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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Today's Monasteries Are Surrounded By Invisible Fences

I was just at a memorial service for a person who was described by all in his church as someone who was compassionate. All of the recipients of this man's compassion, however, were people in the church. And such leads us to two important scripture verses. In Matthew 5:38-48, Jesus challenges us to not only not resist the personal evil someone does to us, He tells us to love our enemies. And He does that because following this command here models what God does. For not only does God bless the unrighteous (vs 43), He sent His son to die for His enemies (Romans 5:10).

Of course, it isn't only through loving one's enemies that we love the way God wants us. The Good Samaritan parable (Luke 10:25-37), shows how we are to love those who are in need who cross our path. And by making a Samaritan the hero of His story, Jesus is emphasizing that this principle of helping those in need extends beyond national and racial boundaries. 

With the above Scriptures, we could make the subject of this post compassion, but we won't. Rather, what is emphasized here is the question, How big is our world? 

Those with small worlds live simpler lives. They have less stress. They are more carefree. And they have less stress and more carefree because they have fewer concerns and people to care about. They don't have to worry about all who are affected by their actions. They don't worry about the harm coming to the environment by how they live and they don't have to worry about the exploitation of labor and others by what they purchase. They don't have to worry about the suffering which others go through because of the foreign policies of their own nation nor do they have to worry about the growing inequality that persists in today's world. They only have to worry about their own personal _______.

The word for that fill-in-the-blank for my fellow Christians is happiness-holiness. We search for our own personal happiness but just not any happiness will do. Our happiness has to color within the lines or we risk being punished or left behind. And what draws the lines for our happiness are the Scriptures.

So we seek to learn everything we can about the Scriptures in limited ways. That is we will study the Scriptures ourselves and we will learn more about the Bible from teachers. But those Bible teachers we allow ourselves to listen to are as carefully selected as the members of a Mission Impossible team from the old TV series.  And since we are so intense on worrying about our own happiness-holiness, books that deal with other subjects are usually overlooked/discarded/burned.

Thus, what we have here is a picture of many of America's conservative churches. Unlike many of the monasteries of the past, our churches are not geographically separated from the general public. But because of the above constraints, they might as well be because of how separated they are from the world and not all of those ways are good. For what do conservative churches allow themselves to learn from activists who are struggling to reduce the destruction of the environment or who stand up for those who are exploited or oppressed? 

The above question is a delicate one for many American Conservative Christians because what they could learn from those activists would infringe on their current pursuit of happiness-holiness. That is because that their current pursuit concerns the individual seeker and forgets the world outside. Such is the simple life for American Conservative Christians who are living today's monastic life. 

The appeal being made by Conservative Christians to the world today is look at us to see the happiness you can have if you join/imitate us. But the troubling question that comes back to us Conservative Christians is, is our monastic life keeping out the bearing of our own cross? And if so, are there those in the world, those who are so troubled by the exploitation and destruction they see both near and far bearing a part of our cross?


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