Friday, January 23, 2009

Gettin' All "Old Testament" Up In Here

"I'm living in the weirdest dream
Where nothing is the way it seems

Where no one's who they need to be

Where nothing seems that real to me"

- "Born of Frustration" by James

Boy, I tell ya. I really like the prophets of the Old Testament.

Maybe it's because they spoke out against ungodly behavior and didn't suffer fools. Perhaps it's because they never were popular or well-groomed. I would also argue that you didn't have a lot of type "A" personalities amongst the pantheon of prophets that would lead God's people until Jesus came. They were grumpy, obstinate, ungregarious and unwilling to relent even in the face opposition and abject whining and complaining.

Good on them.

Once in a while, my frustration reaches critical mass, and I feel lost in a morass of hopelessness for this world. Not hopelessness period, because I have hope in Christ, but hopelessness for decent behavior. As I've chronicled in a couple of posts here, so many people don't seem to be concerned with doing what is right, when doing what is right is also difficult.

This will be, it would seem, our ruin.

No surprise to be found here for a Christ follower. We kind of saw this coming, right? We've read the book and bought the t-shirt. We know that we are to love all of those around us because we called to do so by Jesus, who, more than anyone, knows the human condition involves selfishness. What his closest friends did to him reads like his enemies' activities list: denying that they knew him, selling him out to be arrested, deserting him when he was dying. And these were his friends! As the saying goes, with friends like that...

You get it, right? You understand we're imperfect. But God encourages us to try to be good. It sometimes seems that we've just given up because it's too hard, or we're too busy watching "American Idol" and eating Chili Cheese Fritos to care.

A friend of mine recently chased down a group of teens who were causing trouble in our neighborhood (a la "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air", no doubt). Good on him. There is this great scene in "King Creole" (an Elvis movie, and a great movie, too) where Elvis robs a store with three other guys. One of the guys doesn't speak well, and so the other guys call him "dummy", and they short him his part of the haul from the robbery. Elvis will have none of it, and makes them "cough up the dough" (said in your best mob boss voice). Honor among thieves, yes, but still some kind of honor. So I know that sometimes people do help (whether in real life or film), but the problem is that not nearly enough people help. We're now finding that people don't stop to help elderly people who are dying, much like the story of the good Samaritan. As another saying goes, the more things change...

Dennis Wilson
of the The Beach Boys holds the archetypical story of fame gone bad. He was a drummer (you know how they are, right?) and amidst a sea of bad choices, drugs and human leeches, died in an boating accident, of all things. The people who cared about him couldn't tell him anything or call him into account (he simply would not listen), and the myriad people who filled the void of the people he pushed out didn't care enough to tell him, "no". Rock music is chock full of stories that highlight the human condition of greed and selfishness. Ask Steven Tyler why he has to pay money to sing his own songs, or ask why Leonard Cohen has to tour at age 73. The answer is the same kind of behavior that those O.T. prophets loathed, and had no tolerance for. A lack of personal responsibility to treat others the way we'd like to be treated is the cause, and it's tolerated. Sometimes, tolerance is bad. Very bad.

And it continues. When kids get picked on at school, it's their fault for being different, not the fault of the bullies. When people get trampled at Wal-Mart simply for shopping, it's a news footnote. When people drive and talk on their phone at the same time, and then cut you off in traffic, it's somehow your fault, and they are angry at you. As the Offspring sang, the kids aren't alright.

We could use a few of those Old Testament prophets today, telling people that they are bad. Yes, BAD! Let me say that we can be very, very bad and wicked. People are not only imperfect, but sinful and have great capacity to be evil. If you have any understanding of yourself, any self-awareness, then you know this to be true. But, just because you and I terrible, doesn't mean that we shouldn't give up the fight of trying to be good, holy and righteous. That's what the Christian condition (not the human condition) is all about, and essential to our existence here, and our existence eternal.

Bill Bennett wrote a book called "The Death of Outrage". I've never read it. It deals with politics, and I didn't wholly agree with its premise. But the title to me expresses what I'm talking about. The key is to be outraged by the right things, like injustice, hatred, bigotry and selfishness. The problem has been that we know if we don't call other people out on their sin, they won't call us out on our sin, so a quid pro quo (or is it "hi-pro glo"?) has happened societally. In this exchange, everyone gets to live as they wish, because no one will confront evil. This, as we know, will end badly.

For us church type people, this has got to change. As for the church, it's sometimes defined by its misdirected outrage. We petition media outlets and picket abortion clinics, thereby failing to react in a productive way. So stop being mad at music style, and start hating real evil. End your quarreling over buildings and culture, and start reacting lovingly and sternly to sin. Be outraged about the right things, Church. Get your courage on and your conviction on and get all Old Testament up in here.

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