Wednesday, March 30, 2016

We're saved by our works more than ever

I wonder if our culture now believes that work is completely salvific. I was reminded of this possibility the other day while listening to some parishioners talk about their work in Afghanistan and Iraq.

They would log very long sixteen hour days on farming projects. Arriving back at their apartment for the night, all they wanted to do was rest. But neighbors would be out front of homes, and would invite them over. It took a lot of wisdom and energy to go and hang out and talk.

It was the kind of thing they knew was a good idea, but they didn't want to do it. Their desires were for long, arduous work followed by rest. In some ways you could say their desires were ordered against their ideals.

One of the most common complaints they heard about Westerners from their neighbors: you're all so busy.

Imagine this scenario. You plan an event at church, and it isn't a meeting, it isn't a worship service, it isn't a service project, it isn't even a meal. All you're going to do is show up in the same space and spend time together.

Honestly, will very many people show up?

However, the sweet space in our church similar to but different from this scenario is the coffee hour before and after worship. Lots of our people willingly show up each week to just hang out with each other at those times. But they can "justify" their presence, because they're doing something meaningful in a works righteousness system--they're going to church.

We have thoroughly inhabited a works righteousness paradigm. We actually think work is salvific.

I do not mean by this that we believe that our works will save us in some future judgment before the seat of God. I mean this in the more holistic sense, salvation as "salve," as shalom, as wholeness. We think work will make us whole, will be the salve that heals a broken world.

We do not believe that simply being together, doing nothing together, can save us.

Proof here also is the shaming culture currently in place for those receiving public assistance. We make it hard for people to receive welfare. We imply they're morally inferior, need to be drug-tested, etc. We have very few of the same suspicions of the employed, even though so much of our daily work has as much if not more possibility of harm.

Perhaps we think just hanging out is dangerous. This is why our culture has so much resistance these days to teenagers having free time together. Parents hover over them and don't let them go. We schedule our children, we create calendars of things for them to do. Otherwise they might get up to something unsavory.

Except that when I hang with teens, hang with children, I see their deep passion not for getting up to inappropriate things, but rather simply valuing one another, giving each other a sense of space and place, of belonging, of shared play.

In our culture, any "true" time of rest is supposed to be filled with consumption. So college students don't just hang together. They drink together. Families don't just live life together. They watch television together.

I realized the extent to which this was true for me recently when I realized that although I spend lots of time each week with friends and parishioners, it's always time with a purpose. It's a meeting, a counseling session, a planning session, some form of shared work.

There are very few times, almost no times at all, when I'm just with others for no other overt purpose than sharing life together.

I think our culture idealizes rest and relaxation. We want to go on vacation. We do yoga and meditate. But these are all forms of rest in the service of our work. They are not, as far as I can tell, outside the works righteousness system. They're just the opiate for it.

Our only escape, the only way we will save ourselves from saving ourselves through our work, will be a shift of theology. We need to apply the Protestant insight--that we are saved by faith apart from the works of the law, for Christ's sake--to the actual notion of work we now have.

We need rest for its own sake, not rest for the sake of more work. We need relationships centered in
our intrinsic value rather than valued by shared projects.

We no longer believe we are saved for heaven by our works, because heaven has changed. So we are saved by the new work we do for the new heaven we think we are creating.

In fact, we're trapped by the work and slaves to such salvation. It's why we work more and more, and even put our rest in the service of more work.

To get out of such enslavement, we'll need new hearts for new loves, which likely will come only as gift, a gift we receive from the one who we notice always rests and always abides and is endlessly generative out of such abiding itself.

When the Messiah of such abiding arrives, he or she will likely have no means of employment, no place to rest the head, will dissipate in meaningless things like walking and prayer, and will be misunderstood by a culture completely sold on the notion that what we do, and how busily we do it, will save us.

The first people he or she will go find are those studying in seminaries, who march around endlessly telling others how busy they are with their studies. Next will be pastors, blogging long posts.

1 comment:

  1. If we are the hands and feet of Christ in a broken world, then there is no such thing as rest. "For even birds have nests, but the son of man has no where to lay his head." The body of Christ never sleeps. There's no time.