Lechers and Gossips

The lecherous man is such a staple of literature and television that it has a very well-documented page at TVTropes. Everyone knows about the dirty old men who prey upon the innocent young women, sociopathically using defenseless young ladies in order to satisfy their carnal desires. I was not surprised to see this trope in action when I saw the new movie adaption of the musical Les Misérables. Fantine, played by Anne Hathaway in the new movie, is a single mother working at a factory to pay for herself and her daughter, who is in the care of an innkeeper in another town. The lecherous foreman makes advances, which she spurns:

Have you seen how the foreman is fuming today?
With his terrible breath and his wandering hands?
It’s because little Fantine won’t give him his way
Take a look at his trousers, you’ll see where he stands!

And the boss, he never knows
That the foreman is always in heat
If Fantine doesn’t look out
Watch how she goes
She’ll be out on the street!

He has no sympathy when he discovers that Fantine has an illegitimate child:

Ah yes, the virtuous Fantine
Who keeps herself so pure and clean
You’d be the cause I had no doubt
Of any trouble hereabout
You play a virgin in the light
But need no urgin’ in the night.

We all know that this sort of man is a villain. Though some stories play up the humor aspect of the dirty old man, nobody seriously believes that this trait is anything but sinful. There are many, in fact, who seem to think that this is the default state of all men.

After seeing the movie, I decided to read the book. I was surprised, then, to find that the circumstances of Fantine’s sacking were different in Victor Hugo’s original novel. Instead of a lecherous foreman, she was fired through the actions of a gossipy old woman. I would say that in our culture, gossips are held to be rather harmless, minor annoyances at worse. Certainly they are not considered to be villains on the level of a lecherous man. Victor Hugo would disagree, however. Here is what he had to say about the gossip:

For prying into any human affairs, none are equal to those whom it does not concern. ‘Why does this gentleman never come till dusk?’ ‘Why does Mr So-and-so never hang his key on the nail on Thursday?’ ‘Why does he always take the by-streets?’ ‘Why does madame always leave her carriage before getting to the house?’ ‘Why does she send to buy aa quire of writing-paper when she has her portfolio full of it?’ etc. etc. There are persons who, to solve these enigmas, which are moreover perfectly immaterial to them, spend more money, waste more time, and give themselves more trouble than would suffice for ten good deeds; and that gratuitously, and for the pleasure of it, without being paid for their curiosity in any other way than by curiosity. They will follow this man or that woman whole days, stand guard for hours at the corners of the street, under the entrance of a passage-way, at night, in the cold and in the rain, bribe messengers, get hack-drivers and lackeys drunk, fee a chambermaid, or buy a porter. For what? for nothing. Pure craving to see, to know, and to find out. Pure itching for scandal. And often these secrets made known, these mysteries published, these enigmas brought into the light of day, lead to catastrophes, to duels, to failures, to the ruin of families, and make lives wretched, to the great joy of those who have ‘discovered all’ without any interest, and from pure instinct. A sad thing. (Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo. Wordsworth Classics Edition. Page 120.)

Just as a lecher will use another person for his carnal satisfaction, a gossip will use others for her emotional satisfaction. The end result is the same: people hurt and lives destroyed. Lust and lechery are clearly condemned in the Bible, and are nearly universally condemned in modern Christian society. Let us do the same for gossip and slander.

These six things the Lord hates,
Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:
A proud look,
A lying tongue,
Hands that shed innocent blood,
A heart that devises wicked plans,
Feet that are swift in running to evil,
A false witness who speaks lies,
And one who sows discord among brethren.
(Proverbs 6:16-19, NKJV)

Personal Jesus

Jared at the Thinklings carves up the post-modern idea of a personal, relative Jesus.

I’d suggest even more errant Jesuses propagated by American evangelicalism — Success Guru Jesus, Mystical Experience Jesus, Politically Correct Jesus, Fundamentalist Jesus, Patriotic Jesus, Co-Pilot Buddy Jesus, Tony Robbins Jesus, Personal ATM Jesus, and last but certainly not least My Own “Personal” Jesus.

How do we sort through these myriad Jesuses, each of which has just enough truth in them (even if just a dash) to make them dangerous, to find the real Person Jesus Christ? I think we ought to start with the Gospels, which usually are the last texts consulted. We think we are quite familiar with them, but we are not. We think we know their stories and have been building on them for years, but the army of false Jesuses marching in the hearts of well-meaning Christians testifies otherwise.

Being a Christian in America is easy. Sure, the establishment looks on you with disdain, and a few look down on you as if you are an ignorant yokel. This is nothing compared to the life of a Christian in 3rd Century Rome, or in 21st Century Indonesia or China.

A church that is not enduring persecution has time and space to grow complacent. The Church of Christ in America, without the constant threat of annihilation, has time to develop an ideology of comfort, a doctrine of prosperity. Our basic needs are taken care of. We worry not about food, shelter, money, or the other amenities of the good life. We are not rabble. We are not desperate. The God we desire is not one of the basics of life but of more important matters.

The American Christian can find a Jesus to fit his or her own life. The ideologue can worship a Jesus who stood up and spoke truth to power. The environmentalist can worship a Jesus who cared for nature. The hippie can worship a Jesus who rejected the social mores of the establishment.

I could go on, but the point is made. We cannot let American complacency lead us to seek out a Jesus who is but a reflection of our own desires. Jared makes the point that we must return to scripture, to the gospel, in order to meet the real Jesus, the living and breathing Jesus. He leaves us with a warning, however.

The Word of God — both the living Word and the written Word — is transformational revelation. If we are not being transformed by Christ and Scripture, we are not reading Christ and Scripture correctly.

And if we constantly find them confirming our sense of self and our prejudices, leaving us unrepentant or unmoved, we have the chief indication we are looking down the deep, dark well of our own heart and seeing our own reflection.

We cannot let our Lord and Saviour be defined by our culture or ourselves. The knowledge of Jesus Christ is something that defines us instead. The primary source of that knowledge is scripture. We must cut through the detritus built up by years of comfort and complacency and study God’s Word. It is there where we meet our Saviour.

Real and Relevant

Mike Galli reacts to the decline of liturgy in Christian churches and the growing desire to reconfigure the church to fit modern culture.

A liturgical service is anything but relevant. It is the last place one expects to run into cool people, and it is hardly what our culture perceives as having an “enjoyable atmosphere” (as one church website promises visitors). The leaders wear medieval robes and guide the congregation through a ritual that is anything but spontaneous; they lead music that is hundreds of years old; the prayers are formal, the talk is based on a book written 2,000 years ago, and the high point of the service seems barbaric: one can hardly imagine a relevant church webpage inviting cool people to come and eat the flesh and drink the blood of a Rabbi executed in Israel a long, long time ago. All together, it doesn’t sound like a very enjoyable atomosphere. All it promises is that people will meet God.

Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk, responds with his usual levity.

Some will always point out that liturgical churches have often gone liberal, while non liturgical churches have a more orthodox view of the Bible. That’s not cause and effect, however; that’s irony. Liberal leaders have hidden behind the liturgy and the Bible, all the while selling the store. Evangelicals have kept the store, but turned it into a Chuck E. Cheese’s.

My church experiences have been strictly evangelical all my life. Church is this: A hymn, announcements, prayer, hymns or “praise choruses”, a topical sermon, one more song, prayer. Then fellowship. The few times I have been to churches that are different it has seemed strange to me.

In the churches I have been to that emphasize the sermon, it sometimes feels like a seminar or a classroom. The preachers who hand out notes seem like my college professors, lecturing. On the other hand, churches that emphasize the music feel like rock concerts at times.

There is something about the idea of taking part in a form of worship that has gone on for hundreds of years that appeals to me, and is missing from the church services I have been a part of. Evangelical churches today seem to be all about innovation, trying to figure out how to adapt to the cutting edge of culture.

Christianity today is confronted with a culture that sees no need for God. Children are taught from preschool a certain selfish humanism, that the goal of life is to be happy, to be yourself. Young people today find apparent fulfillment in friends, music, and the internet. Life is fast and flashy.

The typical church response to the 21st Century culture is to try and adapt. People are going to movies? We’ll make Christian movies. Kids like rock music? How about some Christian rock?* Churches seem to be crying out to anyone who will listen that “Church can be just as exciting and fun as everything else in your life!”

The result, of course, is usually a pale imitation of the secular culture. Though the church has set out to make God relevant it has instead succeeded in making God more irrelevant than before to the people it is trying to reach.

Today’s culture is tomorrow’s has-beens. The dances, movies, and music of the 1950s were old and boring to the children of the ’60s. The crazy hair and outfits of the 70s and 80s are stupid to the youth of today. And sad to say, what is “cool” today will someday be yesterday’s news.

Why should Jesus Christ become yesterday’s news? If we adapt Christ and the gospel to the culture of today, then what happens when culture changes? Everything is thrown away to make room for the new. That is why churches need to hold on to something that does not go out of style – precisely because it was never “in style”.

I believe that today’s generation, myself included, is looking for something older than the latest fad or music video. Kids are not going to be drawn to a church that is a pale imitation of their culture, but rather to a church that offers an alternative to an empty and soulless society.

I don’t want to sing along to songs that were just on the radio. I don’t want to hear endless sermons on the latest evangelical fad, like the Prayer of Jabez or the Purpose-Driven Life. I grow tired of hearing about how God is like a coach or a boss – I want to learn to know God!

I want to draw closer to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The God of David and Solomon. The God of Peter, James, and John. The God of Polycarp and Augustine, Thomas Becket and Erasmus, Martin Luther and John Calvin. The same God who has held the world in His hands from the beginning of time to today, and all the eras in between!

In seeking to make God real and relevant to the secular culture, Christianity dilutes the truth of God. God is God, and does not change. Why should we change the way we worship Him?

*I am listening to contemporary Christian music as I write this. I am not hostile to it at all, but much of Christian creativity these days seems to be aimed at trying to copy the culture. What happened to the days when Christian creativity led the world in art and music? Alas, another post for another day.

Note: Michael Spencer explains why he gravitated toward a liturgical type of church service. An excellent read.