I can't sleep, so here I am with warm milk, hoping to blog myself into happy nighty night time by dawn. Tossing and turning upstairs, my mental jag was about how disconcertingly easy it is for humans, Christian or otherwise, to justify a status quo. Just read a column by Nicholas Kristof that sort of made me squirm after the fact. Take a glance here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/02/opinion/02kristof.html
What got me was how few of us really can "grow in Christlikeness" in the sense of revolutionary transformation of how we impact our big world, in a way that makes God's grace (and our differentness from the unbeliever) readily apparent. Kristof's column mentioned several unsung Catholics who are making a tremendous impact by how they live and reach out to those in need around the world. Now, I know there is plenty of hurt to go around and plenty of good to be done right in our back yards, but that's not my point here. What I struggle with is now much, in the developed world especially, we are institutionally bound into a lifestyle that by default causes direct harm to people, the planet, and future generations.
Please be assured that I'm no miltiant environmentalist, not even a wannabe. In fact, I'm painfully aware of how not-environmental my lifestyle is, and how difficult-to-impossible is to be a typical American (especially a suburban mom-of-4) and not walk around every single day spewing poison into the world and causing who knows how much damage to the weakest among us.
Before I get accused of any Leftish leanings here, I also should mention the parallel "La, la, la, I can't hear you" self-justification by ignorance that many "progressives" live by - the refusal to admit the evil of taking a pre-born human life. I'm not even gonna get into arguing why/if it's wrong; we know it is, or why else would we be so reluctant/squeamish/irate about being shown pictures of a procedure if we really believe it's value neutral? (Now don't be judgin,' you're thinking. Okay, whatever. This is Anjoo. You all know me. I'm usually a pretty nice person, but telling me not to be opinionated is like telling the water not to be wet. This is my blog, I get to rant!) So let's just agree that this isn't about political leanings or "issues," but about human nature and selfishness and sin.
So, Kristof was talking about some ordinary Catholics and their incredible witness. "Ordinary" only in the sense (from here out is my take, not Kristof's) that their beliefs and theology are basic Christianity 101: do unto others . . .what you do unto the least of these you do unto me . . . all Creation groans, waiting for its savior . . .no greater love has any man than this . . . etc. And still perfectly NOT ordinary by their rarity. How many of us privileged Westerners could dare to give up all our creature comforts and live like that? We may sponsor kids with World Vision or some other group, we may send checks and earnestly pray for foreign or inner-city missionaries, but how many of us would really live like that?
And it's not because we don't know that grinding poverty exists, and that our actions and lifestyle choices have a direct impact on how the poorest in the world live, or even if they live. So why is it so easy to to make only token gestures? We give 10% or 20% of our income, and feel it's "okay" when the majority of the world lives on a 1/10th of that (Try this little link: http://www.globalrichlist.com/) Or we switch from plastic to paper, or SUV to hybrid, conventional to organic, omnivore to veggie, and think that's enough. I'm not slamming the environmental decisions either here, because some of them are more than I'm doing, and it's a great start.
But it's just a start, and we'll never make up the difference. There's no way we're going to cleanse our eviromental impact in our lifetimes. Or, to look at the other half of the PC spectrum, even if we completely eradicate abortion in our lifetimes there's no way we can say we've adequately cared for the sick, the old, the forgotten, the abused, all those children AFTER they were born. We'll always find a way to deflect the problem, make it somebody else's, pretend we're doing all we can. Or more accurately, to compare ourselves to all "those people" who aren't doing anything, and be temporarily pacified.
Uh-oh, Anjoo must be off her meds . Shhhhhhhhh . . !
Now, let's come around to the theology. Be reassured I do NOT believe in salvation by works, that is EXACTLY the point. I don't believe that if we use cloth grocery bags, live in a hut, and save a million babies that we would thereby be pure and free and not need forgiveness. What I'm looking at, what's so glaringly absurdly apparent if you look at the typical 21st century US lifestyle, is that we can't stand to look at the harm we're causing for more than 3 seconds before we distract ourselves (TV anyone? Internet?) and find an excuse.
We pretend that it's okay because everyone else around us does it. Or, everyone does that much plus 10% worse, so we must actually be doing better than most. We justify what is patently sociopathic or sinful behavior (how is it anything else when we use up so much stuff that God told us to share? when we destroy so much that God told us to take care of? When we kill and abuse so many that God told us to honor?) just because the culture around us doesn't think it's wrong.
How is that following Christ?
All that stuff about taking up our cross, counting the cost, being a new creation, set apart. . ? Now, I reassert that I do not believe we "have to" live by a certain mile-long list of Do's and Don'ts in order to be a "real" Christian. So what is my point? Am I just trying to be a downer, demoralize everyone? Or, even worse, just give voice to the accuser and make us all feel unforgivable? Nooooooooooooo way!
It's GRACE that saves us! Yaaaaayyyyyy, because we all need it so desperately. And it scares me how quickly and almost universally we forget that. How we "do" some little token act of selflessness and think that now, since we're "saved by Grace," that we don't have to look at all the uncomfortable stuff. But I suspect it's just the opposite: because we know we're already saved and loved by Grace when we've accepted Jesus as savior, we should be unafraid to face the remaining yuck within ourselves, and freely acknowledge that there's still a whole lotta yuck left.
A WHOLE lotta yuck. Enough for a lifetime of repentance. So my initial impetus was the hypocrisy of not acknowledging a few particular grievous sins in our culture, but there could be so many more. I do actually love the USA, I hasten to add. I firmly believe it's the least bad country in the world. In this world. But let's not pretend even for a minute people, especially my sisters and brothers in Christ, that this is anything near like the Kingdom we're praying for. Let's roll up our sleeves, fall on our knees, and get to work.
*Jonathan Edwards: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Edwards_(theologian)