Get It?

girl wearing a paper hat
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidurbanke/4276848185/">David Urbanke</a>

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

The point of the cross is totally lost on dying people. But it’s God’s power for those of us who are rescued by it. The writings say:

I’ll unhinge the wisdom of the wise,
I’ll outsmart the knowledge of the know-it-alls.

Where’s the smartypants? Where’s the scholar? Where’s the politician? Hasn’t God made fools of them all? God’s wisdom is past the reach of human wisdom. Instead, God decided to rescue those who embrace our foolish story. Jews want to see signs. Greeks long for wisdom. What we have is Jesus, on the cross – which Jews think is revolting, and pagans think is idiocy. Nevertheless, for everyone who’s called to him, regardless of ethnicity, Jesus is God’s power and wisdom. God’s idiocy is wiser than people’s wisdom. God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

There will always be some people who just don’t “get it.” They’re dying because they don’t get it. For whatever reason, they simply can’t figure out what the crucifixion is about. A story about the superhero that gets killed by the bad guys isn’t going to have a very good run in Hollywood. A savior who gives up without a fight doesn’t make sense to people who see the world in terms of political and economic power.

Most of the theology that has accumulated around the cross, particularly Paul’s construction of substitutionary atonement, really doesn’t make sense. Even so, the power of non-violent resistance continues to stymie those addicted to other kinds of coercion all around the world today. There are some people who just don’t “get” what modern practitioners of the way of the cross (Ghandi, and Dr. Martin Luther Kind Jr., for example) did.

The beauty of it is, as Paul says, that it’s available to anyone and everyone. It’s not culturally, ethnically, or even religiously dependent. You don’t need to be the smartest, or the slickest. You just have to get it.

Got it?

Why You Should Always Run to Win

Racing to Win
"Even though the shoe was lost in the halfway, the blue 16 kept running, and win the race." Photo credit: Shenghung Lin

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

You know that in a race, the winner takes it all. So run to win! Serious athletes go to huge lengths just to win a cheap trophy, but we’re out to change the world! So don’t just meander down the track! Don’t just play the air guitar! And, unless you want to be a fraud, get serious about doing the work yourself before you try to tell others what to do.

Seth Godin wrote a little book a few years ago called The Dip. His point: to be truly outstanding at something, anything, you have to get through a time of slogging through a lot of hard work. You’d think it goes without saying, when you put it that way. But another way of saying it is that there are no shortcuts to excellence. And the difference between those who are truly great at something and the rest of the crowd that is, well, average, is that those who are truly great, who make us say “wow!” have done a lot of hard work to get there.

Seth’s corollary point here is that the worst place to quit is in the middle of that time when things get hard. You’ve invested a lot of time and energy already, and you never see anything come of it. So, either determine to do the work to push through the hard part, or don’t bother starting.

Paul’s point was pretty much the same. The Corinthian church wanted all the glory without doing any of the work. They were just playing at church, really. They were like the garage band that never gets out of the garage telling everyone else what they should do to make it big time. Churches are supposed to be changing the world, not just keeping old buildings open once a week.

But, whatever profession you’re in, and no matter what religion (or non-religion) you ascribe to, if you want to stand out (and you should want to stand out!) you’ve got to run like you mean it. Half-ass never amounts to anything.

Be Who You Are

8 faces
Image Credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/shannonkringen/2484890557/">Shannon Kringen</a>

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Even though I tell the story of Jesus, I don’t get kickbacks. For me, telling the story is an obligation. I’m totally screwed if I don’t tell it. If doing this were my own idea, I might give myself a prize for it – but it’s not my idea. It’s my commission. If there’s any reward in it being a commission, it’s that I can pass it along for free without having to claim that I have rights that impose on anyone else.

Even though I’m free from anybody’s say-so, I make myself a slave to everyone to get more people to join up. To Jewish folk, I act like a Jew so I can get Jews to join up. I act as if I were required to follow the law so people who follow the law will join up. I act like I’m out of bounds so wild people will join up. (I’m not really out of bounds. I’m still within what’s acceptable to Jesus.) I act weak so weak people will join up. I have become everything anybody wants me to be in order to rescue, by any means possible, anyone within reach. Everything I do is to get the story of Jesus out and to be part of that story myself.

All things to all people may seem like a great way to win people over. But even Paul implies that there is only so far he’s willing to go. He’s not going to go “beyond what’s acceptable to Jesus.”

Putting the best slant on this, being open to others, being willing to engage with them, understand them on their own terms is a laudable thing. Willingness to engage in genuine interaction, showing respect for who someone is, even when you disagree, is a powerful thing for anyone to aspire to.

To engage in genuine interaction, though, requires being genuine about who you really are yourself. Becoming a chameleon, a doppelganger, in order to get in with someone only leads to eventual discovery of the fraud and loss of relationship. Think of how many marriages end because, “I thought I could change him/her, but it just didn’t work out.” Think about the last time you bought something because the ads said it was one thing, and it turned out to be “not quite what I’d hoped for.” Think about the church that paints a warm reception for first-time visitors at the front door, but nobody seems to care after the service is over, or after you’ve joined up.

To “be all things to all people” in the best sense means taking down the masks and showing the world who you really are, not saying whatever you think people want to hear. Face it, there are some people who don’t want to be around you. In truth, not everybody loved Raymond, either. Paul had good intentions with his “be like whoever’s in the room” evangelism, but his churches, and especially Corinth, were a mess with people who thought they were signing up for one thing and wound up a part of something else.

Be open to all people. But be who you are.

A Little Consideration, Please

two women with heads bowed and covered
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/evergreenkamal/859318504/">Kamak Hamid</a>

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Now, concerning invitations to participate in other religious practices, we all know that “everybody claims to know God.” Knowledge just swells heads, love makes great people. Anyone who claims to know everything is full of crap. Anyone who loves is good with God.

So, concerning other religions, we know that there’s nothing to them, really, and the only God is our God. People call all kinds of things “God,” some of them things you can see, others things you can’t. There are lots of things that people worship. But for us, believers, there is only one God, the one who, as a parent, provides us with everything, and the one to whom we belong. The only thing that commands our allegiance is Jesus. Everything is the way it is because of him. We live by him.

However, not everybody knows this. Some participate in other rituals as if they were the real deal, because that’s they way they’ve always done it. They don’t know any better because they’ve been tricked. Ritual won’t bring us any closer to God. We’re no better off if we do it, and no worse off if we don’t.

Be careful that your freedom doesn’t hurt somebody else! What if someone who’s an addict sees you walk into a bar. Won’t that person think it must be OK for them to have a drink, too? And then that person – Jesus wanted that person in the movement – that person gets screwed up because of you. You’re not following Jesus if you lead other people to mistake libertarianism for salvation. In fact, if it would help keep a friend away from drink, I’d never drink again myself.

[See also, previous comments pertaining to verses 9-13.]

Paul’s original context for this is the practice of eating food sacrificed to idols. A context completely foreign to most modern readers. The closest thing in our experience is probably atheists looking down their noses at Christians insisting on saying grace before meals with atheists at the table. The atheists think they know better, and the Christians think they know better, but whose really to say. The sacrifice of animals to various gods was a religious practice, and one that weighed on the conscience of some Christians, and on the list of scruples for others. In Corinth, it had become yet another occasion for a church fight about whose Christianity is better, and people who just wanted to feel right with God were getting hurt.

The whole argument hinges on verses 2-3, “Anyone who claims to know everything [about God] is full of crap. Anyone who loves is good with God.” Paul can’t bring himself to take his own advice about not claiming to know everything about God, but just because he can’t take his own advice doesn’t make it good advice.

So, to go where Paul wants to go (but can’t quite get there), the ritual really doesn’t matter. Not even Christian ritual. If it helps some people feel better, fine. If not, it’s not required. If it creeps others out, it’s probably better to dispense with it. What matters is that you love.

Loving means, as a minimum, being considerate of what is helpful or harmful to someone else. It means being mindful of others’ weaknesses. It’s like a Hippocratic oath of religious practice: “First, do no harm,” or as ethicist Stanley Hauerwas says, “Let the Christians of the world resolve not to kill each other.”