April 30, 2015

Is Self Expression Christian?

When SBS sports reporter Scott McIntyre tweeted a number of strongly worded, and often derogatory tweets to his 30 thousand followers about those who commemorate ANZAC Day recently (on ANZAC Day actually), the swift response of his employer was to sack him.

The results were predictable.  Accusations from both Left (it’s a conservative government plot to shut down freedom of speech), and Right (it’s what he deserved and no less than right-winger Andrew Bolt received who, as it happens was not supported by the freedom of speech brigade on the Left).  In other words, same old, same old culture war nonsense. Yawn.

Lost in it all is an underlying question:  How did our culture shift from viewing restraint and quiet dignity as the right thing to do, to viewing unfettered expression and throwing restraint to the wind, as not simply the right thing to do, but the only honourable thing to do if one is to remain true to oneself?

Now there is a whole load of cultural analysis just waiting to be mined in that question right there, not least of all the strange idea that “being true to oneself” is possible, never mind desirable. But it would seem that the Opray-Winfreyisation (it’s a word, trust me) of modern Western culture is complete.  Scott McIntyre did his Tom Cruise equivalent of jumping up and down on the sofa loudly declaring his undying love for Katie Holmes (a love which died, by the way).  Isn’t that the way it should be?  Isn’t repression a bad thing? Isn’t that what Frozen warns us against when it highlights the negative outcome of “Don’t feel, conceal?” (Sorry Frozen fans, let it go).

Well, leaving the secular Left and Right culture war aside, what about the Christian response to the sacking of Scott McIntyre, because I note that many Christians across the spectrum have responded to it on tweets, Facebook, blogs etc.  Is self expression integral to Christianity?  It seems to have been baptised as such in many Christian circles.  On the Christian Left it is often associated with the right to public protest and social activism, whilst on the Christian Right we see the advent of the “let it all hang out” worship service, or the house church movement in which intimately knowing everything about everyone is somehow exactly what God intended for the church. We live in a constant state of external processing.

Now here’s my confession (external processing again eh? – Ed).  I write all of this as an external processor myself.  I find it hard not to speak my thoughts.  And that is why I have not written a blog post for some time.  I have a trusted friend who is not an external processor and he has permission to contact me after a blog post and ask “Did you need to post that?” or “What benefit is there in saying that about a fellow Christian?”  I noticed that when I was tired or grumpy I was getting a few more of those questions coming my way, so I backed off the blog for a while.

When the Apostle Paul says to the Thessalonians “Make it your aim to live a quiet life, to mind your own business and to earn your own living” modern Christian readers would be forgiven for mistaking that as advice from a late 19th century Victorian magazine.  It’s just not right is it?  We should be out there proclaiming everything from the rooftops.  I’m pretty sure the Greek for “mind your own business” is something infinitely far more complex than that.  Something more like “mind your own business.”

Paul says “get off Twitter, shut down Facebook, get on with your job.”  Why? Well, for the sake of the gospel in our lives:

“In this way you will win the respect of those who are not believers, and you will not have to depend on anyone for what you need.”

Christians on the Left and the Right are at risk of get this the wrong way around.  The aim of being noisy is to either challenge or change those who are not believers, to be a burr under the saddle of the contemporary culture and its perceived ills.

Would Paul permit us to jump up and down and get noisy about things? Absolutely.  Everything is lawful.  Would Paul show us the way of quiet love instead? Absolutely. Not everything is beneficial.  And in a culture enamoured with speaking its mind to whoever will listen, the virtue of dignity and self-restraint may, just may, speak a bolder word than any placard – actual or virtual – could ever do.

Underneath the tip of this iceberg that calls for restraint is the huge 90 per cent of the problem that is just waiting to sink us.  The Bible states that we – even we ourselves – do not understand our own hearts.  To “let it all out” implies that we are in control of what is in there in the first place. Jeremiah 17:9 states:

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

That question is answered in the next verse:

“I, the LORD search the heart and know the mind..”

That should at least halt our steps as we rush to Facebook our latest indignity at some perceived sin of others.  If all Christians were required for one day in the year to simply status update their own sins, instead of someone else’s, Facebook traffic might just slow down that day.  My fear is that social media such as Facebook are the 21st century equivalent of the temple in which we go up to pray in order to point out the unrighteousness of others, and in so doing, declare our own self-righteousness.  If self-expression is revealing anything about modern Christians, it is that we do not fully appreciate the self-deception of our own hearts.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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