Saturday, August 8, 2009

Christian's Stink

Yep, I said it. Christians stink!! (Now THAT may generate some readership) I bought another book the other day off the Stanford Bookstore sale bin. The book is Holy Fire. The Battle for Christ's Tomb by Victoria Clark. I wanted something light to read rather than a theological tome. The book is about the extraordinary events that surround the gathering of Orthodox and Catholic Christians at Christmas time to witness the so-called Holy Fire that miraculously appears each year from a rock on the site of Jesus' tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Ms. Clark is a journalist for the Observer in London.

Victoria Clark is not a Christian and the book takes a rather harsh look at the shenanigans of the church in Jerusalem. And she appears to be quite prejudice in her views despite the appearance of fair reporting. But the book is interesting and an easy read. Ms. Clark shines a spotlight on one of the most bizarre events in all of Christendom. She vaults back and forth from the earliest times of the conflict between the Jews, Latin (Roman) Catholics, the Orthodox Catholics with all their factions and Muslims to today. She interviews Copts, Orthodox of all stripes, Catholics (western) and Muslims.

I won't go into the story but you can read it for yourself. Also visit an Orthodox site that supports the Holy Fire at the link. Nor will I argue the veracity of the "miracle". You can decide for yourself. Protestants are basically oblivious of this event. We don't study our church history to even see it on our radar. We should pay attention to it because it is a mirror of modern religious politics today.

Cardinal John Henry Newman wrote many years ago "To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant". Newman, a convert to Catholicism from the Anglican faith and profound scholar and thinker was making an apologetic argument for the historicity of the Catholic church. And he's right. If you are going to search history, and especially church history, you swiftly become immersed in Catholicism. You can't avoid it. The entire middle ages are all about the Catholic Church. It was the profound leading force in all governments and religion. Our Bible is a Catholic Bible. It was assembled, fought for, argued about and developed into a canon of thought by Catholics. The profound truths we as Protestants base our foundations are taken from a Bible assembled by Catholics minus a few books most of us don't accept as inspired. I won't get into that debate in this either.

But, as I followed Cardinal Newman's advice I also found many other things that really make me think Christians stink. This event that takes place annually in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is an abomination to our Lord. You may remember back in December of 2008, the violence that occurred there where 15,000 worshippers were gathered. Violence broke out when Armenian Orthodox monks and the Greek Orthodox monks began to argue over basically "turf rights." One thing led to another, others joined in resulting in a full scale riot. By the time it was over, one person was stabbed with a knife and many others injured.

Now this event, celebrated each year, is to commemorate the discovery of remnants of Christ's Cross by the wife of the emperor Constantine in the fourth century. The Armenians felt threatened because they are supposedly the guardians of Jesus' Tomb which is literally yards away from the place where the cross was supposedly discovered.

Folks, this is a nasty scene and it's a prime example of when Christians stink. We are always fighting over our turf. While the world looks on, we fight, maim and kill anyone who disagrees with us. The entire Crusades in the Middle ages are all about that. Throw in the extraordinary anti-semitism of the Crusaders and you have another example of how Christians stink.

You think this doesn't happen any more? Let's bring this home. The last 50 years has highlighted this old problem. Whenever we invite politics into our faith we raise the risk of raising a stink. Just look at Facebook. There are many Christians on that page who are standing up for their faith. I have no problem with that. We should be noticed for our faith. But what bothers me is when our politics take front and center and all we see is a political view that simply hides the face of Christ.

God has called us to be the face of Christ to a world who rejects him. Instead, in all too many cases, all people see is the face of whatever political viewpoint we represent. I know I'm treading on sacred cows right now, but I'm sick and tired of Jesus being obscured by our politics. Both sides are guilty and need to face up to the reality that what people see is the same thing seen at the scene in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher each year.
We represent Christ folks and that is who we should reflect. I could go down the first page of my Facebook and illustrate this point.

How many Christians, in the name of Christ, will vilify others, many who are Christians themselves, because they don't take the "right" view. We name call, demonize, and otherwise attack the character of people we don't know because we can't stand their cause. The religious right in the country is maybe the most guilty of this. But the left leaning Christians are just as guilty. The left demonizes the right attacking the same mothers of those on the right with just as nasty statements.

This stinks. It stinks as as bad as those "Christians" in the conflict in Jerusalem. We have abandoned the face of Christ for an idol of our making. We have become idolaters of our ideologies. Our political persuasion has become our god. We are the Christian monks of our generation that are stinking up the world with our hatred for one another.

On the other hand, isn't there a time when stink is good? Isn't there a time when we should raise a holy stink? Can we raise a stink with the face of Christ not being obliterated? I think we can. For you see, Christians are called to stink. Huh? What in the world do you mean Richard?

Consider these words. "Blessed are men when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you, for my sake." Matt. 5.11 ASV

Or "Bear in mind what I said to you 'A servant is not superior to his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also." Weymouth Translation

So there is a time when we stink good. (bad English, on purpose) When we reflect Christ's love as exhibited by Jesus. For instance, when widows were being neglected by the early church. What did the apostles do? In Acts 6 we see the needs of the weak, widows and children were being neglected. So the apostles appointed deacons to care for those who were being neglected. Who were these neglected? The widows. They were the lowest of low in society. Often abandoned and neglected they died destitute and alone. Children. Children were considered as dogs. And on top of that, the complaint was brought by the Hellenists, an immigrant group of people. Gentiles.

So acts of Mercy revealed the face of Christ to the abandoned, the outcast and the hated immigrants. Hmmm...remind you of anything today? How about immigration. A tough nut for which there are no clean answers. But, if we neglect even mercy to the illegals in the name of Christ we may obscure the face of Christ from them. They need to see the face of Christ. Now that brings in the topic of justice.

Well, justice dealt without mercy, is tyranny. I won't try to unravel that problem, but be careful. We as Christians don't represent a nation, we represent the kingdom of God which includes all. My national identity disappears at the cross. The kingdom of God doesn't have these unnatural divisions.

All of these peace and justice issues will raise a stink. The left will accuse us of abandoning the interests of the neglected if we pound on justice too much. The right will lambast us for being too socialistic and too immersed in the social gospel. The world will watch us fight and hold us in derision. And if we follow Christ, we'll please no one. So we stink. But that may be a good stink.

How do you smell?

That's enough to chew on. I wish I had the answers.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, I certainly agree it is repugnant, as well as long-standing. Although the Orthodox link says, I think, that Holy Fire is an exclusively Orthodox event. However, I have never heard of it, so I don't know about the accuracy of his or her statement. But the conflicts I've read about before. Sounds like dogs protecting their territory, and there's certainly nothing Christian about that.