Sniffing Doldrums

Sometimes it seems that Christians of every stripe get more energy from differentiating themselves from one another than they do in uniting with one another. “I’m not that type of Christian.”

I do this, I don’t do that; I believe this, I don’t believe that; I vote this way, I don’t vote that way; I used to associate with these people, I never associate with them anymore; I am for this, I am not for that; I watch this guy, I never watch that one; I read her books, I never read his. On and on and on.

It’s all very defining, I’m sure. We filter our worlds by pointing out the ways different individuals, communities, publications, books, congregations, denominations, pastors, and pew warmers have hurt us or failed us, or the way they’re thinking, writing, and theologizing wrong.

It’s entertaining to take the “You Might Be an Evangelical Reject If…” quiz and see how you, and the other nearly 200 commenters rank. In? Out?

Or we can take sides on the Rob Bell’s no hell versus the Francis Chan’s riff on damn(ation), and then excoriate those scurrilous heretics or haters who differ.

We’re sniffing for sulfur.

But it’s not helping. And it’s exhausting. We’re all becoming too self-righteous for our own good.

We do not pray for unity; we pray for victory. We do not pursue humility; we want vindication. We vigorously keep records of one another’s failings, we are rude and proud, and we bear nothing.

Just lamenting our words, our tones, our snarky high-fives, our false virtue, our vitriol, our absolute certainty that we are right…

What is the remedy for our illness?

This morning I was reading the reflections of a medieval monk, Guigo II, where he reminds us of the power of the fear of the Lord. But I’m not sure this would make much sense to contemporary American Christians. No one wants a Lord to fear anymore; we all want the Velveteen Rabbit who can comfort us in all distress and be loved and loveable as we relentlessly wear away all the sharp edges. The Rabbit’s sharp edges, that is, certainly not our own. Guigo describes the fear of the Lord as the power that softens hard hearts and returns us to the place where the love of Christ can actually take root. The Book of Sirach tells us that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of love for him, and faith is the beginning of clinging to him.”

And lest you quote back at me that “perfect love casts out fear,” you show me someone who has perfect love.

And then you read all the nasty, horror stories about all the mean and despicable things that have happened to Christians in the name of the Lord of Fear, the Lord of Judgment, the Lord of Damnation offloading heretics into torture. Callous and unkind words, snubbing and cold-shouldering, whispered calumny and verbal slapping.

The choice, of course, is not between the Velveteen Rabbit (the liberal/progressive version, according to the evangelicals/conservatives) versus the Petty Punitive One (the evangelical/conservative version, according to the liberals/progressives). The real invitation comes from the Holy One, who both judges and heals, whose will for his own Son was to crush him with pain, whose Spirit blows without explanation.

How can we yield to such a One while abusing anyone else?

About K. Mulhern

Kathleen Mulhern teaches courses in world history, European history, and history of Christianity. She has taught at Denver Seminary, Colorado School of Mines, and Regis University. She particularly focuses on the historical roots of the political, economic, religious, and cultural systems that have contributed to contemporary society.


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