Posted by: Dan | May 23, 2005

Christian Relevance And Other Square Circles

We have gotten used to regarding as valor only valor in war (or the kind that's needed for flying in outer space), the kind which jingle-jangles with medals. We have forgotten another concept of valor — civil valor. And that's all our society needs, just that, just that, just that! That's all we need and that's exactly what we haven't got.

When, in 1960, Gennady Smelov, a nonpolitical offender, declared a lengthy hunger strike in the Leningrad prison, the prosecutor went to his cell for some reason (perhaps he was making his regular rounds) and asked him: 'Why are you torturing yourself?'
And Smelov replied: 'Justice is more precious to me than life.'
This phrase so astonished the prosecutor with its irrelevance that the very next day Smelov was taken to the Leningrad Special Hospital (i.e. the insane asylum) for prisoners. And the doctor there told him:
'We suspect you may be a schizophrenic.'

~ Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

Although Solzhenitsyn does not explicitly link these two passages (they are ten pages apart) it is necessary to note that civil valor will be accompanied by a movement that others will perceive to be a movement into irrelevance. It is a desperate grasping for relevance that continually compromises the church [insert rant about Relevant Magazine here]. Such a movement is antithetical to following in the footsteps of Jesus. Looking at Paul's “master narrative” (Michael Gorman's term) in Philippians 2.6-11 this becomes clear. Because Jesus existed in the form of God he did not regard equality with God thing to be grasped, but emptied himself taking the form of a slave and becoming humble to the point of death on a cross. No, living Christianly means that the disciples of Jesus will be labeled irrelevant.

Paul has a few words for those who have pursued such relevance in Corinth. He says:

For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; your are distinguished, but we are without honor. To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, as the dregs of all things, even until now.

Because we are hopeful we will be called utopian.
Because we affirm the new creation of all things we will be called idealists.
Because we believe in one God we will be called exclusive and sectarian.
Because we believe we are the image of that one God we will be called arrogant.
Because we love with the oppressed we will be called romantics.
Because we rejoice in suffering we will be called masochists.
Because we embody forgiveness we will be called unjust.
Because we are committed to peace we will be called unloving and unrealistic.
Because we eagerly anticipate the return of our Lord we will be called fools.

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