I admit, my Tuesday column requires some patience. If you jump too quickly you’re going to think I’m saying Christians should never defend themselves.
Jesus surely didn’t preach that; he didn’t preach a crusade either. He taught us to turn the other cheek.
Our instincts tell us that turning the other cheek is stupid, but this is what Christ preached. He did not teach that we were meant to conquer others—be they radical Islamists, or gay activists, or evangelical atheists—but that we were to conquer ourselves, and in so doing, bring others into surrender by our own humble example of submission to his Will.
That, of course, means trust; the toughest nut for all Christians. It is hard to trust him, when we have our world before our eyes, but only once we trust him can be surrender ourselves to him in a way that might change the world.
Christianity is a blood religion, like Judaism, and like Islam. But it’s not the spilling of other’s blood that matters. The early martyrs died for their beliefs, but not in an effort to control others. Their trust in Christ, their surrendering to him ending (as they knew it would) in the shedding of their blood, ultimately turned hearts and minds in another direction, toward a horizon marked by the cross.
The only power resides is in the spilling of Christ’s blood, and ours for his sake.
For his sake. Not for ours; not even for our civilization’s. The civilization—-and indeed the American Exceptionalism characterized by “baseball, Mom, Chevrolet, and apple pie,” that helped to bring the West to its culmination—is already on the wane. Baseball has been corrupted, motherhood has been redefined, Chevrolet is a shadow of itself; all we may soon be left with is apples we may not eat.
And then, perhaps, comes the New Eden.
The piece began as a response to several emails from Christian readers who sound eager to see the launching of a second Crusade, in order to save the world–as they know and love it, almost unto Ameridolatry–and bring it back to where it was 30 years ago, or so.
On some level, I think what I am saying is that no matter which path we take, the larger outcomes will be the same: do “nothing,” and Islam advances, many people die, civilization as we know it continues to devolve until Christ comes. Do “something”–lash out, fight back, create laws, and drag people to Jesus–and Islam will continue to advance many people will die, civilization as we know it will continue to devolve until Christ comes.
The narrative is going to move forward. The smaller outcome–how we live as it does–is what is going to matter to Christ, in the end.
Oddy enough, Tim Muldoon seems to writing from a similar wavelength, today: as the traditional date of the Feast of the Ephiphany nears, he looks at Emmanuel and the story that screams down the ages:
Christians, like all people everywhere of every time and place, fall into the trap of tribalism and triumphalism when they gain political power. (Lord Acton: “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”) Ours is an age when Christianity has lost great power; “Christendom” is a thing of the past. Many Christians want that power back and want to use the gospel as a rationale for reclaiming it.
What is worth remembering, however, is that the stories of “God with us” were decidedly anti-power. Matthew and Luke take great pains to describe the new “king” in strikingly non-regal terms: born in a backwater town to peasants and driven into refugee status. In spite of their animosity toward the people who had alienated them, the evangelists nevertheless embed their narratives within Jewish history and, in the end, recognize their complete dependence on the Jews, even as they remain compelled by the unique story of Jesus.
What does all this mean for how Christians today understand “God with us”? First, it means understanding our absolute dependence upon Jewish history and, in a related sense, on the perseverance of the Jewish community of faith who gives living witness to that history. Second, it means discerning what Matthew and the other evangelists were pointing to as “God with us.”
It means basing a faith not naively on the stories themselves, but on the person of Christ who gave rise to the stories.
To put it more simply, it means a lifelong commitment to learning prayer as the way to get to know God personally.
I suggest that a sound-byte takeaway for this exhortation is this: it takes at least as much effort to learn prayer—to learn to really listen to God—as it takes to learn how to love.
We live in interesting times.
UPDATE: Reader Diane S. reminds me that “Jesus was no leftist”, and of Dennis Prager’s distinctions between “micro” and “macro” perspectives.
I’m more and more convinced that Christians are reacting too much to the world and living too much in the world. We’re all caught up with every passing idea and insult. We’re caught up in the macro. And it is ruining the micro–our ability to even perceive the mirco. Take care of the micro and the macro will follow. That’s sort of what I am saying, in a nutshell. It was what the early martyrs understood. They were focused on the micro. The macro fell to it.
We’re becoming a bunch of babies; it’s about net-neutrality but it’s about all of this, too, in a small way:
Some issues with public religious practice cannot, of course, be resolved at the community level or between private individuals. But we are perilously close to a point at which no such issues will be resolved without ukases or adjudications from the state. It is precisely the business of the mature adult to recognize that there are whole realms of life in which government intervention is not necessary—in which, indeed, it is better in every way to work things out among ourselves directly—and that those realms are what we inhabit most of the time. Christians, in fact, are called to live by this precept, as Paul makes clear in I Corinthians 6:1-8.
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