Sunday, May 22, 2005

WAY too busy for....

At my latest high school question/answer period I was asked two different questions that helped me explain Christianity more clearly than I probably would have on my own. One Muslim girl wanted to make the point that Christianity was a religion for lazy people. It didn't demand enough from them, she said, and she pointed to our lack of hundreds of rules for day to day life, dietary laws, strict social rules, etc. as proof. Another question was from a young man asking why there were so many denominations in Christianity. Wasn't that, he said, a sign that there was something wrong with it; some inherent flaw?

I opened my response with a discussion of irreducible minimums. In science, we often speak of the irreducible minimum to establish exactly what we are talking about. For instance, a cup of water can be minimized all the way down to one water molecule, but no further. If you remove one hydrogen atom or one oxygen molecule you no longer have water. Then I took that idea to Christianity. One of the real challenges is to take Christianity down to its irreducible minimum. We don't do that to make following Jesus easy, or because we have a propensity for laziness. We do that so we can truly understand what our faith is and what the Lord requires from us.

Of course, this exercise has consequences. It is not without its own controversies because it tends to toss dogmas out the window to land in the pile right on top of the traditions, preferences, pomp and ceremonies that had to be jettisoned in the search for the pure, the simple, the irreducible minimum. Nobody likes that, but it is a necessary part of the journey. A lot of people will lose their power, their place and even their meaning along the way and we can't expect that to happen quietly. But what it leaves us with is not minimal at all -- but very substantial.

I used First Corinthians 13 as an example (while referencing Galatians 5 and Ephesians 4 as other lists that could be used as a set of minimums) where Paul says only three things remain: faith, hope and love. Then I asked the question this way: "This obviously makes Christianity much simpler, but does it make it easier? Does this make it a religion for lazy people?" Some said yes, others said no, so I went on to explain how this central molecule of Christianity keeps us so busy.

If I love a person I cannot misuse their body for my sexual pleasure, nor can I stand by while they are being harmed, or while they go hungry, or when injustice breaks their lives. I have to spend my life in service to every person I have the opportunity to meet. My faith requires me to change the way I look at the possessions I am renting from God. My hope allows me to let loose of them because I know something better is coming. My love makes me actively seek for ways to use what I have -- goods, money, influence, words, gestures, time -- to bring light and peace into the lives of all around me. I am never given a day off from God or the requirement to show my faith in Christ by my faith, hope and love. And if there is every a question on how best to show my faith or illustrate my hope, I must use love as the trump card, the highest referree of my conduct.

That makes me way too busy to go about policing dogmas, traditions, preferences, dietary laws, song selections, or the thousand things that have split the church since time immemorial. I don't have time to carve out a fiefdom and declare myself the arbitrator of what is acceptable to God. I have way too much to do. I can't take time away from faith, hope and love to do anything else in Christ's name --- even miracles and many might works, as in Matthew 7. I am behind the curve as long as more people are born in the hospital than are born in Christ, and more are being buried in the ground than are being buried in baptism. After I have converted everyone in the Metro Detroit area I will still not have the right to add any of my molecules to the minimum established by Christ. For that minimum does not release me from duty or make my path easy. It consumes me and I have time for nothing else.


At 5/23/2005 05:07:00 AM , Blogger JP said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 5/23/2005 05:08:00 AM , Blogger JP said...

Great post Patrick, thank you for this. Thanks for showing the core of what faith in Christ is all about.

At 5/23/2005 10:52:00 AM , Blogger Dee O'Neil Andrews said...

Patrick -

I really like this post a lot.

Years ago when I was in Toastmasters' club, I gave a speech one evening to the group about something that really bugged me a lot, and still does. The speech was entitled "Get to the Point," in which I gave numerous examples of how many people go on and on about things in all different areas of life, but cannot give you one single legitimate example or basis for what they are saying.

As I gave the speech, I had a balloon taped to the front of the podium and as I reached my conclusion, which was how we should all "get to the point," I secretly reached for a pin and popped the balloon. They got the point.

Ever since then in life - in religious discussions, work and everyday life - I've tried very hard to condense whatever "message" I was getting across to it's core - as you say, its "irreducible minimum." I even did that when I was trying to write very long and complicated legal briefs.

But, I've never seen or heard such a great job of "reducing" Christianity to it's core - its essential message - as you have done here. In what you say and how you say it, the true POWER of God's will for us shines through clearly. What a perfect way to discuss it with young exploring teens.

I've just gained some great ideas from you in talking with questioning people around me about Christianity that I think will be very beneficial.


At 5/23/2005 10:56:00 AM , Blogger Neal W. said...

Good stuff...thank you for letting me in on perspectives from another faith...and for giving a superb answer.

At 5/23/2005 03:59:00 PM , Blogger Cheetah, the cheetah said...

(with tears in my eyes)

At 5/24/2005 11:36:00 AM , Blogger Big Mike Lewis said...

Great answers for such a difficult question.

Faith in Jesus is very hard even in simplicity.

At 5/24/2005 02:07:00 PM , Blogger David U said...

Patrick, what a powerful post! This is why I find a computer when I am on the road.....I don't want to miss out on the encouragement I get from post like this one.

You have a gift, and I want to encourage you to think about writing a book. It would be a blessing to all of us!

Your brother,

At 5/24/2005 03:14:00 PM , Blogger digitalcowboy said...

Long time reader, first time commenter. Heh.

I love your blog and linked it as soon as I found it.

I especially love this post. I recently did a post on my blog titled The real Gospel in which I pointed out that the gospel is good news. "You're a sinner going to hell" is not good news. The church would be far more effective at soul winning if so many weren't so busy focusing on God's judgment, but instead were showing the world God's love and grace.

Predictably, the comments on that post were filled with variations of, "But what about God's judgment? What about God's wrath and anger? What about...?"

I promised a follow up post to explain and address those points. Now it will probably be little more than a link here.

At 5/25/2005 05:51:00 PM , Blogger TCS said...

Ask and you shall receive! Thanks for giving us some of your answers. I don't think I want to move Michigan but you make it tempting.

At 5/25/2005 08:08:00 PM , Blogger DEL said...


"...It consumes me and I have time for nothing else...."

For ten years you've managed to convict me in my comfort zone... now by long distance

Don Lohr

At 5/25/2005 08:33:00 PM , Blogger Kari said...

Hi Patrick! I've got me one of these e-lectronic contraptions now!

So I was talking with this man at work the other night, and he was an Imam for the chaplain service at the hospital (I work at Beaumont). And I was asking him a lot of questions, because I don't know much about Islam. And it was really tricky, because our fundamental belief was in two different pieces of writing. I've never read it, but from what he said, the Koran was written to correct the blemishes that the Bible puts on God's prophets like Lot and David. From what I understood, he was saying that no person who was sent to deliver God's message could be any less than perfect and Godly. Whoever wrote the Bible blemished these people, and the Koran makes it clear that those people were unblemished.
So, with all that, he pretty much has said that anything coming from the Bible really isn't all that reliable. And I'm certainly not taking the word of the Koran, if it's trying to change or correct God's word. So what do you do when pretty much any answer to a question you have is a scripture from a book you don't give any merit to? (Coming from either side).

At 5/25/2005 08:56:00 PM , Blogger PatrickMead said...

Good question, Kari. I'll have to write something about that...


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