Jesus (Still) Doesn’t Want Me For a Sunbeam

Karl Vaters has a piece on CT.com that ends with these words:

“There are so many faithful believers living Godly lives that very few others will ever consider unique, different or special.

But that’s okay. Jesus never asked us to be unique. He told us to be faithful. And that alone will make us different.”

I can’t help but think of Nirvana Unplugged.  “This is a song by the Vaselines. Well, it’s a rendition of an old Christian song, I think.  But we do it the Vaselines’ way.”

Vaters, I think, is saying that so many Christians get so caught up in the idea of their unique manifest destiny that they lose sight of what he calls the essentials of God’s will.  In many ways, I agree. He parses those essentials oddly, though: “God’s will for all of us includes loving God, loving others, being worshippers, telling the truth and so on. So, 90 percent of what God wants us to do is the same for all of us.”  That’s a pretty big “and so on.”  The are some rather specific ways we’re supposed to do what too often sound like platitudinous calls to “love God” and “love others.”  We’re supposed to love justice, do mercy, walk humbly, and defend the widow and orphan, right?  We’re supposed to do punk rock Jesus things, but too often we tell our people to simply love God and love each other without getting anyone particularly riled up about how radically upending that’s supposed to be.  It’s a sad mistake, and, sadly, a relatively unfaithful one, isn’t it?  If God’s will for us is largely the same, as Vaters contends, his examples ought to brim with the essential specifics, at least.  Mama, that’s where the fun is.

Vaters goes on: “On the other side, God’s will never includes an exemption from character traits like integrity, or an allowance for cruelty. So, 90 percent of what we’re not supposed to do is the same for everyone, too.”  He’s right, of course, about cruelty.  But I have no idea what he thinks cruelty or integrity are.  Does he think the food wars being waged against the American people by giant corporations and lobbyists and politicians are cruel?  Does he think capitalism is cruel?  Is war always cruel, or sometimes, is it justified?  Certainly, Christians of good will disagree about these and other issues.  Are the “right” Christians more faithful?  Are they better at seeing the simplicity of a certain set of essentials that ought to be clear to all Christians?  At the very least, it seems like anything smacking of genteel respectability is suspect, at least for the Jesus I encounter in scripture and in my spirit.  Vaters essentials are general, which is fairly large misstep for someone trying to convince anyone, in the space of a few paragraphs, that God’s will is basically the same for everyone.  Granted, he says “we’re all supposed to do the Bible stuff, and there’s a lot of it.”  But if it boils down to a few things, what are those things?  Love God and neighbor, yes.  Jesus said so.  But how?  Through the radical pursuit of justice, mercy, peace, and freedom, radical, at least, with respect to dominant paradigms (especially, for Jesus, religious ones).

Jesus doesn’t want us for sunbeams.  Vaters and the Vaselines are right about that.  The problem, though, isn’t uniquity (I made that word up, because uniqueness is so clunky).  The problem is vague, generalized, moralistic therapeutic deism.  And who the hell wants that?

My opposition to MTD isn’t about harking back to the fundamentals of the Fundamentalists or anything along those lines.  It’s about the fact that Christianity without specifics (and specifically radical specifics) isn’t Christianity.  Jesus told the Rich Young Rulet to sell all his skubalon and give the proceeds to the poor.  That’s specific, and it demands we wrestle with a specific set of values that seldom show up in our churches.  We’re far too interested in being respectable, upwardly mobile, materialists to ever profess the radical social, economic, and political specifics of God’s universal call. We’re content to opine about the moral (and moralistic) ramifications of life away from Christ rather than live with Christ in the trenches of a theology he was killed for.

With all of that set, Vaters is on to something.  Doing God’s general (though still, radically specific) will in how we relate to each other, to injustice, to society, to cruelty, to scarcity, (and so on), ought to sharpen in us the mind and spirit of Christ, ought lead us ever away from the comfort of our sunbeam kingdoms and into the radical grip of his call and kingdom.

Changing gears:

We have many food truck bookings this week for which we are grateful.  The fair and festival season, which we love, is coming to an end and we’re sad to see it go. We continue to develop our brick-and-mortars, and there are countless administrative things that need attention for various aspects of our business.  But it’s also worth it to me to do this. Thank you for reading and sharing.

Blessings,

Chris

Here’s a picture of some new baskets of farm-fresh produce at our Downtown Allentown store.  These are straight from a Mennonite farm in Topton. Get these on any of our sandwiches and support local food!

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