I am not a fan of dualism. For the most part I push back against simple binaries. This is not because they are inherently evil. It is because they so often do not accurately reflect the reality of the situation. They are a misconstruel of the data that neglects the complexity of variables present within most every situation.
There are three things in this chapter of Neighbors and Wisemen that stick out to me. Each of them is based around a binary.
The opening story features a passionate preacher from Tony’s youth. I grew up, not just in an evangelical environment, but in a holiness tradition. If you did not have this experience, then there may be a concept that you are unfamiliar with. It is called double insulation.
We took seriously verses such as
- Jude 1:23 hating even the clothing stained by the flesh.
- Romans 12:2 “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
- James 1:27 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
- 2 Peter 2:20 “they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.
So not only were we to protect ourselves from being tainted by sin, but we were to distance ourselves from those who did not take serious measures to keep themselves from sin.
It wasn’t enough that we were careful. We needed to be careful about those who weren’t careful.
This is why I like the way that Tony talks about two teams. I would love to hear about your experience of two teams – what did that look like in your tradition or context?
Not Reading the Road Signs
If you were driving in a foreign country you would notice all sorts of odd looking road signs. Road signs are not a universally regulated or agreed upon system. Each place is a little different.
Regardless if you recognized or were familiar with the sign – you would be a fool not observe the sign or attempt to decipher and obey them.
But when it comes to cultural road signs – we as Westerners are often guilty of doing exactly that. Stories like Tony’s interaction with this older women are fascinating to me. I am both intrigued and horrified by the cultural insensitivity that so often accompanies foreign missions.
I have experienced this ‘young people are not aloud to sit on the floor’ fertility thing. I have experienced the ‘don’t drink water too fast’ thing. I have experienced the art of drinking Turkish coffee in the Balkans.
The question is: why do we think that they are being silly or superstitious when they tell us how to proceed culturally?
The answer is an uncomfortable one. It has to do not just with cultural superiority but with an inherited and unquestioned Enlightenment mindset.
See, the problem is that the cultural behavior (or superstition) is accompanied by a physics (or sometimes metaphysics) explanation. If she had said ‘we don’t let young or unmarried people sit on the floor in our culture’ that might have been ok. But when infertility or ‘a curse’ or ‘spirit’ is introduced … we are prone to blow through the cultural road sign and say “that is silly – that is not how things work”.
There are two teams. One who knows how things really are.
My question is, why do we ignore cultural signs when we would never dream of taking that approach to signs when driving. Why not listen to the other team? Especially if we are on their home field?
The answer is an uncomfortable one.
God of the Quasar
I am fascinated by this story of reading Scientific America. I’m not questioning that God spoke to someone through magazine. I don’t question people’s experience. What I am always intrigued by people’s interpretation of their experience.
If this guy thought that God was speaking to him through this magazine … why did he not think that it was the Islamic god? Why did he think that it was the Christian god?
Especially when, as was pointed out , clearly the folks at Scientific America don’t even subscribe to the Christian god!
Is it because he had not experienced this in Islamic worship so it must be a foreign explanation? Or is it because the magazine was published in West and since there are two teams … this man who God was speaking to had to switch teams?
And if that is the case, is that the good news of the gospel?
I only thought of that because the chapter was entitled ‘Gospel’.
I would love your thoughts on any or all of this.