Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Can Righteousness be a Flaw?

I appreciate art with a purpose. Whether it's a song that drives home a point or a TV show or movie that champions some ideal, I find great fulfillment in purposeful art. You can see it in my lists of favorite movies. The Shawshank Redemption tells us, in the words of Andy Dufresne, that "hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies." Dead Poets Society urges us all to Seize the Day -- "gather ye rosebuds while ye may." I think it goes back to my days in campus ministry with Gators for Christ. We used to have movie devo's & talk about how whatever film we watched related some spiritual truth or lie.

One of my very favorite movies that's not on my Profile's list is the movie Training Day. In the film, Officer Jake Hoyt (portrayed by Ethan Hawke) has one day to prove to Narcotics Detective Alonzo Harris (portrayed by Denzel Washington) that he can cut it as a NARC working under Harris. Hoyt becomes extremely troubled when he sees how many corners Alonzo Harris cuts. However, you can't argue with Harris' "success." In the movie, Harris says:

"Today's a training day, Officer Hoyt. Show you around, give you a taste of the business. I got 38 cases pending trial, 63 in active investigations, another 250 on the log I can't clear. I supervise five officers. That's five different personalities. Five sets of problems. You can be number six if you act now. But I ain't holding no hands, okay? I ain't baby-sitting. You got today and today only to show me who and what you're made of. You don't like narcotics, get the ---- out of my car. Go get you a nice, (w)ussy desk job, chasing bad checks or something, you hear me?"

(As you can see, I'd recommend that you catch it on cable, where it's edited it out, rather than checking out the copy at your local Blockbuster.)

As the movie progresses, you are given the stark impression that it's Harris & people of his ilk that make a real difference on the streets of L.A. The normal officers in "uni's" who roll around in their "black & white's" can't make a dent in this kind of gang sub-culture. But these guys who have just a little dirt under their fingernails, they're cleaning things up. The fundamental proverb of the entire movie is this line delivered by Alonzo Harris when he's trying to sell Jake Hoyt on his team's methods: "To protect the sheep you gotta catch the wolf, and it takes a wolf to catch a wolf."

Sounds so good it's almost Bible, isn't it?! "God helps those who help themselves." Almost Bible.

My sister & I have been watching another police show via TV on DVD. It's a show about an anti-hero cop who leads a team of "unclean" cops who are trying to, you guessed it, clean up the streets of L.A. They use unorthodox tactics, take a little money on the side, & compromise a little for the main character's sense of the greater good.

We were watching the commentary of one of the shows the other night when they were talking about the flaws of each of the characters on the show. The main character's flaw is clearly his penchant for "compromise" -- he goes overboard & pays for it in spades. And in the end, some justice is done, but you're left with a sense that it's incomplete.

However, there is one detective on the show who always stands up for what's right -- even at one point when it goes against the entire system. The cops in her station, the Chief of Police, District Attorney's Office -- everybody is against her, but she will do the right thing no matter what. And she pays for it in spades. In the end, some justice is done, but you're left with a sense that it's incomplete.

And in the commentary, they're left with the conclusion that this detective's flaw must be her righteousness, or self-righteousness. And they leave the question hanging out there: Can Righteousness be a Flaw?

And as I think of this in relation to ministry, it's an important question. Could it be that in all of our attempts to be shaped like Jesus & formed in his likeness we lose a sense of humanity and, in turn, ability to reach humanity? Is it possible for us to become too pure to reach out & touch the impure? In our fulfillment, joy, & wholeness, do we lose our ability to relate to those who are empty, sad, & broken?

Where do we go for Scriptural reference? Do we look at Ephesians 5:3 where Paul says among us there is not even to be a hint of immorality? Or do we look at Jesus, who hung out with prostitutes & was named with the wine bibbers? I mean, really... how is it you can be called "a friend of sinners" & NOT have any dirt under your finger-nails?

I ask these questions of Scripture. And the more & more I've asked this question of the Bible, the more Scripture comes back with a resoundingly definitive & overwhelmingly unequivocal response:

5This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

No darkness AT ALL! 1st John 1 doesn't leave any room for grey. How was Jesus able to spend most of his time around people who had spent most of their time learning how to debase themselves? Some would say divine nature. I say baloney. I chalk it up to strength of will & self-control. The man was a man. Yes, He was God, but he was a man, too. It took all his discipline, but he resisted & maintained his integrity in the face of the devil's temptations.

And Jesus had the opportunity for short-cuts, but he didn't take them. Luke 4 gives us a peak into how Satan presented one short-cut for Jesus:

5The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6And he said to him, "I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7So if you worship me, it will all be yours."

"Come on, Jesus. Saddle up, partner! You want to start a Kingdom? Let's do it right now -- you & me! Think about it, Messiah:  no more hatred or war; no more hunger or famine; no more poverty; no more disease; no more corruption. The perfect Kingdom here on Earth. You can ease the pains of society. You can perfect what you had a hand in creating in the first place. You can make it right, Jesus. If only you will compromise just this once: worship me. Bow down to me, and all you want is your's!! You won't even have to go to a bloody cross!"

Don't you know that had to be tempting. But God's Kingdom would not be ushered in that way. It would be a Kingdom with one King, and Jesus maintained it's integrity.

If we're going to be about Kingdom business, it has to be done God's way. Compromise is the devil's way. Satan's always encouraging us to get a little dirt under our fingernails. Even tricks us into rationalizing that it will make us better servants of the King:  gaining carnal knowledge of the enemy ... we're doing covert spiritual espionage here! But that rationalization is merely a cover-up for doing whatever it is we know we shouldn't be doing.

Righteousness is no flaw. There's no such thing as being "TOO good." It's a lie, propogated by Satan no doubt, to keep us from pursuing Jesus as radically as we could be. Vigilante righteousness is no righteousness at all. If you really want to be vigilant for something:

"Guard your heart with all vigilance, for from it flows the wellspring of life."
Proverbs 4:23


Jonathan Storment said...

Dude, good hearing from you. I enjoyed reading all of your blogs, especially the one about the American beautitudes. I still remember that chapel. When he said that about blessed are those who wear the right sweaters and sit in the right section of the student center you could have heard a pin drop. About my one word titles: I have tried to strip down most of my teaching the last couple of years and just get to the stuff that's essential. I guess it's a reaction to the information overload we go through, but I like it better, the blog is just part of that. Bob Turner accused me of being postmodern for it. I didn't think of it that way, I just like it better. Hope life is going well for you.

Lloyd said...

Spot on. Can God use people with dirt in their fingernails (and eyes, hair, other orifices, in my case)? Oh yeah. That's one of the things that makes His power so surprising. But, as you say, Satan would have us believe that this is the ideal. I think the main reason that Satan's logic is so attractive for Christians who want to "do the right thing no matter what", is simple. It's not that we really want to hang out in the dirty part of town (we've got enough evil desires on our own without looking for more). It's just that the people making the compromises are often the only ones doing anything at all. The rest of us are just sitting in our houses pretending the wolves don't exist. And given the choice, it looks like God would prefer some work getting done to none at all. It doesn't make compromise right, it just makes us lazy servants.