Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Fine Line Between Transparency and Vanity

At what point does regular vulnerability in the context of Christian community -- being "open," being transparent, revealing all problems and perils -- stop being about humility and confession and start being self-indulgent vanity? Isn't it possible that inordinately dwelling on our problems and pasts can turn us into martyr-complexed whiners?

I've been thinking about that a lot lately, particularly as many of us -- myself included -- seem to push more often the revelation of our victimization rather than the revelation of our victimizing (confessing our "pasts," as opposed to confessing our sins, in other words).

So it was timely to find my friend Bob Spencer's post today, a reflection on some thoughts from Total Church's Steve Timmis on Creating Crises. It is not specifically on the issues I've been thinking through, but I think it runs parallel. I hope Bob doesn't mind if I reprint it entirely:
Steve Timmis has a good post at the elephant in the room blog. Steve is touching on one of my old complaints about church people. Everybody wants to be your comforter. The whole idea of church life, they seem to think, is to find out what's hurting and pray for that. Nothing makes them light up more than to hear that you're feeling down, or you have some back pain, or your job is boring. It gives them something to "intercede" about!

I hope I'm not sounding too awfully cynical here. I certainly do appreciate prayer, but I think we're training ourselves to be perpetual spiritual invalids, rather than forgetting ourselves and getting involved in the mission of God in the world around us.

Anyway, as I say, Timmis is touching on that same matter. He writes:

So whereas once Christians were commended because of the way they faced persecution and death, now we face a day at the office with the same degree of trepidation — and sue God for copious grace with the same degree of urgency!

I love what Timmis goes on to say. In my opinion, it's a lesson many of us need reminding of:

Why do our lives have a tendency towards ‘heaviness’, worthiness and intensity? We could rephrase that: why do we create crises?
Part of the answer has to be that, by and large, we don’t really have any!
That sounds like it could be a good thing, but crises are one of the ways we justify our existence. They are the way we give our lives meaning and significance. They somehow make us important, or are a means of soliciting sympathy.
But part of God’s glory is that he is the God of the insignificant, the mundane, the trivial and the incidental.
In Christ we thrive in the normality of our lives, and by creating constant crises, we rob God of the glory of his superabundant grace for the common man.

I don't think Steve (or Bob) is saying we aren't to be vulnerable and open and transparent with each other. I'm certainly not saying that. Indeed, Timmis is actually focusing on what we comfortable Christians mistake for "suffering." It is the difference between taking up one's cross and taking up one's aggravations. But I think it applies.

I just think there is a point at which community may stop centering on the good news if it is bogged down with bad news. That point may vary for each community, I'm sure.

The goal is to be more neighbor-loving, gospel-proactive, and confessional than we are self-reflective, past-passive, and pitiful.


Bob said...

You put it all very well, as usual. This is something that is hard to get across to people, I find . . . anyway, thanks for the notice!

Courtney said...

wow words to what i've been feeling for a while. thanks :)