Friday, July 29, 2011

Comfortable Christianity

I want to be clear that I say this facetiously:  It is easy to be a great Christian when I am comfortable and everything is convenient.
I’ve thought of this in the context of our society’s obsession with comfort and convenience.  People do not commit road rage when they have the road to themselves.  There is no complaint in the fast food line when an order is given and handed over within the posted “90 Second” goal.  I do not fuss about the weather when it is nearly perfect (to my own tastes) or even when I can stay in air conditioned comfort.  It is easy to be happy when one’s favorite team has won the game.  Parents can be so kind and patient with their children when the kids are constructively engaged.  The whole world can seem to be rightly ordered to a person who is being treated to a multi-course meal at a 5-star establishment.
St Paul says the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22,23).  He also tells the Philippians (4:11) I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.  This was written after he had described some of his circumstances to the Corinthians (11:24–27):  Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.
How easy it is to complain when things are not comfortable and convenient!  This is part of the seduction of this world.  The awful thing, though, is that “popular Christianity” does not confront such.  We have the “health and wealth gospel” (which is no gospel at all) enticing people to place their faith on false hopes which are rooted very much in this passing world.  We have congregations trying to attract new people on the basis of the conveniences they offer (easy parking, casual dress, exceptional child care, etc), explicitly owning the idea of “marketing the church.”  St Paul reflected on his initial coming to Corinth by saying, When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God (1Cor 2:1–5).  It seems pop Christianity has decided preaching is now outdated, especially if it proclaims Truth which is “uncomfortable.”
St Teresa of Avila once observed, "Our body has this defect that, the more it is provided care and comforts, the more needs and desires it finds."  I face this in myself.  I grew up without air conditioning in my South Carolina home; today I find myself thinking it is a “necessity.”  It surely is NICE, and I am deeply thankful for it (especially as I write this with a 74° dewpoint outside).  Yet, it is when things are not so “nice” that the Christian disciple is able to witness to the indwelling power of Christ.  After confessing his struggle with a certain weakness St Paul told the Corinthians:  Therefore I am content with weakness, with mistreatment, with distress, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ; for when I am powerless, it is then that I am strong (2Cor 12:10).
Jesus said it was easy to love those who love us. The test is how we respond when our circumstances are not comfortable and convenient.  In his second solo Christian album, before his entrance into Catholic Christianity, John Michael Talbot wrote these lyrics in the opening suite of his New Earth recording:
When the fields yield full harvest it’s easy to share, 
And when you’re insured this world’s friendship it’s easy to care.
But when every nation has crumbled to dust, 
Will you still reach to give the Lord’s mercies 
or will you kill if you must?
I do not want to be a “comfortable Christian.”  I am not sure such a thing is ultimately possible.  At some point we must choose to serve ourselves or take up the cross and follow Jesus.  I try to keep in the mind the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Christian who was killed by the Nazis in the closing days of WWII:  “When Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die.”  And so I pray the words of St Paul to the Galatians (6:14) – May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.  That takes us far beyond a “comfortable Christianity.”

No comments:

Site Meter