Saturday, August 20, 2011

Illusive Freedom

One of the characteristics of a society without norms is that social disintegration becomes the norm and demands a "rigid conformity to its ideal life" in which family, norms, tradition, and community have no real or essential place. (William Willimon, Peculiar Speech, p. 42).

Though it hardly seems necessary, we are always being told to take ourselves seriously.  The incessant din of graduation addresses is but a memory but their messages live on.  Urging young people to see that they are the future, that they hold their destiny in their own hands, that their individuality is their highest virtue -- never to be compromised, and that the only real value to hold dear is diversity (lived in in tolerance and acceptance of all things), they suppose a radical message which is, in reality, rather conventional.

It is no wonder why in academia and culture the Church is disparaged and its Gospel deemed irrelevant or hopelessly antiquated.  It is not secret that the best selling techno toys of our age and the most successful company in America today sells I-pods, I-phones, and I-pads.  It is also no surprise that some Christians have tried to keep up with it all by attempting to fashion an I-church which proclaims the I-gospel.

On the other hand, Christianity begins with a ME helplessly bound in sin, unable to see, seek, or save us from the curvatus in se that is our nature since the Fall.  It is precisely our minds, feelings, and desires we cannot trust.  Soiled with sin, they lead us only deeper into darkness and death.

The path to redemption begins with the Spirit imparting the Light so that we can see who we are for who we are.  In that same Light, we see what God has done in Christ to offer the captive the hope of freedom.  The happiness we sought led us captive to desire which can never be satisfied and becomes the cruelest and most demanding of task masters over our lives.  Such a condition requires more than a mere course change and if we are to be saved it requires radical remedy.  Nothing short of a death and resurrection will do -- His (on the cross) makes possible ours (in the waters of baptism).  In the living waters of God's promise, we are reborn in Christ to live in Christ and to life for Christ.  There we are given community -- not because we sought it out or even asked for it but because this is the gift of God.  We have a relationship with God and with each other given to us in the baptismal encounter with Christ.  This is the miracle of grace.

Willimon reminds us that the image of individuality offered to us by the educated elite and by our culture is an illusion and a lie.  According to them, we become "individuals" by joining a different group.  This fallacy is showcased well in the popular movie the "Dead Poets Society."  Privileged young men at an exclusive boys school were taught by a rebellious and courageous professor to be suspicious of authority, of parents, of textbooks, and of the wisdom of others.  Instead they were told to think for yourselves.  But their pursuit of individuality found its ultimate expression in the formation of a new group -- the Dead Poets Society.  They simply exchanged membership in one group for another. 

In contrast to this false dream of individuality, the Church offers real community.  In this community, entrance comes through baptismal death and rebirth and is lived out in daily contrition and repentance.  We seek not our own life for it is gone.  We seek Christ's life in us and what we discover there is the surprise of true freedom and liberty.

Too many preachers and too many so-called Christian churches have become a religious Dead Poets Society, offering a new "me" by repackaging the old and conventional liberal ideal and calling it Christian.  Their churches are filled with people seeking to be me, seeking to be a better, happier, fuller me.  In pious platitudes and the exterior garment of Christian terminology, they get a repackaged pop psychology in place of the crucified and risen Lord.  In the end these folks are even more lost and, sadly, more hardened to the impact of the true voice of the Gospel.  Americans have wrongly deemed this path as the legitimate voice of Christianity and the lack of apologetics has left them with the impression that they must be right.  The authentic voice of the Gospel needs to be heard and Confessional Lutherans need to learn their voice so that it may be spoken out.  If for no other reason than our belief that God works through His Word, we need to find our courage and speak forth the good news of Him who has called us from such darkness into His marvelous Light!


Anonymous said...

To understand the church as a
COMMUNITY of fellow sinners living
under the Grace of God is a powerful
antidote to the emphasis on the
individual's sense of egotism.

God's Means of Grace through Word and
Sacrament empower us to live the
Christian lifestyle in a community
of fellow believers who love the Lord
and one another. This enables the
local parish to live as servants of

Janis Williams said...

Willemon's book is a great read.

There is another end to the swing of the pendulum. When we tout community to the exclusion of the individual, we have on our hands Fascism.

Fascism elevates the "volk" or the community, the state, the nation, etc. over individual freedoms. Community becomes the individual in Fascism.

We must do what we always do: run to Christ. We are a community; a building St. Paul calls us, with Christ as the cornerstone, and the Apostles as the foundation.

The Law would have us either as selfish, narcissistic individuals, or as a group in lock-step with each other for a cause (that is not the Gospel). The Gospel would have us to be Christ's body in the world.

Anonymus, I see the Church not as a community living a Christian lifestyle, but the Body of Christ, filling up what is lacking in witness, service, and life together.

Anonymous said...

Hi Janis

You may have missed my last sentence,
and that would include President
Matthew Harrison' acts of Mercy and
Witness as we Live Together.
As Servants of Christ we are the
Body of Christ. Have a good day
tomorrow as you worship in the
community of believers and hear
Pastor Peters proclaim Law & Gospel
and receive the Eucharist.

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

"But their pursuit of individuality found its ultimate expression in the formation of a new group." That's pretty much how most pursuits of individuality end, with the self deception of swapping one norm for another and calling it freedom.