17 October 2008

Troll Under the Bridge

This was written in response to things-as-they-are where I work. It is a place where happy evangelicals dutifully work for the salvation of every soul, usually oblivious to any other expression of Christianity. This usually comes out vividly when students write for on-campus newspapers about their summer missionary activities. I wanted to submit this to said newspaper, but I think it's much to threatening for that audience.

Troll under the Bridge

When we are young and impressionable, the big folks like to tell us fables, myths, and legends to pique our imagination. Those tales most often have a purpose too. So it is with the proverbial troll that lives under the bridge. Perhaps there was a widespread desire to keep young children away from bridges. Bridges are not safe for young kids-that is easy to imagine. More likely it was to protect the ‘kids’ from what was beyond the bridge. So it may have been common to protect our cubs by fear. "You know," goes the tale, "there is a troll under the bridge that will scare you/eat you/kill you/molest you. So stay far away from that bridge." We don’t need to know what a troll is to be afraid of the bridge. It works…both ways. We are saved by fear and enticed to imagine.

Then we grow and learn how the world works. There are no ‘boogy men’--at least not the imaginary kind. And that troll never has been caught by our eager eyes. We grow up to feel safe about ‘our world’ and physically safe from the danger of the bridge, er uhm the troll. Maturity leads us to ditch the myth but no one really ever tells us it's a myth. No one ever sits us down and says, "we just wanted to keep you safe and close, so we made up the story of the troll." Forget the Viking stories that we crib from, we simply use tales as best suits us.

I write this because of my great angst about evangelicals’ collective, deep-rooted fantasy. It's somewhat like the troll story I describe, but much more sinister. Whether it be the ‘Church of Christ’, the ‘Methodist Church’, or the ‘Roman Catholic Church’ we prevent our kid-goats wandering too far from the reservation by fear. We protect them by branding the other guys as heretics, cults, or anti-Christs. And this works too. I am particularly beleaguered by the attitude we foster about the Roman Catholic Church. I wish I had a dime for every time I heard the ole line about the Catholics being idolaters, magic peddlers, anti-Christs, and a vast cult bent on usurping the "true" gospel. Many coins would be from my own pocket, sadly. If I banked those dimes I could do a lot of good.

Imagination is a good tool unless we forge it with prejudice or stereotyping. I’m now convinced that’s what we’ve done with the Catholics. We’ve painted them with our own imaginative ignorance. We, in fact, weaken our own view of God’s power when we portray the Catholics as so very influential that they can prohibit the ‘true’ gospel from peoples’ comprehension. In other words, the legend is too weighty to stand up under the smallest scrutiny. All those ‘things’ adorning the gospel are imagined by evangelicals to cloud the truth and veil the Lord from the people. Most prejudice is simply ignorance. What we miss is that all the ‘adornments’ point to Him.

While I had hurled insults at Catholics, I had never stepped inside a Catholic Church in my life. So it is with many of us. Oh, I know, many people embrace Christ ‘personally’ after having been Catholic much of their lives. Others have a sprinkling of Catholic experience because of mixed family ties. In this latter case I bet they still operated with fear and prejudice when they attended that wedding, or that Baptism. I remember once in my college years being afraid that something would happen to me while attending a Church outside my approved list. Good grief! (Shocking as it may be, Dallas Seminary was not on that list either!) Remember what that troll will do to you!

But the more sinister aspect of our prejudice is doctrinal. We simply do not understand their system. We fearfully and ignorantly reject their Episcopacy, Sacraments, Veneration of Mary and Saints, etc. The best we can muster is, “We don’t need to know what they believe to be sure that they are wrong.” Yet, you cannot disagree with an unknown. Students of history are urged to suspend judgment until they learn history’s content. That doesn’t mean to chuck judgment entirely, but you must have the facts first. Only then can you discern. In fact, then you must discern. Be not afraid of the truth, but neither be unmoved by it. You are at seminary to learn, to forge the habits that will fuel your future. If your time here is only spent learning how ‘wrong’ others are, are you not becoming a prejudiced servant?

Fear keeps us out of the woods like the 2nd generation of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village. We feel comfortable at the encampment, secure on the reservation. We don’t want to confuse our younglings with crucifixes, statues, smoke, tradition, stained glass, creeds, chants, wafers, alcohol, icons and beauty. We envision what terrible direction those things will lead their imaginations! Children are better served sitting and staring at the hymnal or the back of bro. Bob’s head. Or worse, we remove them from our company and let somebody else tell teach about the most important action in all creation, namely worshiping God. Even worse still, we remove them from worship for play and activity because they don’t understand everything that’s going on…they are stupid and unable to have, much less cultivate, faith. And they should never take communion for we are not ‘sure’ they ‘truly’ ‘believe’ in our ‘fill-in-the-blank-doctrines-necessary-for-true-spiritual-relationship-with-Jesus’. Yep, those Catholics are truly deluded and misguided.

Evangelicals champion the gospel. That name is from the Greek word for gospel, for goodness sake. Yet the gospel isn’t naked. It never has been. It has been clothed and adorned with beauty, tradition, order, dignity, and many other Catholic things. Neither are its recipients bare. We like to think that we are: that God wipes our slates clean at conversion, tabula rasa. Some folks get very near apostasy before they realize that grace’s landing strip needs maintenance. It is not tabula rasa, but tabula humanae. The human mind is vast. God created it that way. But today evangelicals usually see grace only as a heart and soul issue. I hope that you will engage your mind such that you fulfill your Lord’s summary of the Law, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.” Regarding our estranged brethren in other Churches, I hope you will struggle to honor Jesus’ words concluding the summary, “And the second is like unto it. Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these to commandments hang all the Law and the prophets.” This is especially true if you have family devoted to the Catholic Church.

Those of us that consider ourselves students of The Book would do well to appreciate the entity that for centuries preserved our Book. We would do even better if we considered their preservation of Scripture at least as authentic in devotion to Christ as our modern accretions. I implore you to move beyond folklore to fact. Call a cease-fire between those that damage one another. Most of all, carefully avoid friendly-fire. We have enough to battle with Islam and secularization crowding out anyone that bears the name of Christ. Sadly, most of us would simply rather believe in the truth of our own making. We much prefer the safe fantasy world that our masters confined us within.

1 comment:

Richard Naff said...

What yousaid.