The Spiritual Discipline of Love
The past couple weeks have been really hard. This job in New Orleans is all about long hours and stressful days. I enjoy the work, but the “higher ups” don’t make it very easy to do your job around here. Files come in and then are taken away, you get a hard copy of a claim but no electronic – which means you can’t write anything…which means that you can inspect the house but can’t turn in a report, and thus can’t get paid. And then there is the really frustrating “paying your dues” aspect. I’ve been humbled by going from positions of management (running this stuff down here is kinda like running a youth ministry or an extended work camp…its certainly not as hectic as Kids Corp!) to being treated like a worthless nothing. The “supervisors” don’t necessarily have any supervisor training…they’ve just been adjusters for a long time. So they ask for my help fixing their computers, learning new programs and even sending emails – but then refer to me as “little boy” or ceremoniously pretend I’m not in the room…or tell me to leave the room so that the grown-ups can talk. I don’t mind doing menial tasks as the low man on the pole, but I’m reaching the limit of ability to keep my very well-sharpened tongue in its cage.
In the midst of all this I have been reading some exchanges between early leaders in the Stone/Campbell Restoration movement for my Restoration History class at ACU (last class…comps next week…graduation in December!!!) This past week I stumbled across a series of essays over the concept of unity and how to treat others who profess Christ and yet have different understandings of what that means.
I also found a modern-day version of this debate between a friend of mine and a website of “Watch Dogs”…protectors of the Faith. “Watch Dogs”…what a conundrum of a name! I visited their site and it was sadly familiar. I greatly respect the desire of these folks to protect the Church they love. However, like we often experience with adolescents, love must mature beyond insecurity or it isn’t actually love at all. When teenagers (and immature adults) are “in love” their relationship is often characterized by insecurity and jealousy. This is often viewed as protection of the beloved. However, in truth the motives here are more self-centered than other-focused. I don’t mean this in a defamatory way, but rather to point out the natural need for an intentional and continued maturation process. Love does not envy. When true love is present, fear is driven out and we can act and react from a standpoint of patience, compassion, peace and trust rather than suspicion or anger.
This love should drive us to protect, but only when an intruder is threatening our loved ones. The problem we run into with our situation is that “Watch Dogs” seem to begin from an assumption that “everyone” is an intruder and should be treated with suspicion…you have to earn the right (through agreement to a certain party-line, proper doctrinal stance, etc) to be called family. But family (supposedly loved ones) are still family even if don’t agree with them, so treating them like an intruder because you don’t like what they say is not love. It is, at best, an immature infatuation.
Sidebar: You’ll notice that I’m not using any specific references to names or websites. This is not because I’m afraid or want to shout critiques from the corners. However, my goal is not to debate, confront or offend any specific person or group of people. My goal with this blog is to engage ISSUES that relate to Spiritual Formation and/or Youth Ministry. Like everyone, this is a learning process for me. One thing I have learned is that people expect critiques to be leveled at an individual and it is very hard to convince them that you are attempting otherwise. I don’t want to fight with anyone! This is not about individuals…it is about the larger ideas behind our individual actions.
Please note: words that are italicized, in bold or underlined do not suggest anger or aggression – these highlighting tools help important points to stand out from the rest of the text. Okay back to the Watch Dogs…
These “Dogs” view it as their Christian duty to police the actions of others and report back to everyone else on just how wrong these bad/dumb/evil/etc people are…and why they should be reprimanded. While there may be a comment (which can often come across as offhand or insincere) about the imperfection of the Watch Dogs, a basic assumption is that they have a grasp on the height and width and depth of God’s nature, His Church and other humans’ actions. This to me seems wrong on so many levels. (Even the choice of “Watch Dogs” as a title…in Scripture, is it ever a good thing to be described as a dog?)
Interestingly, the Dogs seem to often espouse the rhetoric of unity. Unity seems often to be synonymous with ascribing to everything they believe. I stumbled across the blogs of some of these Watch Dogs just yesterday and, as always, I wish I’d just navigated away from the page as soon as I realized what it was. However, like a motorist on 635 craning my neck to see an overturned car in the other lane, I read on. A sour mood hung like a cloud over the rest of my evening.
The Unity movement – one of the fundamental tenets of the Stone-Campbell Restoration movement – seeks the unity of all believers under the banner of Christ. The Watch Dogs have shown me how dangerous it is to seek this unity on the basis of doctrine rather than behavior; of creeds (even the creed of anti-creedalism as in my own corner of the family tree) instead of conduct.
This doesn’t mean that doctrine or statements of belief are not important. Rather we should seek our unity based on the faith and following of Christ, and work out the other differences within the confines of a mutual love and respect shared between brothers/sisters.
Interestingly, these comments are probably enough to place me on the “bad list” with several of my brothers/sisters who are most ardent about unity.
I don’t intend to estrange or attack – though I admit my patience is tried by this subject. Neither would I ever suggest that everything is relative and that we should just chuck our convictions to the wind. However, I believe quite strongly that if I, or anyone else on this earth (Watch Dogs included) were judged on the basis of right doctrine and freedom from error, we would be undone. I hope that my understanding of God’s Law is maturing and developing along with my spiritual growth. With that said, I must then acknowledge the probability that there are things I am ignorant of or erroneous on at any given time which will require God’s grace.
It is much easier to find fault, raise defenses and circle the wagons than to truly seek “as much as it is up to us, to live at peace with everyone.” As you pointed out Nate, we can easily come to believe that we are appointed by God to do the “guarding” and elevate our opinion to that of Sage and Prophet. The pride and seclusion that come along with believing we are our own ambassadors is difficult to combat. I’ve definitely seen that at work here in Louisiana. Without structure there will be strong ones who rise up and take a position like that of Watch Dog – without the necessary accountability or integrity. It is, to say the least, a stretch to think that if we all go our separate ways and study that we’ll all come to the same conclusions and consensus will be achieved. This is often described as trusting in the Holy Spirit or the Scriptures to clearly communicate the message of the Gospel with no “iffy” sections. However, this manner of discernment does not promote faith in God so much as faith in human ability and reason…we just don’t call it that. You can put religious or faith language on it, but we’re still talking about our ability to discern. The Unity movement, if based on human ability and reason, should be abandoned. If, rather, it is based on faith and hope in Christ’s interaction with humanity then it should be revisited, strengthened and supported with all that we are and all that we have. And then it should be proclaimed that there is indeed Good News for the oppressed, that it is Christ and not reason, doctrine or ability that will provide salvation.