Monday, August 10, 2009

The Sh***y Christian, part 2

In the previous post, I reflected upon a Buddhist article, “The Shitty Monk,” by Shozan Jack Haubner. He commented that, in his path toward enlightenment, “I’d never been stripped of myself, and so I mistook a cleverly embroidered outfit of attitudes for my deepest self, which I had to ‘be true to.’ Through the path of negation of self, I began to get an inkling of just how thoroughly cloaked I was in attitudes and platitudes--in my own bullshit--and I also learned that despite this, I had to keep going” (Shambhala Sun, Sept. 2009, p. 70).

The image of the “cleverly embroidered outfit of attitudes” made me think of this verse: As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Gal. 3:27). What does it mean to be “clothed with Christ”?

Taking a cue from Genesis 3, you could say that “Christ clothing” covers the nakedness of sin. Just as God helped the fallen Adam and Eve make clothing for themselves, once they had sinned and experienced shame, so now God clothes us with the Christ who saves us from sin. Recall the Reformation doctrine of “imputed righteousness” where the righteousness of Christ becomes ours, since we’ve no righteousness or worthiness of our own. In other words, God gives something that we did not have before--righteousness, or the absence of guilt from sin--and now God perceives us favorably because God’s gift of righteousness “covers” our sin like clothing, and God forgets our sin.

Charles Wesley’s hymn “And Can It Be?” ends:
No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine !
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

That’s a precious gift! In fact, that gift pretty much affirms crucial things about your identity and destiny. We do not experience a “negation of self” but rather an amazing acceptance, sins and all, which in turn gives us mercy from and access to God, in this life and the next.

So the answer to the question, “How do we deal with our s***?” is: God has already dealt with it decisively in the death and resurrection of Jesus!

But--to think again of Haubner’s dilemma that I discussed in the previous post--what about our false, immature, and sinful attitudes in which we get stuck because we do not perceive them clearly?

Ideally, the gift of a new identity in Christ leads to a process of honest self-assessment, like the people who were “cut to the heart” when they heard Peter’s first sermon (Acts 2:37). But (as Hauber would put it), our inner BS runs very deep.

That’s where the Wesleyan doctrine of imparted righteousness comes in. The Holy Spirit begins working in our lives in order to deal with our falsehood, sin, improper attitudes, and other things (our “personal stuff,” to use the image from my previous reflections). Wesley considers the Spirit’s work in sermons like “Scriptural Christianity,” The Circumcision of the Heart,” “The Lord Our Righteousness,” “The New Birth,” and others. For Wesley, to be “clothed in Christ” is not simply to enjoy the beauty and blessing of the garment but also to become beautiful ourselves, through a process of growth.

The Spirit’s work can be difficult and painful, though. As a 50+ year old person I look back and see numerous times when, I believe, God was bringing clarity and assistance in my life, and God continues this process in all of us as we open ourselves to the Spirit’s power.

We should not imply that this process is quick and neat; it is potentially very slow and by no means linear. Sometimes, as with Haubner if not so graphically, we might have to smell pretty bad to ourselves and others as we proceed. We can take comfort, though, that God's own benevolent Spirit is doing the work.

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