Thursday, January 28, 2010

Rules

Beve, the girls and I went to Happy Hour at one of our local, favorite restaurants this evening.  It's a pretty big deal, because it was the first time SK could come with us.  That's right, our baby is finally 21.  Or as she put it, old enough to have a 'long-ways driver's license', which she got today in the fastest trip to the DOL I've ever experienced.  I was with her, it being one of the errands on our list this afternoon, and I'm telling you, next time, I'm having my birthday in the middle of winter, because NO ONE is at the DOL!  SK opened her book to start reading, barely got through a single sentence before her number was called.

So in celebration of SK returning from a trip abroad and being of legal age, to boot, we went to Happy Hour, where we shared two large bowls of steamed clams, some calamari, two plates of sliders, and some shrimp and artichoke dip.  These girls of ours love seafood.  Always have.  E's first bite of 'real' food was a spoonful of clam chowder my mother fed her when she was about 4 months old.  E has loved it ever since.  And the Easter after SK turned one, she tasted a shrimp with cocktail sauce, and practically flew out of Grammie's arms, trying to grab the entire plate.  It was truly love at first bite for both of the girls.  Unfortunately, I think we neglected that essential step in J's development because he hates seafood of any kind, shelled or not.

We all ordered a happy hour drink tonight as well.  And I have to tell you, there's little that's more disorienting than my children ordering alcohol.  They can't possibly be that old, can they?  When I was their age--any of them--I never drank the stuff.  Nor did Beve.  In our day, Christians didn't drink. The end.  And I know there are many conservative believers who never touch the 'demon rum'.  But we do drink now.  A little wine at dinners now and then enhances the food, from my point of view.  Paul, our chief epistle-writer in the New Testament, lists drunkenness as one of the things we who are followers of Christ must avoid (see Romans 13:13, Galatians 5: 21).  A completely different thing than having the small glasses of drink we had tonight, or the wine we serve with meals. 

Alcohol is just one of the things that Christians over the centuries have created rules around. I remember a tea-totalling pastor I knew in college who told the story of interviewing at a church somewhere in the midwest, I think.  He was asked to sign a 'covenant' saying he didn't/wouldn't drink while associated with that denomination.  He refused to sign that covenant, not because he intended to drink, but because such legalism is NOT of the gospel.  "I have the right to do anything--but not everything is good for me.  I have the right to do anything, but I will not be mastered by anything."  Isn't it odd think that such rules have been created in the face of Jesus' first miracle, of turning water into wine?

But the truth is, this is what we do.  Humans, I mean.  Christians in particular.  We turn things into rules.  We do this in order to get a handle on things, in order to control situations, and in order to evaluate whether someone else is one of 'us.'  Now I'm not saying there should be no rules--heaven and God Himself know we need rules like we need boundaries, so that we stay on the path.

But those rules can run amok.  Can keep us from experiencing fellowship, from extending the Kingdom.  Or just keep us from enjoying life as He intended it, understanding the Spirit of Love, rather than living under the burden of the law.

To wit (which means, 'to witness'):
About 14 years ago, my sisters and their families, my parents and the five of us went on a camping trip to Northern California.  We now refer to it as the 'Castle Crags debacle.'  When we pulled up to our camping site, my parents had already arrived and set up camp.  My father was busy getting a fire going, and my mother had stuck signs on several trees around our tents.  One had the cooking/cleaning/helping rotations on them. The other was a list of rules.  And that list was long. No sitting on tables, no eating between meals, no leaving the campsite alone... and on went the list, to the last rule, which was, "Have fun!"  There were major problems inherent in this list of rules.  One was that J, who was 9, and his favorite cousin, M, who was 7, obeyed the 'buddy' rule completely.  They never went anywhere without the other.  However, they also wandered away from the campsite and we couldn't find them for almost an hour.  They hadn't disobeyed that dang rule, though.  They'd obeyed the law without understanding the 'spirit' of it, which was that at least one of the adults needed to know where they were.  And 'have fun' as a rule?  I have to admit, I was just about annoyed enough to sit on a table and say, "You can't make me!"

But this is what we do all the time as believers.  When we say we can't be friends with anyone who isn't like us--like homosexuals, like adulterers (except that we might be without knowing), we can't break bread with sinners.  Right?  Wrong.  We can and we must.  If we are only around those exactly like us, those who agree with everything we say, believe, do, how will we extend the Kingdom of God?  Really, how will we?  And if we're always throwing up rules in front of those around us--to be a Christian, you must X, whatever that X is--aren't we in danger of imitating the very people Jesus spent most of His ministry warning against?  Getting angry at?  Being judged, condemned and crucified by?  If He walked the earth again today, it might/likely would be those who populate the pews of the church that He'd rail against.

Something to think about, anyway.  Maybe with a nice glass of gerwertstraminer.

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