Community: Transculture

Here must be the heir, if yonder his inheritance; here the laborer, if yonder his rest; here the candidate, if yonder his reward.

~Richard Winter Hamilton (1794-1848)

The challenge of being a community apart from the world is to begin to consider things from a transcendent perspective. How easy it is to be swept along with the tide of opinion and the winds of circumstance! I’ve been considering lately how cyclical worldly events are, how repetitive. Santyana’s famous statement, so often quoted and paraphrased, rings true: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” And how often we forget the past, hence I’ve included a couple of quotations recently that have a familiar, contemporary feel.

As a result I find myself struggling with a strange mix of patriotic zeal and melancholy. On one hand I weep when the flag goes by, on the other I am on the margins nationalism. I can swell with pride at the foundations of my country and weep with grief over her departure from them. Perhaps as a part of Christ’s “trans-culture” it must be this way. Isaiah the prophet said, “Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales.”  Though I value my homeland, I realize that it is only a temporary homeland. I, and other followers of Christ, have set our hearts on a different place, a transcendent one. That’s why I’m using the word “trans-culture” to describe Christ followers.

Months ago (March 23, 2005), when I began this BLOG I suggested that living between two worlds meant that Christ followers were a counter culture. Not an “anti-culture” in the sense of standing opposed to the dominant culture, though opposed we may be—we oughtn’t be identified by what we are against. Not a sub-culture, having borrowed from the world around us and modified what we borrow to suit our sensibilities—clean it up, remake it to suit ourselves, and then offer it back to the world along with an invitation to follow Jesus. Instead, I proposed we be a counterculture, a group that stands out by standing apart.

But upon further consideration, the term “counterculture” still has a combative and contrary feel to it. Furthermore, it doesn’t seem substantially different from what I called an “anti-culture.” Thus I’ve been casting about for a better term to describe life between two worlds. I am still convinced that the Christ-life shouldn’t be characterized by either borrowing from the dominant culture, or by opposing it. A term that describes the Christ-life should suggest detachment from this world—not aloof, more like indifferent—and yearning for what’s next. I’m trying on “trans-culture,” to describe a people apart, a race of people who live by customs inherited from a homeland they haven’t yet seen. The challenge for us is to discover the customs of our not-fully-discovered country and then apply them to our life between the worlds. Better to start with a set of values to attain to, rather than merely tidy up the familiar ones of the world; or to try to imagine their opposite and then embrace what we have imagined.

On Learning from History…or Not

The wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong enemy.
~General Omar Bradley, 1893-1981

Looking Back to the Thirties

will.gifDid you know that we sent marines into Vera Cruz, Mexico one time? Oh, we was in Nicaragua, Haiti, San Domingo, China, Mexico. Anywhere in the world we could find a place where we had no business, why, there we were. It was just during our adolescent period in our life as a nation, when we thought it was up to us to regulate the affairs of everybody.

I really can’t see any advantage of having one of your own party in as president. I would rather be able to criticize a man, than have to apologize for him.

~Will Rogers, 1879-1936

Spirituality: Garden Refuge

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Beyond my garden refuge
In the world a battle rages.
Between the light and darkness,
It storms across the ages.

No swords, no shields, no battlefields
It is a war I cannot see.
But each new day, when I come to pray
The battle is over me.

Will I be captured by the darkness
A prisoner of despair?
Or will I join the throng of light
That struggles in the air?

The choice is there before me,
As I think to seize the day.
Within the garden refuge
Where I have come to pray.

(c) 1994 Dan Mayhew

Random Thought: The Right Questions

Wow! over a month since I’ve visited bloggerville! Amazing. Talk about Sabbath and the tyrant of time, responsibility and obligation blows through like a hurricane. Interesting. I better return to the idea of rest again soon. But first, some random musings…
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Our words are the story. Our life is the illustration…

Learning is often not a matter of accumulating knowledge, it is asking the proper question and desiring, even yearning after the answer.

Open the scriptures with a question and they will answer. They are not a duty but an honor. He who does not hear them speak either has no questions to ask or no ears to listen.

To ask, “Who is God?” is too high, too far away. This question is safe, its answer is distant.
To ask, “Who am I?” is too near to be seen clearly.

Better to ask, “Who is my brother?” In this question lies the answer to the other two.

To ask what I must do to please God is presumptuous because it passes over the cross where Messiah said, “It is finished.”

To ask what I must do to please myself is selfishness. It passes over the cross that is ours to take up daily.

Better to ask, “What is my obligation to my brother?” In this is the answer to the other two.

To ask how I might serve God is to climb a mountain and build three tabernacles and be cut off from the world.

To ask how to serve myself is to empty my heart and isolate my soul.

Rather, ask how may I serve my brothers. In this is the answer to the other two.

Society: Will the Real Tyrant Please Stand Up?

…Our observation of the Sabbath is a special time of recognizing that, ideally, as members of the Christian community we are part of an alternative society, standing in contrast to the values of the world and able to offer to those outside the community the opportunity to choose another way. Our ethics are not like those of the world around us; we don’t’ settle for generalized moral philosophy. Rather, our ethics is shaped by the narrative of our community, the stories of God’s interventions in history…It seems to me that to recover the command to keep the Sabbath might help our Christian communities to restore the other commandments. Certainly if we honor one day as a day set apart to concentrate on the holiness of God, our priorities will be restored and we will again seek God’s will concerning our relationships with parents, with sexual partners, and with possessions.

~Marva Dawn, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly, Eerdmans, 1999. pp. 41&43

I started this BLOG in January intending to explore what is fundamental to us as Christ followers. I presupposed that the core issue is not so much how we, and by extension our message, can be relevant to the culture, but what in our culture is really relevant to us. In the entry for January 15, 2005 I wrote:

Here is the challenge: discover what is relevant to those of us who are mere sojourners in time. Jesus sketched the challenge in the terms of being “in the world” while not being “of the world.”

Who am I? Better put, where am I? I am between two worlds: in one, but not of it; bound for another, but for the time being, bound TO the one I’m in. If that is true, if I and other Christ followers are “between two worlds,” then the question of relevance is vital. What really matters? Where do we fit in this world—or do we fit at all?

So how are we to be different from the culture?

That’s not the question. Analyzing the ways of our society and then setting out to be different merely uses society as a baseline to react against. A community ought never be defined by what it is opposed to. Instead, a community should be identified with what it affirms, distinguishable because of its faithfulness to its character. In the case of the followers of Jesus, our nature has been inherited from him, so our community should be identified with him. The right question is how can we be faithful? It is in our faithfulness that we ought to be distinguishable from the culture, and if by being faithful we wind up being a counterculture, then so be it. Another way of putting it is that Christ-followers should seek what is relevant to them and respond to it.

Yesterday, I suggested that God’s gift of Sabbath might well be intended to introduce us to the ways of the Kingdom—timeless, relational, creative. If so, then learning to live in God’s rest is relevant to us. Living the hurricane of Western culture is not. Embracing the restful cadence of the eternal Father is relevant. Willingly plodding in the forced march—a death march—of the world is not.

Many of us have viewed the Sabbath as an imposition, as though to be called away from our daily routines and hourly obligations amounted to an inconvenience, or worse, tyranny. But who is the real tyrant? Is it the Lord of the Sabbath, emphatically calling his followers to come away and rest? Or is it the world that drives us toward a mirage of success and survival that is the real tyrant?

And which of the two is more relevant to us as we live between two worlds? Which is more likely to distinguish the community of Christ-followers as “an alternative society, standing in contrast to the values of the world and able to offer to those outside the community the opportunity to choose another way?”

Helping Restless Christians on the Road to Adventure