometimes, for those of us who are married, it seems our spouse is trying to do the same thing!).

Let's work through Galatians 6: 13-16. I'll try and let it speak sufficiently.

"For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they 
desire to have circumcised that they may boast in your flesh" (v.13)

 Okay, so first, we see this natural desire to boast, here directed toward self. These false teachers are folks who are not content with salvation and inclusion into a church by faith alone but by faith plus additional rules (in this case, getting circumcised). By adding rules and people to join with them in that mission, they create a two-tier system of community and are able to safely distinguish themselves from that lower tier. They will boast in themselves and continue to gain bragging rights when others come to their senses and join them. All by just adding a simple extra condition or moral rule as a requirement to be a more genuine Christian. Such diminishment of pure grace is why the brilliant G.K. Chesterton once remarked: "If there is one thing worse than the modern weakening of major morals, it is the modern strengthening of minor morals."

"But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, 
by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (v.14).

Like Paul, I was created to boast and the kind of boasting he describes is, indeed, worth thumping one's chest about. First of all, to so boast and "lose oneself" in the cross of Christ that it results in being dead to the world's pullings, schemes, marketing ploys, assumed 'everyone at least does this' indulgences, is an absolutely radically audacious statement. In fact, it reminds me a bit of what 20th cent. French philosopher Albert Camus tried to hint at but could only do so philosophically: "The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very act of existence becomes an act of rebellion."
Such is how Paul seemed to live because he struts and swaggers and sticks out his chest about the cross -- and it got under people's skin. 

Simultaneously, Paul can sit it is by this cross that he has died to the world -- who cannot possibly any longer perceive Paul as a typical, "unfree" next door neighbor, but as a radically free and audacious messenger of the Christ, who, for some, will be good news.

"For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but a new 
creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, 
and upon the Israel of God" (vv.15-16).

Okay, here's where things get really interesting. First, we're back to rules. But Paul says there is only one good rule when it comes to salvation & inclusion into God's community -- radically new persons who are changed by faith. Second, and here's where it gets really cool and God shows He's not in our lives to spay & neuter us, we see another desire re-directed. For all the rule-followers out there, the Lord isn't looking to quench or neuter your desire either but rather re-direct it. Become passionate, stick to, be insistent about a rule (but just this one): A criteria of a Christian is a person who changes on the inside because of their faith in Jesus. Rule-followers tend to be passionate and have convictions (your description of yourself if you are one) or stubborn, unyielding, and a pain in the rump (if you have a close friend or family member who is one). Rule-following is a God-exalting desire when one's passions, convictions, stubbornness are re-directed to this one thing: People trusting Christ, which leads to a change on the inside.

Praise be to God, who is so gracious in His dealings with us and so wise in His judgments -- even His decision to keep those desires within us burning strong.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Parenting 001

Fellow parents...

Tim DeYoung, who pastors a church in East Lansing, has a wonderfully refreshing article re: The Basics in Parenting when all else is unraveling/not working/failing to the point where you worry for you child's future ability to vote. 

His interaction with his son in trying to direct his him to share in a 'godly' manner is alone worth the read and was almost as funny as last night's episode of The Office...almost (last night's Office was straight off the meat rack).

CLICK HERE to read