Thorny Renunciations


  1. the abandonment or renunciation of a religious or political belief.

The nature of apostasy and what it actually looks like, is a source of conflict, division, and confusion within Christianity. To be sure, the idea of whether or not a truly born again believer, a Christian mind you, could even actually commit such an act is prone to controversy. Jesus seems to speak of three different types of soil, and that soil is usually interpreted as a pre-christian convert who is struggling with the issue of truly submitting to God as their Lord and Savior. My perspective is heavily coloured by a southern evangelical tradition, that is butting up against the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century. Bring in our latest understandings of Jesus as a Rabbi in a 1st century Jewish context and we could talk for hours.

All this is rolling around in my own head while I’m thinking about the actual people whom I know, who have left Christianity. Once we start to introduce flesh and blood into the equation, the whole issue suddenly gets to be quite a nerve wracking exercise. It begins to come out of an arm chair theology, and starts to argue with you and hits you in the gut. All the while you, as the defender of the faith, are fighting the urge to, A. put on the boxing gloves and show them just how robust the Christian faith is and B. the intense longing to understand your friend and where they are coming from. On the one hand, we feel this urge, in the same way that a man might feel compelled to defend the honor of his wife or sister. This is a natural sentiment, and one that can work in tandem with the movement of the Holy Spirit. It can also go awry in it’s approach and miss the boat completely, while you and your interlocutor are both drowning in a sea of misunderstanding. So, what is the alternative? To simply listen with real concern in your mind and your heart. After all, the possibility of missing something or being blinded by our our own milieu seems to be an honest concern that all thinking men and women have to guard against. So, what is the solution?

Well…I’m not here to propose anything like that. One has to prayerfully and lovingly approach each of these situations carefully. People are not all leaving Christianity for the same reasons nor are they in the same place emotionally, or  physiologically. What I am interested in are some of the factors that seem to go into this whole movement. The slippery slide that happens as people inch toward the cliff, until suddenly, they are at the bottom of the ravine.

As a creative type person, I see the tug that many other creative folks have within the world that we typically try to live in. Art, illustration, design are all intensely competitive and time consuming endeavours. Time is always in short supply. It always runs out before you know it, so one has to learn to work hard, fast, and excellently in order to pull of the the job, or you don’t eat. Once family and age get multiplied into this equation, you pretty much lose the crucial component to succeed as an artist, which is time. I would think that most people in a professional type situation can understand where I’m coming from, and maybe where I’m going. In our culture, you have to increasingly become a subject matter expert in whatever field you are in, and many times it’s so niche that you get locked down quickly in a particular stream. To be good at what you do takes time. To excel at what you do takes skill, lots of effort, and a queer kind of obsession that sneaks up on you. It’s this queer obsession with your craft that begins to look and feel like the thorny soil that Jesus spoke of.

The order of this parable in Luke chapter 8 seems to be very important. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the thorny soil is the soil before the good soil, and that the other two soils don’t really seem to have time to allow the seed to really get a hold of them. This person has been living with the seed and with the thorns for quite some time. A year or a decade. Maybe over 20 years. I’ve certainly know friends who, for all intents and purposes, seem to have had strong Christian faiths, and then that thorn that they had been struggling with starts to form a wedge between their goals and purposes in life, and their commitment to God. As I said earlier, time can be a problem with these commitments. It’s quite an unrelenting bully. Unreasonable, pushy, and consuming. And the family aspect is crucial when thinking about the issue of thorns. The family sets in, time is against us, we have our careers to think about, and we desperatly want to be faithful to God. This is to say nothing of the modern quest for health that our western culture seems so obsessed with.

So, something has to give. Or does it? I think it’s easy enough to make an argument for doing all things to the glory of God, which means being excellent in all that we do. But sometimes the excellence that God demands brushes up against the excellence of the world. I said earlier that I was in a creative field. And when a creative person looks out at the world, the are confronted with choices of what to create and what not to create. Or, which jobs to take and which jobs not to take. Here’s another part of the rub. As a Christian, I believe that all things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial. Restricting one’s visual diet to what they believe are acceptable topics, could be seen as restrictive. Many times, it is this self imposed restraint that is the first casualty of the creative or professional. Because the Christian who is in a professional atmospher, working hard to be on their game, has to exercise restraint as well. Whether one is a creative type, or the professionally driven type, these restraints do not always bode well for a long term career or multiple projects.

In the midst of the Christian growing within his family and career, sometimes something has to be sacrificed. Sacrifice does seem like the right word. As a believer, we are called to sacrifice everything for the sake of our Lord. In the midst of family and professionalism, and the queer obsession that settles in upon those of us that are driven toward excellence, one can see where the slip begins to happen. In these kind of situations, when we loosen our own restraints, it seems that God will suddenly find himself in the dock. And this is where the intellectual and volitional justifications start to creep in. We seek to justify our own positions continually, thus we find ourselves pushing God a little farther away. All the while, we begin to judge God and the whole religious endeavor as truly unworthy, while we do our best to hold onto the fruit, while losing the root for which the fruit comes. We become like cut flowers, no longer partaking in the spiritual nourishment that we once enjoyed.

Can I lie now?

Tim McGrew 2013

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