Sorry to talk about Heidi again. But I learn so much from reality TV – like Project Runway. The producers are certainly not trying to teach me how to live in Christ, but they just can’t help it. For instance, one of the things the judges on PR frequently tell designers is this: “I can’t see you in this dress.” Or “You seem to have lost your voice. I can’t tell what you are saying. You’re collection does not tell a story.” I have watched enough clever people on this show by now that I totally know what Zac Posen is talking about when he is frustrated like that (God help me).
He is talking about insecure or lazy people doing what the design book says, or mimicking something they think will please the judges, or channeling someone else’s brilliant idea. That’s not good enough. To win the show, you need to be a creative designer who takes something in a new direction, hopefully one in line with the latest zeitgeist or your own aesthetic that you hope will become fashion. You need to show up, not just sew things. You need to create with a vision, not just plug what you’ve been taught into the design you imagine someone else thinks is right.
Fortunately, I never have to sit in the judge’s seat and rate the work of people in our church, or the church in general. (I’m plenty judgmental, but that is a sin, not an obligation). Because if our work got on the runway, I am sure I would need to say about some of it, “Your heart is not in this. Where is your inspiration? What makes this as creative as your creator?”
The subtitle of Development is “truth without love kills and love without truth lies.” I think we need to do better than “truth is truth” or “all you need is love.” Following that conviction to do more than what amounts to common sense makes living with Jesus harder than entry-level faith, but it also makes us more likely to be the presence of the future.
This week I had two experiences that taught me more about following when it is hard — in these cases when justice is hard to find. Here’s the essence of what I am learning: When we “break the law” (the “truth” we beat people with) and forgive (the love that doesn’t lie about who we are and what has happened), we are learning to walk in His steps. We must get beyond the rules and get to the Ruler.
The automatic cut-off
More than one of my friends is harboring resentment toward another friend for something that person did — several of them are married to each other! You’ll probably relate to this: at one point the resented one did something my friend did not like or thought was wrong — or maybe they did it repeatedly, or maybe they just are it. In the case at hand, that person did something and it rubbed my friend the wrong way. It set off an unexplainable reaction in him. He told the person what he felt and got no satisfaction because they could not change what they did and they didn’t feel it was wrong.
So in some place in his heart, he cut the person off. In a very real way, the person had violated some law by which he ran his life. Just running into them began to feel awkward. They needed to be punished. If they got away with it, he would be giving up something precious. The way he punished them was to cut them off. As we talked about the impact of this reaction, we found that it had a lot more to do with my friend’s heart than it did with the other person’s actions. (Meditating on the people who bother you the most may be fruitful at times). The resented one tripped off some ancient alarm wire in an area God needs to enter. After a long consideration, he realized that instead of holding on to this sense of injustice he felt, he should just forgive the person – even if they were still bad.
Forgiveness is a starting point, not an aspiration
Forgiveness is the starting point that God gives us. Reconciliation follows. Holiness might be quite a ways down the road, justice even farther. Like God in Jesus, we also need to start with forgiveness, not judgment. Your truth might kill someone. Your “law” might need to be broken. In a cell group, “starting at the starting point” becomes even more important to teach and to learn together. There are so many opportunities to trip over someone’s wire in a small community! People can quickly get the feeling that they need to be very careful, instead of ready to risk love. There is a lot more to a relationship than the starting point with God and others. But we may never start at all we don’t forgive as we have been forgiven.
The therapist’s ethics can be a law that kills
The other experience is more theoretical because it came up as part of my dissertation presentation. My subject might be too dissertationy to introduce here. But part of it dealt with how psychotherapists apply their ethical standards and follow law. One of the ethical standards therapists keep is to maintain a professional relationship with clients. It is outside their boundaries to have sex with clients, but also to have business relationships, social relations and other kinds of relationships that muddy up the waters of the alliance they make with a client in service to the client’s health.
We discussed how hard following this law can be in a small community such as Circle of Hope where a therapist might run into a client (for example “At the Love Feast,” someone said). My research showed that most therapists take this ethical principle seriously. Some take it so seriously that it becomes a law they are afraid to break – even when breaking it might be in the best interest of their client. The dialogue reminded me that we are all prone to letting a law do the work of relating for us. We live under the influence of unforgiving powers and it takes some courage to violate their will.
Forgive like the Ruler
At the heart of the world, Jesus is our law; he is the way, the truth and the life. Our characters are containers for his Spirit. Whatever laws and agreements we might make are subject to his rule; they should be containers for his truth and love, too.
I told someone about my experiences and I said, “I want to be ruled, not just follow rules.”
Most of us are going to begin by following rules – the ones installed in our hearts by parents and teachers and the ones put upon us by governments and associations. But, like Paul says, even the Mosaic law was just a tutor to help us learn Christ, the king of the kingdom. Sometimes the rules will reveal our Ruler because of how absent he is from them.
If you are exploring all the rules you live by, how about installing a better one in the heart of your spiritual territory? Let’s try this: When someone is doing something wrong (at least wrong according to your rules you live by), maybe the first rule should be to follow the example of our ruler: forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.
Usually, I don’t fully know what I am doing either! It may seem backward to let ourselves or someone who offends us start off as forgiven and deal with the law later, but I think that is the gift God has given us. We may not get things right, but we can be righted. All those other lawbreakers need the same break as we do. Forgive them.
I think it was probably in the room last night when we were together for worship. But I could not see it too well. There were not a lot of fist pumps with “Yes! I feel that sting. I know I have been poisoned. But Death, you have no power over me!” Lent kind of teases out that kind of reaction, but it can be a long tease for some of us. It might take even longer for people to start dancing around the room shouting, “Yes! I feel oppressed! I understand how the law has been keeping me down. But Jesus, you have freed me!” But it is all there in the Bible; Jesus-lovers trying to woo people into newness: The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:56).
I think it might be easier to feel guilty for sin and just keep trying to fulfill the latest or oldest law. Being controlled so often feels like we are in control.
One of the reasons I try to emulate the Apostle Paul is that he is so out of control when it comes to the usual domination systems and he is so moved by the Holy Spirit. Thus, I am getting a lot from my little video parable full of seekers, vato. Even when Paul is abused, shipwrecked or in prison, he doesn’t forget that Jesus just recreated him and that his eternal destiny is just around the corner from the latest mess. The diaper, the deadline, the demand, or the disaster do not derail his delight. He does not create a law so he never has to experience trouble; he lives by a law that turns trouble into life. His wonderful insight results in some great teaching that has been an antidote to the poison of sin and an alternative to the graceless oppression of law for centuries.