Monday, March 09, 2009


Here's a question. In the attempt to find middle ground so much of the time, have we neglected zeal? Have we become too conciliatory, even complacent?

And then, in a "Screwtape" kind of twist, have we called our complacency good by affirming the importance of grace-filled, respectful dialogue to the detriment of zealous pursuit of God's mission in the world?

I know, I know. Just read the description of my blog in the header above this post and you'll realize that dialogue is important to me. The conversation really does matter, this I believe. I just wonder sometimes, at what price?

In John 2, the scripture for this week, Jesus marches into the Temple and makes a whip with which he scares away the animals being sold for sacrifice. He then overturns the tables of the people exchanging their money for Temple currency with which to buy the animals, now driven away by Jesus's zeal for God's house. Essentially, Jesus is pissed off! And by putting this story at the beginning of his version of the Gospel, John emphasizes that Jesus's entire ministry is motivated by his passion for God, for God's house, for God's people, and for God's way.

There is no respectful, grace-filled dialogue in this story.

See, I think maybe we shouldn't look for middle ground all the time. And furthermore, I think that when we disagree, we can do so with zeal and passion without worrying about violating some unwritten rule about not offending another person. There are times when another person needs to be offended, and I may just be the one to do the offending!

But maybe, just maybe this isn't an either/or proposition. Perhaps we can have respectful, grace-filled AND zealous, passionate dialogue, all at the same time! It is fear that keeps us from this pursuit. We are afraid of losing favor by expressing our zeal to it utmost. At our core, most of us just want people to like us. And there's really nothing wrong with that.

And what's more, we are afraid of the attacks that may come. Blogging has taught me a lot about the difference between expressing an opinion with zeal and being a jerk. One of the biggest issues with blogging is the freedom allowed by anonymity, which allows many people to disguise simple jerkiness with a veil of zeal. But it is a thin veil indeed, and very easy to penetrate.

But if we zealously confront that which is counter to God's mission in the world with righteous energy and restlessness for what is right, we can do so without being a jerk about it. Public figures who are trying to spout off sound-byte worthy phrases do not have zeal, they are being jerks. But, in another twist that "dear Wormwood" ought to try some time, the jerks plead zeal for their cause as an excuse for their atrocious behavior, making admirers and millions of dollars along the way.

So I would really like to reclaim zeal as a good thing, and especially within the context of respectful, grace-filled dialogue. Enough with the artificial middle ground; enough with being a jerk in zealous clothing. Let's really be "Christlike" again and show a bit of zeal for what really matters to God.

So I'll ask you - What are you zealous for? What fires you up? What really grinds your gears (and not in a Peter Griffin kind of way, but really)?

For what would you be willing to make a metaphorical whip of cords and drive some metaphorical sheep out of the metaphorical Temple?


Kory Wilcox said...

I am generally the most zealous when confronted with trustworthy and educated people who blatantly disregard the context of scripture and/or refuse to admit that there is an original language many thousands of years older than our own that in some cases simply lacks the words to specifically talk about some modern issues.

I get even more zealous when these same people personally go on to great lengths to convince me, obviously the "uninformed," that their bible really does specifically talk about those issues.

There's a converse to most of this as well. :-) grrr. whip!

Larry B said...

Love the post - especially the Screwtape reference in regards to calling complacency good.

I think you can have zealous conversation that is not offending with a person with whom you have developed a mutual trust with. Trying to do it with somebody just off the street is probably not such a good idea.

As for what I might be zealous about - hmm. Perhaps I fall into the complacency is good category. Having served on and chaired SPRC I tried hard to mantain a balanced perspective. Maybe that's carried over too much into other areas.

Catriona said...

I am most zealous when confronted by people who are also zealous in their unshakable belief that they are right. Believing as you do in grace-filled dialogue, I want all people to at least listen to others' views respect, even if their own are not changed in the process. It is difficult to grow in our beliefs unless they are occasionally challenged.

It is easier to be zealous when one has facts to back up one's conclusions. The problem with faith discussions is that at the end of the day, it comes down to what one believes, and belief cannot be proven. That's why it's called faith!