Friday, November 10, 2017

Take Up Your Cross

So I think a fundamental truth in the Gospel is that if we want to follow God, there are things we need to give up.

I was reading in the Gospel according to Matthew the other day, and I was struck by these words of Jesus to the apostles: "Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat." (Matthew 10:9-10) It seems to me there is a "travel light" ethic in the Gospel. The more we get weighed down by the things of this world, the harder it is to be responsive to the Spirit. Many of the sayings of Jesus express the principle of these two verses, which basically says, "Don't concern yourself with stuff. God will provide for you and that is enough."

I have a working thesis about gay celibacy. Liberals and conservatives both have things wrong and both have things right on this issue. What conservatives have right is they understand this principle of sacrifice that is in the warp and woof of God's way. They insist that God can and does ask hard things of us; sometimes extremely hard things. I think what liberals have gotten wrong is that they have run away from this principle. They often want to deny that God asks anything of us that isn't easy, fun and natural to give.

I think what conservatives have gotten wrong is that they often confuse societal prejudices or tradition with the divine order. So if blacks suffer because of systematic racism, or women suffer because of patriarchy or gays suffer because of homophobia, that's just the divine order of things. You just need to accept your cross and grin and bear it. They'll say to the oppressed other, "Well, that's what God is asking of you." And liberals have been right to critique that, to point out that society is wont to build and worship idols, and that the burdens that blacks or women or gays are forced to bear are the legacy of idolatry and of the kind of pride that the entire Book of Mormon is an indictment of.

Of course there are folks who identify as conservative who get that; just as there are folks who identify as liberal who understand that there are things we have to give up in order for there to be real justice and love. But I'd say there are liberal and conservative tendencies that end up distorting the true principles on either side of our political or theological divides. Conservatives really get the "serve the Lord with all thy might" (D&C 4:2) principle, while liberals really get the "thou shalt have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:2) principle. If you can just put those two things together, what you really have is the first two Great Commandments ("thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind [and] thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." Matthew 22:37-39), which transcends politics and theology, doesn't it?

So this still naturally begs the question, What does God ask us to give up? What do we need to sacrifice in order to build the Kingdom?

And I think finding the answer to this is at the heart of Christian discipleship. It's at the core of the individual encounter with God, which is at the core of everything else in spirituality and religion. It is in that encounter where we experience a call to service that can take us to very strange and interesting places indeed.

Once we recognize this, we come to terms with the fact that there will be a point in our relationship with Spirit (or with "the Spirit") when the rubber meets the road, and we just have to accept something difficult. That might be the moment when a soldier discovers that she really might die for her country. Or it might be the moment when a young man discovers the commitment of fatherhood. Or it might be when a public servant is willing to sacrifice an election for doing what is right. But when or what that moment is for each of us is something only we can recognize.

The daily path, I think, demands that we listen, that we open ourselves to that every time we get on our knees. "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily." (Luke 9:23) Then be prepared.

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