Once a month, members of the church come to do work on the church grounds, ranging from washing windows and vacuuming, mowing, raking, picking up trash, spreading beauty bark, and anything else that needs doing.
It’s been an unusually mild winter, and as a result, the mold has grown almost exponentially. It has taken over large patches of the lawn, and parts of the parking lot and driveway. Since the grass still isn’t quite high enough to cut, I planned to take on the mold. I wasn’t quite sure which tool would be best, so I took my flat shovel and my “zombie” tool. One side is shaped like a narrow, tapered hoe, and the other side has two pointed edges like flat hooks.
When I arrived, I put on my work gloves, and my wide-brimmed Tilley, so I could keep the drizzle out of my eyes. I grabbed the shovel, and started attacking the mold that was building up on the asphalt parking lot next to the sidewalk. The steel of the shovel made a lovely kind of ringing sound as I hunched over and scraped the mold like I was shoveling snow. It seemed to be scraping up a great deal of the low green substance, made even more like a slimy muck by the slow precipitation that had vacillated between drizzle and mist for the last 12 hours. However, I didn’t get too far before I realized that the shovel was leaving behind swaths of the mold that had started to scale up the side of the sidewalk, since I could only scrape the flat surface of the parking lot, and not the edge of the sidewalk where it met the parking lot. I went back to the car and got my zombie tool. The tapered edge worked well to remove the side mold, and even appeared to be doing better on the surface mold as well. I also didn’t need to hunch over as far, as the handle was longer.
As I made my way along the sidewalk, then out to the driveway curbing, I found myself surprised at how much mold had really taken root, especially along the entrance to the church property. I realized that it was no accident that the further I got from the church, and the closer I got to the edges of the property, the thicker the moss had become. Before long, my mind was examining the symbolic nature of what I was doing, and thinking about the lesson that this should have been teaching. In many ways, I think that we in the church fail to clean up ourselves like we clean up the property, or perhaps more appropriately, not enough of us do this work, like not enough of us show up on Saturday to do the work of maintaining and cleaning the grounds.
We all know someone who stands outside, and offers a criticism of the church in order to justify their separation from it. Sometimes, this excuse is rooted in a hubris that places them squarely at the center of creation, and is a dim, echoey place where the throne room of their heart is a place where they try hard to occupy a space never meant for them, suffering a loneliness that few can recognize, let alone address. Just as frequently, it is someone who unflinchingly comments about the hypocrisy they believe they see, rooted in an incomplete understanding of the Jesus we serve, and what he stands for. And some are correct in this diagnosis, without understanding the planks obscuring their own vision, or how much they don’t know.
I get to start this part with a confession of my own. I don’t spend nearly enough time doing the maintenance on my own spirit. Just like I need to spend time scraping at decay that grows at the edges of the parking lot and driveway, I need to do the same spending time reading and studying the Bible, and then considering what I read, and applying it to how I think and what I do. It can be difficult, in a world of distractions and competing priorities to make this part of a regular routine, let alone a daily one. And without doing it, we don’t think enough about the nature of sin, or how much we still commit it. The Word can’t work the changes in us that it was meant to, or at least not to the degree that it can or should, and as a result, the grace that saves us, and the one who died to give it both become cheap in our lives, as we fail to see the decay we ourselves carry, even as we see the decay surrounding us so clearly.
We cannot and should not ever lose sight of the fact that we ALL sin. Sometimes, the sin is obvious and open to those who surround us. Some sins are hidden, and no less pernicious, but require humility and self-examination to see, before we can ever think about changing them, and it is far too easy to acknowledge the obvious sins of others first. These become the hypocrisies that excuse others from even making the attempt to come to Christ, even if they fail to understand that it is grace that saves, because sin is inevitable. And sometimes, even if they understand the inevitability of sin, they don’t differentiate between the reflection that examines it and the repentance for it, and the fact that this is different from living in an unbroken state of it, without the growth and change that come from recognition, repentance, and a sincere attempt to change. The latter fosters humility and appreciation for grace; the former becomes a justification to do what is right in that person’s own eyes, and to find a fault in the faith which doesn’t exist. And because we don’t spend enough time in the Word, we are not able to exercise the discernment spoken of in Jude, or to find the right answer to such criticisms.
Now if you’ll excuse me, the rhythm of the rain is calling me to do some spiritual scraping.
I’ve written before on other blogs about my annoyance with politicians who occasionally abandon their otherwise ubiquitous disdain for religion, specifically Christianity, for infrequent attempts to cite it as a reason for foisting their [leftist] views upon the rest of us.
Whether it was Obama talking about a “partnership with God” in a phone call with rabbis, stumping for Obamacare, Al Gore mangling scripture in a clumsy attempt to shill indulgences for his Church of Gaia Carbon credits, or Chief Lizzie Warren quoting scripture to justify government strengthening and expanding reliance on government, in the name of love and compassion, of course, there seems to be a stunning lack of self-awareness from “the smartest people in the room”, who can barely conceal their resentment for something they have been largely unable to successfully co-opt.
I found myself pondering this last Sunday, as my mind chewed on it, rather than the sermon. “Collective Salvation” has been a term that has been like sand in my shorts from the first minute I heard it, primarily because I think it is a perfect illustration of everything they get wrong about Christianity. My conversations with those who show the most enthusiasm about the concept have done nothing to convince me otherwise.
Salvation is an individual concept. A walk through the concordance of any Bible should make this plain to anyone with an attention span longer than that of a gnat. One of the clearest points of scripture on this is found in Psalm 27:1.
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
I can understand that this is a difficult point for non-Christians to fully grasp. They hear about a Savior that gave his life to save the world, and it would be very easy to view it in the frame that the peddlers of collective salvation want to confine it to. But the fact is that while it was a gift that was freely given…the greatest gift ever given, it must be accepted for it to be fulfilled, and that acceptance is an individual decision. This is distinguishable from what politicians are trying to sell when they speak of “collective salvation”, for three important reasons.
First, because what Christ gave belonged to him, and him alone. He didn’t collect it from others, with the force of the state available to compel what wasn’t freely given to him so he could give it to others. Contrast this with the “collective salvation” promised by those who freely utter the term.
Secondly, he didn’t make any distinction about who could receive his gift, or how much of it a particular person could have. Salvation wasn’t for those most favored in God’s eyes; indeed, one of the great tragedies is that God’s chosen people to this day, with some exceptions, largely reject the notion that Christ was the Savior at all. He himself noted that he brought it for all the world. Income wasn’t a factor. He dined with Zacchaeus, a wealthy tax collector. He cured the blind, and lepers. He brought his news to a harlot. He died in the company of thieves. The “collective salvation” promised by politicians does the opposite. It decides that some people should have more of government’s “help” than others, but this decision is based on the idea that some people are incapable of succeeding on their own, and then structures its “help” in a way to make sure that the recipients come to think the same way. He brought his salvation because he could see that everyone had the same need for what he had, and because he loved everyone equally. Politicians will certainly make sure to bring the ‘help” they promise, but they don’t want to spend any more time than they have to with those they “help”.
Third, the choice to make this gift belonged to him. When politicians bring “collective salvation”, they cast their benevolence as a “moral imperative”, regardless of the lack of accountability for how it is expended, or an expectation that the recipients will make any effort to change themselves or their behavior. As the benefactors of this “collective salvation”, our participation and assent to this squandering of resources to create dependence is presumed, and our character is questioned, and ruthlessly besmirched if we deign to question this benevolence practiced in our name. That would be insulting, but bearable if that were the extent of it. However, these servants then claim the mitre as well as the sceptre, and will adopt their most studious pose as they read a scripture verse or two, and pretend that these selective readings exist in a vacuum, without any understanding of context, support what we know better than to meekly accept. It isn’t the ignorance that is insulting; it’s the lecture on it that is tough to take.
The trends since the Everson decision, and its repugnant misreading of Jefferson’s “wall of separation between church and state” hasn’t just warped the anti-theist’s views on the roles of religion and government; I’ve come to understand that it has warped those views of many religious people as well. The anti-theists believe that religion has no role in government; the religious believe that it should play a much greater role. The more I read the private papers of the Founders, and the Bible itself, the more I come to the conclusion that religion needs to be part of the lives of the individuals in government. There is a difference between the state as church, and church members participating in the governance of the state, just as there is a difference between individually accepting and acknowledging the Savior, and corporate worship and service of that same Savior with others. Those who are working out their own salvation with fear and trembling will not be obsessed with forcing others to change the minutia of their lives to conform with their own ideas of what is “nice”, but they will consider their actions through a prism of right and wrong, and the effect they will have on society. I don’t believe that this nuance is beyond the understanding of those who wish to employ “collective salvation”; I believe that acting in accordance with understanding would interfere with their agenda and their own power.