Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Last night during the news I saw one of NBC’s very short public service announcements. It was an actor from one of their shows (can’t remember which) who said basically, don’t judge anyone – ever. That left me a little unsettled, but I wasn’t entirely sure why. I’ve also been thinking about this poem my sister-in-law keeps talking about. It is called, “The Field Beyond” by Jalaluddin Rumi.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in the grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase `each other'
doesn't make any sense.

Rumi was a 13th century Sufi poet and mystic. Sufism is a sect/branch of Islam and Sufi’s believe that they are on a spiritual path and that they can become close to God while they are alive, while apparently most Muslims believe they achieve that closeness in paradise. Apparently, as part of their spiritual path Sufis produced a great deal of literature, of which this poem is a part. Here is a link to a page put together by a professor at University of Georgia on Sufism. This same professor, Alan Godlas, has a whole slew of other resources on Islam. He’s even won awards for his webpage. Here’s a link to his main website. Here’s an interesting article on the revival of interest in Rumi’s poetry in the US from the Christian Science Monitor. That is totally off track of where I was going, but interesting to learn.

This poem unsettles me a bit, also. Now, I’m not some Christian legalist and moral absolutist, but I think we need some room in our language and discourse for rightness and wrongness. I am judging George Bush when I say that I think it was wrong to go to war in Iraq. I believe it is wrong to hurt children. I believe it is wrong for corporate executives to steal from their shareholders and defraud the government. Does that make me a bad person? A less enlightened person?

Jesus famously said, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ John 8:7 (NRSV) Was Jesus really saying that we shouldn’t judge anyone? Or maybe that before we execute sinners we should think about our own sin? Now, I just pretend to know something about theology, so I’ll stop before I get myself in trouble. I think the point here is that if our society is going to maintain any sort of moral compass, we absolutely have to have standards of rightness and wrongness.

Now there is a whole legitimate discussion we can have about rightness, wrongness, and grace in the theological/church context. I’m still reading Yancey’s “What So Amazing About Grace?” and I think he would argue that most churches focus too much on rightness and wrongness, and not enough on grace. Through grace, we’re all saved from our wrongness regardless of our worthiness.

Here’s where I’m torn. I believe that Christians should be able to speak out against evil and injustice (both types of wrongness) in the world. But I think the danger is that our compass for identifying evil and injustice is very susceptible to our internal bias and bigotry. For example, James Dobson (of Focus on the Family fame) was in Portland yesterday telling 2,000+ ministers that gay marriage is a battle for America’s soul and Oregon is one of the key battlefronts.

Relating to my blog from yesterday, is Dobson’s position based on a “true” biblical interpretation, or is it based on his own perception and worldview irrespective of other interpretations of the Bible? The problem is (if you’re honest with yourself) that it is essentially impossible to establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, so to speak, the absolute scriptural position on most modern issues, especially gay marriage. So we’ll never know whether Dobson’s condemnation of gay marriage is coming from his superior (factual) understanding of the Bible or an anti-homosexual bigotry.

So the danger as we judge is that our indignation may or may not be righteous. I think that Christians can still be powerful advocates for leading lifestyles that do not embrace the moral depravity of modern culture. But we need to be conscious of where our opposition to our culture comes from – an honest, heartfelt study of Christian principles (led by reason, scripture, tradition and experience) or our own bigotry motivated by fear?



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