May 22, 2009

More Oral Hash Art

There are more of you... very good [I'm twiddling my fingers in a sinister manner],

I made a little observation after my previous blog post: apparently each entry is listed under the date that you start drafting it, rather than the date it is posted. This led to the scenario in which my "brand new" post on May 6, showed up as April 16. Although it probably won't take me three weeks to complete every entry, I've decided to insulate myself from this risk by typing each post in a .txt document and throwing it on the blog editor only when it's ready to go. So, from now on, you should be seeing the actual dates of when things go up.

Now that that little bit of housekeeping is out of the way, I can get back to business. The other day, I was reading an exchange between Malcolm Gladwell and Bill Simmons. Obviously this exchange was quite interesting, as it was between the preeminent writer of our generation... and also the guy behind such best sellers as "Blink", "The Tipping Point", and "Outliers" (see what I did there). At one point, they started discussing the NBA draft system, and whether it's really a good thing to reward teams who perform poorly with the best draft picks. I found this discussion quite fascinating and would love to rehash it, but I understand that a lot of you wouldn't be interested... for those that are, you can read their exchange here (go to Gladwell's last section in Part 2 for the start of the draft conversation). Anyway, during their discourse on the subject, Gladwell introduced a concept called moral hazard and defined it as, "the idea that if you insure someone against risk, you will make risky behavior more likely." Apparently, moral hazard is an economics term that has come to prominence recently due to the fallout from the sub-prime mortgage fiasco and subsequent federal bailouts. There is a particular school of thought that reasons that by rescuing many of these large companies from the consequences of their bad decisions, they are more likely to continue to make similar bad decisions in the future. I'm not anywhere close to being an expert on economics, so I won't bother to delve into that discussion, but it struck me that the concept of moral hazard can be easily extrapolated to the realm of human behavior. Take for example, the case of the stereotypical spoiled, only child (lets call this the "Dudley Dursley Corollary"). These kids have anything they want and are consistently told that they can do no wrong; every decision they make is praised by their parents and they lack a heavy hand of direction in their life. What's more, any time they do get themselves into trouble, they have their parents around to bail them out. In a sense, they are insured against risk to an extreme degree. These are the type of people who typically grow up into some of the most awful, hateful individuals around (and are also the most likely to go on American Idol and humiliate themselves in front of millions of people).

This got me to thinking about a specific issue I've seen rise to prominence within the Church recently, and specifically within my peer group... the whole "Freedom in Christ" craze. Actually, that's probably not the best way to frame it -- the idea itself is not some sort of "craze", but rather comes from a very real Biblical truth -- the problem is the way people have, in my opinion, misinterpreted the concept. For the most part, my parents' generation grew up in Churches that were heavily rooted in fundamentalist ideology. This meant there was a very heavy-handed view of the "Law" aspect of Scripture... there were certain things that Christians did (i.e. be at Church every Sunday, respect your elders, dress in certain ways, etc.) and, perhaps more importantly, there were certain things that Christians DID NOT DO (i.e., play cards, dance, listen to Led Zeppelin, etc.). This type of Law-based value system reflected a distorted view of Scripture, one that completely ignored the grace that is preached extensively throughout the New Testament. Our parents started to see this and slowly distanced themselves from the kind of Pharisaic, rule-oriented religion they were raised in. Our generation took this change in direction to another level and started to talk a lot about liberty, liberty, liberty. However, as tends to be the typical human response, the correction away from fundamentalism was probably too severe. Our generation wants liberty, but often forgets that the example Christ gave always paired liberty with moderation and wisdom. When Jesus was famously accused of being "a glutton and a drunkard" by the Pharisees, He notes that, "wisdom is proved right by her actions." [Matthew 11:19b] Jesus knew liberty like no other human before or after Him, and yet His actions were always guided by wisdom. Paul addresses the issue of Christian liberty more directly than any other writer, specifically in the book of Romans. In fact, in my limited understanding, I would suggest that the struggle between grace and the law (and our response to it) is the central theme of that book. After hashing out the basics of humanity's fall and God's salvation, Paul reasons, "The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more." [Romans 5:20] I think this is essentially the crux of the problem with my generation of Christians; we understand grace really well, and we know that the beauty of the salvation we have in Christ is that we can never get to a point where we are no longer covered by His grace. In this sense, we are insulated against the "risk" (i.e., consequences) of our actions. If, in our freedom, we have to straddle the line between sin and prudishness, wouldn't we rather err on the side of sinning, knowing that Christ has already provided an amazing grace to cover our sins? It's an understandable position, especially for many of us who have seen previous generations turn Christianity into a "religion" in the worst possible sense -- full of empty rules and devoid of the vibrant relationship we are called to share with Christ. Still, I can't help but think that we've missed the mark with our interpretation as well. It is wrong for Christians to set themselves apart from the world in the wrong ways (i.e., being judgmental and hypocritical), but I think it is equally wrong for Christians to be indistinguishable from the world, and it seems like we're moving more and more in that direction all of the time.

What we need to remember, is that after coming to his the conclusion about grace increasing as sin increases, Paul goes on to make a rhetorical argument, "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" [Romans 6:1-2] I think that makes it pretty clear that erring on the side of sin is never the right decision.

We, as Christians, are in the amazing position of being covered by a limitless grace... we have been liberated from sin by Christ and this is a gift to cherish... but not to abuse. I think we often fall into the trap of thinking that living in freedom and liberty is easy and precludes us from making difficult decisions, when, in fact, it's the opposite. We have to learn about moderation and constantly grow in wisdom. On top of that, we need to exercise a high degree of discernment in the decisions we make. The great thing is that we have Christ (and the example He set) to guide us along the way. And, of course, we always have grace to catch us when we screw up (I would throw a little winky face in there, but that seems a little juvenille, so instead I'll use way too many words to get the same point across).

Feeling Remorse that I Previously Wished the Swine Flu on All of You,


P.S. I know this is a big topic and I most likely didn't do it justice. It stemmed from a thought I had when "moral hazard" came up in the Simmons/Gladwell piece and I just tried to expand on it as I wrote. Please know that my intent was not to throw stones, but simply to stimulate discussion on something I feel should be a talking point among my generation. Excuse the generalities I used (it's not fair to paint my generation -- or previous generations -- with one brush). It's something I struggle with, and I would love to hear other people's thoughts on this topic as well. Your comments are always appreciated!