Monday, January 23, 2006

Who Makes The Call?

Jonathan Swift is best known for Gulliver's Travels but the old English satirist had another masterpiece which is all but unknown today (outside of English departments where dead European white guys are still studied) entitled "A Tale of a Tub." It is a difficult work with many layers addressing many of Swift's concerns about religion and society. Allow me to take just a part of it to illustrate a point begun in the last post.

In "Tale", a man leaves his each of his sons a coat. It is a perfectly serviceable coat and will not wear out. They also have a considerable fortune but it is tied to the coat: they are never, ever to make even the slightest alteration in the coat or they forfeit their inheritance. The sons agree, the father dies, and all goes well until the coats go out of fashion. In the process of their gaining upper class wives, moving upward in society, etc. they make numerous alterations to the coat... but not without a lot of agonizing over it first. For example, when shoulder pads are popular they hunt their father's will until they find a series of statements each of which begins with the letters S-H-O-U-L-D-E-R. They decide that means that their father really meant that they could add the pads. Ratiocination like this takes place repeatedly until their coats are anything and everything they want them to be and they have satisfied their minds that that is what their father really wanted after all.

Swift was criticizing the church and his tale is still an accurate picture of what we do with Scripture. If God condemns something that we want to accept, we try to find a way to bend the scripture to let us do what we want to do or we find a way to cast doubt on the authenticity of the passage so that we can remove its power over us. Doing this, some churches have removed sin and hell from their teaching, turning the church into a social club with psychological and metaphysical health benefits. Others try to out-Christian Christ by accepting those He told us to correct and call to repentance. They say something like "Jesus loves everybody!" and therefore avoid the question of whether love is the same as acceptance (and whether acceptance of a person is the same as approval of their actions).

The very exclusive nature of the church disturbs and offends many within it. When Jesus said he was THE way, THE truth, and THE life he did not mean perhaps, in some circumstances, he wasn't. He was exclusive. When God gave leadership to Moses He did not set up alternative leaders for those who found Moses irrascible and unpleasant.

Our identity must be limited and formed by the boundaries drawn by God. And to be in God's will means that it is possible to be out of it. To be saved means that it is possible to be lost. If you play for the Red Sox you do NOT play for the Yankees. For us to be us, we must also be "not them."

It's offensive to many, but that doesn't make it untrue. When we examine the scriptures to see how we can bend them to 2006, or to America, or to whatever makes us feel better about ourselves we have altered our coats (in the Swiftian sense). We might be able to convince ourselves that we have pleased our Father by ignoring His will... but can we convince Him of that?

It is hard -- and often terrifying -- to learn the lesson of Jesus' words in the Garden. "Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done."


At 1/24/2006 12:22:00 AM , Blogger Jared Cramer said...

And, I'm certain, you have never altered the coat one bit.

*ahem* Slavery *ahem*

*ahem* Usury *ahem*

*ahem* Women's Roles *ahem*

*ahem* Non-procreative Sex in Marriage *ahem*

Everyone has altered the coat. Heck, the coat should alter. The coat that the great-great-grandpa Abraham wore was different than the one great-grandpa Moses wore, which was different than the one grandpa Jeremiah wore, which was different than the one our dad used to wear.

The question is not "Can we alter the coat?" The question is "How do we discern what alterations are in keeping with the intention of the coat (protection from weather, etc) and what alterations would make the coat cease to be a coat?"

At 1/24/2006 01:57:00 AM , Anonymous renee cutts said...

I went into a myrid of links retracing the roots of opinions that are in the process or decidedly of opposite opinion of my own. Often I worry in these grand discussions if I am truely concerned about helping people "see right" or "being right". So, I went back into the scriptures trying to see through the glasses of opposite opinion with the end result that my eyes felt crossed. Thanks for helping me to see the only way to bring things back into focus. Having tried on the glasses was something I needed to do. I think I have space on my shelf for another book.

At 1/24/2006 10:08:00 AM , Blogger David U said...

Excellent post, Patrick. Monte Cox has an excellent series on "Us and Them". As he points out, "them" are "us"! But as you point out, we ALL tend to want to be God and make our own set of standards to live by. It's one thing to struggle, it's another to be in complete rebellion. I am ALWAYS going to struggle, but God help me to never be in rebellion.

Keep em coming,

At 1/24/2006 10:12:00 AM , Blogger PatrickMead said...

Jared, I am not sure when I have offended you, but you once again accuse me of things I haven't mentioned or addressed. You miss the entire point of Swift's work and my blog. The agreement was not to alter the coat. They altered them, claiming to find ways to justify it hidden in the Father's will.

At 1/24/2006 10:30:00 AM , Blogger Momdee said...

Thank you, Patrick, for that blog. We see so many people trying to justify what they want to do that is condemned in Scripture, and I believe part of that may be they do not understand the Holiness and Authority of our Creator.

At 1/24/2006 10:57:00 AM , Blogger Cheetah, the cheetah said...

At the risk of sounding kind of dumb, I'm not always sure how to discern when I'm twisting scripture to suit what I want or what I wish it says or when I am accurately discerning the thoughts and intent behind it.

What I was taught scripture says and intends is very firmly implanted in my brain and to see anything else is difficult and scary for me because I don't want to twist it.

I just want to understand not only the command, but the heart behind it and the heart in living it.

At 1/24/2006 12:02:00 PM , Blogger Jared Cramer said...

I'm not offended Patrick, I just disagree. One of the problems with the internet is you can't hear tone of voice, I suppose.

Anywho, I disagree because I assumed (incorrectly?) that this wasn't a post about a coat but was a post about the way we interpret Scripture.

If God condemns something that we want to accept, we try to find a way to bend the scripture to let us do what we want to do or we find a way to cast doubt on the authenticity of the passage so that we can remove its power over us.

The connection between Swift's story and your comments would imply that there exists some agreement not to change the coat (i.e. the church?). Not only do I not agree with that, but, it seems, those who argue for it do their own changing as well.

At 1/24/2006 12:58:00 PM , Blogger Jeff Slater said...

I agree with Momdee:

"We see so many people trying to justify what they want to do that is condemned in Scripture"

Yes, we certainly do see that a lot these days.

But I also see that same thing in myself. Sometimes I try to explain away the difficult passages that make me uncomfortable like Matthew 25:31-46 or Luke 14:25-34.


At 1/24/2006 03:37:00 PM , Blogger don said...

Jared, while I can't speak for Patrick, I think you have misread what he is saying and what Swift was saying. Swift and Patrick are saying the coat is the word of God, not the church. The church (people) is the institution that has changed the coat, not the other way around. And the point of the story is that people shouldn't do that.

If i have misunderstood your statement, I would appreciate a clarification. However, Patrick, and Swift and I all seem to be on the same page on this, and I think it is the same page you are on as well.

At 1/24/2006 05:09:00 PM , Blogger eaglewood said...


I want to thank you for the last two posts. They are a long sought answer to a troubling problem I have been dealing with.

The posts are confirmation that the positions I took are indeed the correct ones and that I need to leave it be and let the Holy Spirit do His work.

At 1/24/2006 06:51:00 PM , Blogger Keith Brenton said...

Generally, I agree with what you say, Patrick - but I am uncomfortable when your posit is carried to extremes that make me want to paraphrase momdee:

"We see so many people trying to condemn what others want to do that is unmentioned in Scripture, and I believe part of that may be that they do not understand the Holiness and Creativity of our Authority."

At 1/24/2006 07:04:00 PM , Blogger Laurie said...

Hi there Patrick:

I guess first to let you know that you sent me to the dictionary! That doesn't happen as often as it should, so that deserves a commendation. I hadn't ever seen the word ratiocination before! (I'll not let everyone in on it so they go to their own dictionary!)

I am not sure how this fits; but I find that people can just about justify any type of behavior with scripture. That is altering the coat, but scripture itself is not altered; merely what one thinks it tells one to do is altered. To me you are speaking of a) the wrongfulness of accepting anything and everything regardless of what the Bible says and b) avoiding being altered the opposite direction to enforce the "ideal" in a crusade like manner.

One of the things that I have appreciated in the last few years is that there are many places in the Bible that I was taught said one thing; however, upon some serious reading (even in English) it doesn't say that at all neither in the context or in the words. Perhaps, we are also victims of other's alterations before we came into the picture?

At 1/24/2006 09:55:00 PM , Blogger Jesse said...

What I'm getting from this post in my opinion, people are changing the scripts in the bible, which is completely wrong. Now with the coat issue, and the church problem, things like this do change, although some of it should stop, we are only human(probably a lame excuse)but people always like to find the easy way out, and giving false hopes is truly one of those easy ways out, till it gets you in the end. One example of the altered coat,(I apologize in advanced if you are one) are the Jehova Witnesses, as they walk around house to house preaching their own form of the bible, The Book of Mormens I think. This kind of action is a major alteration that should have been avoided when this religion started. That's what this post reminded me of.

At 1/25/2006 09:57:00 AM , Blogger PatrickMead said...

Jesse, the Jehovah's Witnesses use The New World Translation of the scriptures. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints use The Book of Mormon (among a few other books).

At 1/25/2006 04:07:00 PM , Blogger Jesse said...

Ah, that's the one! Hehe I get some things a little messed up.


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