I am feeling a lot of pressure in recent weeks. A lot of pressure to BE NICE. And the more confrontational I become, the more pushback I encounter from many fronts. Subtle cues, usually, that I have stepped out of bounds somewhere.
I have allowed myself to live in fear of being confused with the kind of hate-gospel preached by Westboro Baptists who hound military funerals or homosexuals with messages like, “God hates fags” and so forth. I have lived with that fear and allowed it to guide me into quietness and other forms of BEING NICE rather than risk offense. Meanwhile, my culture has become a greasy, splattered, gas station toilet that you try to hover over rather than get involved with too intimately.
I don’t believe God hates fags for one minute. On the contrary, I believe quite firmly that God loves fags. (Yeah, I used the word. So what? Even the fags say it.) Yeah. Fags are people too, with feelings. And God loves them and sent his son to die for them. I believe that completely.
Doesn’t mean I think homosexuality is God’s ideal. Doesn’t mean I think it’s not a sin. It is. The Bible clearly teaches this. The only time that has ever been unclear is recent times after the political winds of change have effected mainstream theology. Now you can hire a false prophet who will do some Greek and Hebrew exegetical voodoo, and build quite a NICE ministry and reputation endorsing sin this way. But 2000 years of Christian history never dealt with this kind of confused NICENESS.
And well… I have BEEN NICE and quiet about this for a very long time in hopes that it would either go away or not affect me and my world too much. But now even the suggestion that God doesn’t approve of this sin puts me in a category with Westboro and their nonsense.
What’s next? Do I have to sleep with a group of men to prove I am not “homophobic”? Isn’t that the word you NICE folx out there use for people like me? Suggesting I am scared of homosexuals? When was I scared? That’s a category mistake too. I neither hate homosexuals nor fear them. I have many homosexual friends. Some of them I love dearly. Some are my kin. I value their opinions. I value their company. I value their care for me! I never claimed I was any better than them. Where is the fear or hate in that?
But I keep quiet so I can BE NICE.
And I feel the pushback to BE NICE from some of my closest friends and family. Perhaps they are worried the cost of taking a stand will hold for me. Perhaps they are afraid – truth-O-phobic! It will be upsetting to challenge the new norms and all the accompanying consumerist attitudes and complacency. Church has become a matter of goods and services to be bought and sold in seeker-friendly books and seminars. And the rule of the marketplace is that the customer is always right, and you should BE NICE to them.
But you and I are not actually customers. Nor are customers, in fact, always right.
I really love our preacher where I go to church. The guy is really a talented speaker. I took one of his grad courses in preaching even. And I like his way with the craft. He reaches me. He moves me.
But I have noticed that he never offends people. I mean, I bet someone is offended – in this day and age, if you speak to a group of people, odds are some jackass is going to be offended. So, yeah. He probably has. But his sermons are extremely non-offensive. Only someone itching for a fight takes offense at this guy.
And this came home to roost for me when I heard him recently handle the Matthew 25:31-46 passage I frequently cite on this blog. In the course of his sermon, he read the entire passage all the way through at least once, and I think twice. And the passage itself IS A SERMON preached by Jesus.
So here we have an irony already. We have a preacher who is going to now preach a sermon already preached by Jesus himself. On the surface, you might think just reading it and sitting down would be appropriate… after all, how can you add to perfection? But that is not how us modern types do it. And neither did he.
Now, hear me carefully. The guy preached a fantastic sermon from this sermon. He really brought it home. There was passion, conviction, inspiration just exploding out of this sermon!
But something was missing.
Go read that passage and look closely at it. It is really two sermons jammed together. In fact, actually it is one sermon with two mirrored halves. Only they are mirror opposites, not mirror sames. The first sermon speaks of tending to “the least of these” and being rewarded with life in the Age to Come and going into the Kingdom with the sheep. The second sermon speaks of failing to tend to “the least of these” and thus facing eternal destruction along with the goats.
I did say our preacher actually read the whole text all the way through. It did get coverage in the textual reading. However, he only preached (gave his homiletic comments) on the first part and avoided any in depth talk about judgment.
THIS IS A JUDGMENT PASSAGE!
But what can I say? Our preacher was BEING NICE.
In the weeks since, I have heard him reference those who fancy themselves prophets (wonder who does that?) and how even if they prophesy, if they don’t have love they are nothing! (1st Corinthians 13, anyone?) He is exactly right. That is in the Bible. Prophecy without love is nothing. So, I feel the pushback.
I don’t have any reason to believe this preacher is singling me out, but I am sure he ain’t stupid. And IF he has any wind or idea that my prophetic vocation might be considered a bit shrill, then a shot across the proverbial bow with a citation from 1st Corinthians 13 would make a powerful case for BEING NICE.
But is LOVE always about BEING NICE?
Well, just keep reading what St. Paul says about love a few verses later in the same chapter. Love is patient, love is kind… love is not arrogant or rude… does not insist on its own way… is not resentful. Love bears all things … and endures all things….
Wow! If love were anymore NICE, it would be milquetoast, I think.
So when Jesus drove out money changers with a whip from the temple, was he being patient? Was he not being rude? Was he not insisting on his own way???
Was Jesus not LOVE incarnate?
What about St. Paul? The same guy who penned these powerful words about love also penned the letter to the Galatians. And in that letter, he has a very BE-NICE agenda, it seems, with regard to the fruit of the Spirit. He rattles off this fruit as such: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control. But just a few passages earlier the same Apostle addresses this same church to whom he writes this stuff as “Stupid Galatians”! And he insists that they not get circumcised (which I would think would go without saying) but then he also tells them that he wishes who ever wants to get circumcised would keep cutting until they mutilate themselves.
So, is St. Paul unloving? Is Jesus unloving? Do they not speak the truth in love?
How are we to account for this? Perhaps the Bible contradicts itself.
Perhaps. But woe to those who go that direction!
Or, maybe, just maybe, this kind of talk does not necessarily violate love. How can that be? Is love always the same as BEING NICE?
I am not sure myself. I will admit, that I find this to be one of those complex parts of biblical faith. And I aim to tread here cautiously. But I think faith involves risk.
In the meantime, I take my heart before the Lord every day seeking his shaping, breaking, and molding of it. I seek to follow after Jesus and behave like him. And he called a Syrophoenician woman a “dog” once.
So, if you are Syrophoenician, then don’t be surprised if I hurt your feelings. … in love of course.