Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Speaking of Moral Examples

I have intentionally been out of the 24 hour news and blogosphere cycle for awhile. As I dip my toes back in one of the first stories I read concerns Shirley Sherrod, the USDA official who was forced out of office after a Washington Times columnist and Fox News regular passed on a snippet of an old speech she gave that had her talking about not wanting to help a white farmer because of his race. Sherrod is black.

Apparently without even checking the facts of the story the Obama Administration dropped her like a hot potato. But if you actually watch the extended clip of her speech you see that she was telling the story of how she had to overcome her learned prejudices and learn to treat all people equally. She is telling a great story about her growth as a moral person.

Shirley Sherrod is exactly the kind of person we need working in government. It is embarrassing anyone in the Administration took seriously something from Fox News and disgraceful that she was let go. Hopefully Obama will quickly make amends.

On Being a Good Example

Yesterday I started reading Philip Gulley's If the Church Were Christian: Rediscovering the Values of Jesus. In his opening chapter he tells the story of being a young person in church hearing a preacher say "Some people will tell you Jesus is only an example for how we should live. But anyone can be an example."

Thirty years later Gulley says he knows better than ever that this isn't true. Living the kind of virtuous life that makes one a worthy example for others to follow is very difficult. To say that it somehow diminishes the story of Jesus if he is 'only' a moral example is to ignore the simple fact that we rarely encounter individuals who so embody the qualities associated with Godly virtue. In our lifetimes we are fortunate if we come under the influence of a few who come close.

If Jesus was one of these rare individuals - and I suspect he was - it is not hard to understand why he would have attracted both followers and enemies. Authentic individuals who actually live by the highest values attract company. We want to be in their presence. We want to learn from them. We want to be like them.

They also attract enemies because they have authentic power, not supernatural power or power obtained through violence, wealth or stealth, but the kind of power that comes naturally from becoming during their life-times a brighter and clearer light, the kind of light that stands in sharp contrast to and exposes the corruption and dishonesty and violence that so often are the tools of those who are in power.

It has been my experience that taking Jesus off the Only Son of God pedestal and making him fully human actually makes it much for difficult to be a follower. What we are being called to do as followers is not to believe in him but to live as he lived. Imagine what the world would be like if Christians simply lived more simply, or forswore the use of violence of any kind. The world as we know it today would truly be turned upside down. We would say the kingdom of God has come on earth.

Am I asking too much? The world is fallen and we need the grace of God to save us? Then we are looking for the easy way out - or up. Making Jesus into our ticket to heaven is cheap grace. Letting him be an uncommonly virtuous son of God who challenges the rest of us sons and daughters of God by word and example to live as he lived calls us to a lifetime of growth and transformation.

Oh, that Jesus would 'just' be an example that we spent our lifetimes emulating.