There may be no legalism that enslaves like the endless series of laws you learn to live by when your life is underwritten by a fear of man and a fear of rejection. The rules you must abide by to curry favor and keep everybody happy at all costs are far more than the 600+ laws Jewish tradition would add to their basic moral code. Not being able to pull your donkey out of the ditch on the Sabbath is the least of your worries, and the laws given to please men are far more ornate and complex than those given in order to please God.
When you need fame, notoriety, or far more understated simply “notice”…politely put, appreciation, recognition, big or small–I’m calling that the rock star syndrome. You need the crowd’s approval to make you feel human. But I have also become aware of another syndrome, surprisingly as legalistic as the slavish code of the rock star–the legalism of the rebel. If you don’t earn their contempt, you don’t feel alive. If they aren’t scandalized, you aren’t happy. You’ve got something to prove to those guys over there. You need to be the rebel. Like that classic photo of Johnny Cash flipping off the camera (which really is a fun picture), you’ve got an ax to grind and a point to prove.
And…ultimately the rebel is living in the deathly anxiety of preoccupation with what “they” think as much as anybody else. I’m amazed at how many of our conversations and concerns center around “I wonder what this person will think about such and such” or “I wonder what that person will think about this…” I love my denomination, and plan to never leave it. But my, how much we need to know what the others in the fish bowl are thinking of us (or not thinking of us). I suppose that is not a Church of God thing and it is true of all human structures.
At this point, the unending need of the rebel to show the crowd up is as mysterious as the rock star’s need for the crowd’s approval. I believe we should be conscious of how our lives and actions affect others, as God designed us for community–we enter relationship with Him as part of a people, and it will always be so. So I’m not talking about a cavalier recklessness where we aren’t bothered if we cause a brother or sister to stumble.
But there is something so depressing to me about the sycophants who have to obey all the rules and the anarchists who have to break all the rules. Both are incomplete in the love of God. Both are still living from broken cisterns that cannot hold water. Both are incapable of truly courageous action, because courage requires knowing your identity as God’s beloved. Both are incapable of lasting change, experienced inwardly or outwardly. Both are living in the past, because these are customs of people who lived before resurrection changed everything.
I want to be part of the people from the future, which is a way of saying I want to be part of the kingdom of God. So I won’t grovel, I won’t beg, I won’t plead, I won’t raise my middle finger, I won’t work hard to annoy you, I won’t work hard to get you to love me. I don’t need to be a rock star, and I don’t need to be a rebel. I’m whole and complete in Christ Jesus, lacking in nothing. So now I’m free to succeed and free to fail, free to live and free to die. Because I won’t play by pre-Easter rules in a post-Easter world.
Anybody out there want to join me?