Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Keeping low

An old friend told me that, when he left for the college from which both of us later graduated, his father told him in no uncertain terms to be careful, to beware of the religious fanatics. I'm not sure whether anyone here other than he and I can chuckle at that warning, but I can, and do--often.

Not that there are so many religious fanatics hereabouts, then or now. Not that there are any more, per capita, than there might be at any other college that clings steadfastly to its Christian character the way this one does--and I do.

But even though I think I understand the warning, I don't think I understand all that much about the balance I need to maintain between faith and reason; between reading the Bible literally and reading it, well, ethically; between the loyalties and reverence due, for instance, to a flag on one hand and a cross on the other. Jesus told us all to give Caesar his due, but gather any 12 preachers from different theological strains, and you'll have a dozen variations on the theme.

This morning my in-box had three e-mails from people who believe Obama's election means the apocalypse. While I think that attitude is misguided, sometimes I wish I was so defiantly sure as they are of their version of the unsullied truth about time and eternity. The faith of these folks is deep and rich, immensely abundant; it grows like sumac. They likely pray more richly than I do and read the Bible more studiously. All three are loyal warriors in the religious right.

The problem is, I think they're wrong. I think faith has made them something akin to those fanatics my friend's old man warned him about nearly a half-century ago, even though none of them live anywhere near this neighborhood.

But who's right? Are they right or am I? I wish I knew.

Balancing the significance of reason and significance of revelation is an immensely delicate matter for all of us, isn't it? When, reason wins in a romp, we erroneously believe we can think through everything; when we abandon revelation, our own cynicism can make us bitter fools. I can get that way--I admit it. In the last few days, in fact, I've felt it in spades.

But when we rely totally on what we know in our hearts, we could just as well cut off our heads. We lose our way on the paths through this world, God's own beloved creation. We don't become bitter fools, but holy fools--which is simply another breed.

There really is some truth in what the old man said, isn't there? Beware of fanatics--in whatever garb they dress.

There's a storm outside this morning--our first snow. That phrase has a romantic sensibility, doesn't it? But there's nothing romantic about this mini-blizzard. The great wind is swirling.

If you live out here on the plains, you come to understand that the best way to stay up in this kind of wind is stay low. To keep your balance means keeping a low center of gravity, which is to say, here or anywhere, to get on your knees--not just in prayer either, but in humility.

Old knees don't always bend all that well.

Lord, help me keep a low center of gravity.


Anonymous said...

Can a fanatic believe that God is still in control when the "wrong" person gets elected?

RickNiekLikeBikes said...

I know my bible very well. I can pick out verses, I can rattle off my theology more clearly than most. Knowing what I know, I'm comfortable in my political skin as well. Author Tom Sine helped me in this. But, how am I defined in this context? A fanatic? Are you wary of me?

Sometimes people are more actively involved in not trying to feel or be passionate, and they call this humility. I call it contrite christianese.

A fanatic might go through great lengths to justify their position, lot or persuasion. You've had to put yourself into a position of abuse, victimhood or discrimination in order to make your words more poignant. Not that I blame you, but you've put yourself into a fanatical position, interestingly enough.

My dad used to tell me not to do anything to disparage his good name. God says the same thing to His children about His name. Christians try I think. I mean, I had to capitalize "His" as a sign of what? Reverence to God? If I lower-cased "His" would I disparage God? Does it make me a potential fanatic?

I'm more wary of non-fanatics.

Anonymous said...

Can a fanatic support a man and his ideals, even when the world is against them?
No President in history has had to deal with as such hatred as W, yet he handled it with grace and poise. For the last seven years, he's lead the fight to keep terrorists off of American soil. Isn’t it interesting that he once had the highest approval rating of any President in history, yet those same people that once approved of him now shun him in our nation’s darkest hour, for issues far beyond his control? The people that call him a bad President obviously haven’t been paying attention. Godspeed, George W. Bush. You’ve done our country well, and I only hope your successor can do half as good a job as you have.

sarah said...

I think there is a big difference between being passionate and being a fanatic. As Christians, we must be passionate, I believe. However, passion can outwardly manifest itself very differently, depending on the person.

I think that fanatics are passionate, but they also refuse to acknowledge the value of anyone else's ideas, always believing they are right. Unless they have special communication with God that no one else has access to, I believe this is dangerous.

Just because we are Christians, it doesn't mean we have all the right answers or opinions. That is where the humility comes in.

The VanTols said...

Perhaps my definition of a fanatic is to simplistic but I believe that fanatics are those who believe that their God or god has given them the authority to judge the hearts of their neighbors. My Book tells me that Yahweh reserves that right for himself and my place is to love my neighbor be she a Baha'i, a practitioner of an alternative lifestyle, or a democrat. These people are my neighbors and I love them as family. DVT

Todd said...

I think we all like to think that when we write or speak we bear a prophet's mantle, but too often we run the danger of sounding more like Chicken Little.

It's a fine skill to defend an opinion or position without sounding defensive. The same goes for being convicted about something without being heard as a fanatic.

In this election which was so focused on "change," I can understand well the significance of this election for those who grew up with the racial tension of the 60's. I can truly appreciate that.

Dire prophecies of the sky falling aside, I'm just waiting for the time when people will see that, just like us, our new change agent/rescuer/political messiah/President-elect sinks like a rock when he steps into the water.

I believe than only true change will come from the One who we'll see coming down from the clouds.

I guess that makes me fanatical, reasonable, cynical, and hopeful all together. I can live with that.