On Holiness (yes, holiness)...

Holiness is the state of being holy or sacred. (Wikipedia)
Don't get scared.  I know that some of you read my blog because you know me, not because you're interested in Christianity.  And I'm completely fine with that.  I'm not interested in making converts here.  There's no other shoe that's about to drop.  But here's some of the stuff in my head: 

I've been thinking about the pursuit of holiness for a few days now.  Things in life keep coming up that make me think I don't have my shit together.  I used to be obsessed with this idea of holiness - certainly to an unhealthy degree.  Gotta be a "good Christian."  

I don't know what that looks like anymore.

But rather than explore what it looks like for me, now I have allowed my focus to rest on causes that put personal culpability elsewhere - then I can share responsibility from an ideological distance.  The things I believe in are changing - for the better, I think.  But I'm not becoming "holier" - not the kind of holiness that makes me a self-differentiating asshole who wants you to know it.  If I felt holy, I wouldn't tell you.  I certainly wouldn't be holy, then.  What I mean is, the fruits of the Spirit aren't manifest in my life more now than they were five or six years ago.  I'm spinning my wheels.

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control..." 
(Galatians 5:22-23)
Part of this is because I've made the typical liberal/mainline switch from personal to systemic, which gets me off the hook for dealing with a lot of my shit.
Look, I think my beliefs are truer now - headed in the right direction.  And in some ways, that makes me feel just a little bit better about myself (we've talked about liberal elitism before, and I've confessed to it).  And I'm a pretty nice guy 90% of the time.  Especially when I want you to think I'm a pretty nice guy.  But I want to be more like Jesus, and that sounds pretty jesusy - I know.  Shades of Bible-thumping!

No, I'm not going back to the sort of self-preserving, fear-mongering, angry, ethnocentric, sexist, homophobic, hell-scared guy I used to be (or at least used to think I needed to be, to be a good Christian).  

I'm a liberal.  An egalitarian.  I want to be your friend.  I want to share power.  Blah blah, you've read my bio.

But I also... I also want to be holy.  I want my life to tell more the just what I believe about.  I have to be more than progressive politics and sensitive social views.   I want my life to tell who I am, what's in my heart, and maybe a glimpse of what Jesus looks like.  


Al said...

I think the switch you refer to from personal to systemic may well lay a part in how much we look like Jesus.

Both libs and conservatives have found ways to back away from some aspect of personal responsibility. We are all good at blaming the devil, or government, or society for why we are not individually reflecting Christ.

Conservatives may well try to be 'pure' on a personal level, but ignore things like justice or pollution leaving that for society or the government to fix.

Liberals may well take personal responsibility for global warming, but not be too concerned about personal piety.

Either way, part of Jesus' character is being demonstrated, part of it is being ignored.

I think we need to honestly see what being like Jesus looks like. It's not being arrogant, holier than thou, proud, Bible-thumping, sexist, homophobic, etc. It's being loving, compassionate, just. Working to change the systems if necessary, but caring for people individually.

Sure, it's a tall order. But that's what I think holiness is. Holiness isn't crossing the street so that you aren't polluted by the 'sin' of the the guy standing there, but getting into his life in some way that makes it better.

Bad Alice said...

This is what is often called “sanctification,” right? For some reason that term always sounds like an antiseptic process that makes us squeaky clean. More likely it’s profoundly messy, a journey without end that doesn’t go in a straight line, and which doesn’t make us glow with a gentle, incandescent light. Something always comes along to remind us we don’t have our shit together, haven’t advanced past anyone else and shouldn’t start thinking we’ve got enough answers to write a self-help book. How do we live our lives among those closest to us in a way that shows love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, and why is it so friggin difficult? It would be easier if we didn’t want that, but for some reason we do, we want God to work in us a really amazing and kind of scary transformation, which we will inevitably resist on every front.

Peter said...

Al, I like this: "Either way, part of Jesus' character is being demonstrated, part of it is being ignored." We pick and choose, don't we!?

Bad Alice,
I should have broken down, conceptually, a bit more. I don't like the term sanctification either. Even though it basically means "purification" (which may or may not be helpful) "sanctification" has a lot of implicit religious baggage that I'm not interested in. So does the word "holy," but sometimes it's useful to recontextualize words. Or not even that - to REDEEM words. Can I use "holy" without being legalistic or fundamentalist? I think it's possible and more so: necessary.

I love the way you put this: "It would be easier if we didn’t want that, but for some reason we do, we want God to work in us a really amazing and kind of scary transformation, which we will inevitably resist on every front."

Yes. I want to be useful. I want to be humble enough to be changed.

Lutestring said...

Well said, Peter.

If I end up staying with faith, I will probably be a more liberal-leaning one like you are.

Buuuuuuuut, I feel something reminding me of late that if I stay with faith, the most important would not be that I happen to be more on the "cool liberal side" of things than not.

The most important thing would be that that I, along with each evangelical and liberal and traditionalist and offball free-thinker, surrendered.

It's like this little voice in my head going "Seriously? You think that getting some mental clutter out of your head, or having an honest opinion change, or being different than your Bible-Belt town makes you more Christlike? Puh-lease!!!!!!!" Your article was just another push in this direction today.

Peter said...

Lutestring! I'm so pleased this resonated. Thank you.

I think you're right. And while I am a strong proponent of education, scholarship, and intellectual pursuit, I am equally aware that the more knowledge we acquire, the harder it is for us to "submit," as you articulated so well. We start to think we're too smart, too enlightened... it's hard to let go. It sounds so... primitive. Simple.

And that's exactly what faith is. We can try to dress it up in academic clothing and language, but the truth is, faith is simple. Faith is primitive.

That is hard for some of us to accept.

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