Friday, April 2, 2010

Thoughts on a Good Friday - Safety

"Safe is risky."
Seth Godin

This may well be a continuation of the series on limitations. But because it's Good Friday, because it is a critical aspect of my faith, I wanted to take a break from the framework of the previous blogs. Also, I was bored of using the same image and quote.

My parents caged my soul with beliefs. Don't do this, don't do that, it might be dangerous. You might hurt yourself. Be a doctor or a lawyer. Don't do something unstable. You never know what might happen.

We rode down to Brooklyn together. I didn't think it was as huge a deal as they did but they insisted on coming. "We never did that much to support you when you were growing up so we wanted to at least take you down to your race." was what they told me the night before. On the drive that day, "If you feel tired, just give up. It's better than hurting yourself. There's nothing wrong in giving up." was what they repeated to me over and over again.

Further back down the tunnel of time we go, "Why don't you just take English as a minor if you like it? Just because you like it doesn't mean you have to do it as a job. Just read some books on the side or something. Do something secure like accounting."

What am I protecting? What am I keeping safe? What is at risk? What is in danger? And what's more important?

Achieving life is not the same as postponing death. Preventing pain is not winning joy. My parents taught me strategies and methods, instilled in me a value for prevention. They never intimated that a goal could be worth striving for. They only told me things that I should really work to avoid: poverty, illness, loneliness. But if I avoided those things would I ever find wealth, a vibrant life or true companionship? It's like a baseball catcher who instructs his pitcher "throw it anywhere but down and in." Is it any surprise that the pitcher then gave up a home run?

Achieving life is not the same as postponing death. If all of your efforts are focused at preventing bad things from happening then no good things will come. If all of your efforts go to placate your fears then what energy remains to realize your dreams? If there are no good things, if there are no dreams, if you've only prevented bad outcomes, then you remain a zero. So I offer you two options: the first, disappear from reality. Your existence is a lie. The second, change.

It will require battling your fears.

Maybe an example will help. Theologically, I'm rather orthodox. TULIP, 5 Solas, Nicene creed. Amillenialist. But I think the most rewarding point in my faith came when I took a Gender Politics class in grad school. I don't know why I approached the class this way, perhaps the professor was just that good, perhaps some other factors were moving in my heart, but I eventually left my worldview, my referential lens at the door when I went to class and learned with their premises and built with their materials. And the effect was profound. I don't think I've ever learned so much in a class before.

Now at this point I want to address several sectors amongst my Christian audience. The first, the lazy people who do what I did because it's the fastest way to an A, the people who would say "Oh, it's just a class. You do what you have to, you know?": our motives are different. We are not in the same boat. I think when you leave aside the fundamentals of faith out of convenience, it is a treasonous, cowardly act. I hate cowards worse than I hate rapists and slavers.

The second, the people who have studied apologetics and/or theology, who would have gone in with guns blazing (thinking that you're) mowing down arguments with things you've picked up in a book or a sermon, to you I want to pay special attention. I was one of you. I remember how proud I was to be able to hold my own in undergrad against philosophy professors because I did the research. To the people like you, I say that you are no less cowardly, that *I* was no less cowardly for adopting this method. In the end, you weren't willing to change your mind because you were convinced of the truth. Whether you were actually right or wrong is immaterial. You were scared, you little nut-sack. Turtling up and barreling forward responding to arguments by repeating your argument even louder is a craven, despicable act. Christians are by far the most cowardly demographic I've ever seen with my own eyes.

For me, orthodoxy is incredibly important to me. I don't want to learn or teach heresy. So the best thing I ever did as a student was expose it to risk by opening my mind. To illuminate this point, let me share with you this video:

I scoured YouTube to present you this video of some nutsacks sparring. Why is it that we all get a good laugh out of this? It's because it's a slapfight! If you want to do damage, you have to get much, much closer. You have to put yourself in a much more dangerous place if you want to do anything worthwhile. My friend told me that in a fight, if you think you can elbow the guy, you're only close enough to punch. If you think you can punch, you're only close enough to kick. If you think you can kick, you can't do anything at all. Ever since Adam, the natural instinct has been to be a coward.

On the other hand, look at the distances between the fighters here.

If you want to do anything of worth, of any kind of value, you must become vulnerable. You can get a knock-out, but you can get knocked out. Kill or be killed, kids.

But we're talking about a class and not combat here. In Gender Politics, I opened myself to real learning. And I realized, hey, Equal Marriage Rights is more complicated and in-depth an issue than I've ever heard in a sermon or read in a book. But that much was obvious, right? And the more risks I took, the more I realized no one else was willing to take a risk. And this saddened me deeply.

Christians, right? The events of Good Friday allowed us to be Christians. The word "Christian" itself means something along the lines of "little Christ" or "Christ imitator."

"He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God -- children not born out of natural descent, nor human decision or a husband's will, but born of God."

God himself obeyed the principle I examined here. Open yourself up to vulnerabilities if you want to make it happen. My thinking is that his own nature made a safe path to salvation impossible. The only way for the cup of Gethsemane to pass from him was for him to drink it. The courage it must take to go from God Omnipotent to face humiliation and vulnerability on the cross, from eternal fellowship to complete divine rejection, to risk all of that, to endure all of that... there was no other way to purchase salvation.

Face. Your. Fears. Is your faith important to you? Then dangle it over the precipice of the unknown. Go to an atheist's convention with no picket signs, tracts or book of easy references to call upon. Just sit and learn. Or make friends with someone who has a non-standard sexuality. Or next time you have a conversation, try and see things from the other person's perspective instead of repeating yours more loudly. Answer their questions straight-forwardly. Be willing to change. Is your life important to you? Then be prepared to look straight in the eye all the terrors that haunt you and march boldly into their jaws. There's no other way.

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