Against the darkness that now rises in the East there can be no victory.
–Denethor, Steward of Gondor
Ok. I suppose that quote is a bit dramatic, but it’s a sentiment I sometimes feel. I sometimes feel like there is a vast darkness that cannot be overcome even as it is my responsibility to overcome it.
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Like the darkness of patriarchy and the exclusion of women from roles of leadership in our churches and in our families.
Like the darkness of hetero-normative society and the exclusion of gay men and women from marriages blessed and valued by our churches.
Like the darkness of the doctrine of Hell and the promise that all the people who have ever lived, but have not embraced Jesus as Lord and Savior, will burn for eternity.
Like the darkness of Young Earth Creationism and the devaluing of science, reason, and critical evaluation of the scriptures.
Like the darkness of Penal Substitutionary Atonement and the creation of God in our own image as a sadistic parent and Jesus as a divine punching bag.
Like the darkness of hyper-charismaticism and hyper-spirituality that threatens to engulf love in the deluge of attaining spiritual experiences.
Like the darkness of the Left Behind nonsense and the Israel-matters-for-eschatology-nonsense that reifies contemporary geo-political arrangements in their mistreatment of the oppressed.
Like the darkness of the get-radical-and-stop-being-nominal-or-you-aren’t-obeying-Jesus teaching that threatens to overwhelm the ordinary lives of ordinary people.
Sometimes I feel that the dam is about to break and that the end is come upon us.
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But feeling that way concedes the point. Feeling overwhelmed and conquered by the wrong answers to a series of doctrinal questions concedes that fighting for the right answers to a series of doctrinal questions is the way faith is to be lived.
But it’s not.
Because surely the Way of Jesus—the life of Love—re-imagines our paradigms for living. The way of Jesus carves out of this reality a new way to live, marked out by love, sacrifice, kindness, and mercy.
The Way of Jesus contradicts the wisdom of this world. The only answer to a bad guy with a gun is not a good guy with a gun. It is a guy with no gun offering love to the one who would shoot him. It is a guy who believes that nonviolent, Calvary shaped love has overcome the world.
It is the ultimate resistance to the Principalities and Powers.
And maybe the polemicists of our world will continue to carve the place up into Liberal and Conservative, Reformed and Arminian, Progressive and Fundamentalist, Intelligent and Morons.
But if Jesus has inaugurated the New Creation, then the paradigms of the Old Creation fall away. And Jesus said that they will know you are my disciples if you love one another. And Jesus also said that the Law and the Prophets was summed up by the dual command: Love God and Love Others. And St. Paul said that all the commands that have been or will be are contained in the command to Love Others.
All is grace.
All is grace.
All is grace.
And Love has overcome the world.
And, yes, I am a gender and sexual egalitarian, an evolutionist, and a universalist. And, yes, I buy a Christus Victur model for the atonement, am cautious about the charismata, think that zionists are sorely mistaken, and think there is beauty in nominalism.
But my answers to those questions stem directly from living the Way of Jesus. And if my answers to those questions are ever abstracted from their organic and incarnational place in my daily walk of faith—the faith I am working out with fear and trembling—then they have become tools in the service of the way of the world.
And just as I should never pick up a gun, even in my own defense, so too I should never hurl these answers (and my arguments in their defense) at people, ideas, or institutions. Violence against the other, whether physical or otherwise, is outside of the Kingdom of God.
Or, as Richard Beck has said:
It’s all about the Imitatio Christi for me, the imitation of Christ. Whether God exists or not, I like myself and my life best when I’m following Jesus of Nazareth. Consequently, I like to place myself in communities where Christ-following is encouraged and modeled.
And either I believe the Way of Jesus is acted out with real people in real life in real contexts and real situations or I believe it is a series of abstractions to be affirmed or not affirmed.
I have not come this far in my faith only to have it revert to an affirmation of doctrines, no matter how different those doctrines are from the ones of my childhood.
So I have consciously refrained from, on this blog and in other public places, giving answers to those controversial questions (though I have had my share of moments). But I want to take it one step further.
I will re-up the idea of choosing words of creation over words of destruction, an old idea of mine. My witness will be life and breath.
Beaten out in the rhythm of faith.
* * *
So the problem with Denethor’s vision was that the answer he gave was to match force with force. To answer the challenge from Sauron with the use of Sauron’s own ring. But Gandalf, in refusing to use the ring, says:
With that power I should have power too great and terrible. And over me the Ring would gain a power still greater and more deadly . . . Do not tempt me! For I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself.