Because of a couple of conferences and a retreat over the last few weeks, I have spent a lot more time on ferries, sky-trains, buses, etc, than usual. Happily, this gave me the opportunity to dive into a few new books. If you’re like me, you often don’t feel very “saintly”—which is why we all need periodic reminders like this one from Eugene Peterson’s Practice Resurrection:
I want to give you a new word for yourself, a word that gets beneath all appearances, behind all roles and functions, a word that defines you primarily in terms of who God is for you and what God is doing in your life, a person who is growing up in Christ, a person who cannot be accurately identified apart from God’s intents and persistent attention… Saint. Holy.
This involves a radical shift in perception both of ourselves and of others. We grow up in a society that evaluates us by appearance and role, by behavior and potential. We are endlessly tested, examined, classified, praised, damned, admired, despised, flattered, scorned, kissed, kicked… as thoroughly secularized things. Not by everybody, of course, but by most. The institutional way of looking at us in our schools and businesses and governments gives its imprimatur to this systematic and pervasive de-souling, de-personalizing, and, in the end, debunking of anything in or about us that has to do with God…
The most important thing about any one of us is not what we do but what God does, not what we do for God but what God does for us. It is because we know what God does in and for us that we are no longer lost in the cosmos.
This idea is certainly part of Christianity and an important one for understanding who we are.
At the same time, all the negative things he writes about “society” and the “institutional way of looking at us in our schools and businesses and governments” are there in the church as well. In my own experience, the church has been the worst. The university has been the best, although certainly unsaintly still. I have never associated with a people more damning of others than in a church.
Yes, sadly the church is often virtually indistinguishable from any other institution in its treatment of people. We are saints who are frequently in need of repentance…