Saturday, December 23, 2006

On Being Nice

More on Hauerwas. I recently commented that I love his abrasiveness. However, I’ve never seen him be unkind. Quite the opposite: he is a very gracious, grace-filled man. I know this both from personal experience and from hearing the “Hauerwas Lore.”

At any rate, the “abrasiveness” comes from the gospel. Yes, that’s right – the good news of Jesus Christ. There. You heard me say it, right here on my blog in front of God and everybody (not that I assume God is a reader of my blog!).

I wonder sometimes where Christians ever got the notion that we’re all about “being nice.” Does it come from the gospels? Let’s see, hmmm. Maybe it’s the preaching of Jesus recorded there – the preaching to and about (at the same time!) the “scribes, Pharisees and hypocrites”? Uh, no, that’s probably not it. Well, what about, hmm, the stories of Jesus healing people? Yeah, that could do it – except that every time he healed someone, it turned out to be the WRONG “someone,” and it made him enemies.

Well, was Jesus ever kind to anyone? Yes – to all the “wrong people.” To the lepers, the children, the women with “a past,” the tax collectors, the Samaritan women, etc., etc. He was nice to the people who “didn’t count” in his society – the people who couldn’t help him when he got arrested by calling up their powerful friends and working a deal. He was kind to those who couldn’t return the favor even if they wanted to.

It was to the powerful that he spoke his harshest words and called his most provocative names – “bunch of snakes,” and “whitewashed tombs full of dead bodies,” etc. These are the kinds of words he spoke to those who could have helped him when he got in trouble. But those were the very people who worked against him, who wanted him arrested. These were the people of power and influence to whom he spoke harshly. He wasn’t nice to them. (One exception: the Pharisee Nicodemus in John 3 – who came to Jesus seeking the truth.)

These days we judge churches by how “nice” they are – by how many people greet us (or not) as we enter and find a place to sit and as we leave. Church growth experts tell us that only “nice” churches grow. And it’s a “given” that Christians are supposed to be “nice” because that’s how we will be able to share the gospel of this . . . not-so-nice-Jesus?

There are limits to our “niceness,” of course, and typically those limits are also the borders of our nation, or more precisely, of our nationalism. We’ll be nice to just about anyone unless they happen to be an enemy of our nation. Then, we typically reason, it’s ok to kill them and their children, or at least make life miserable for them through “economic sanctions” (the modern form of the siege). Not so nice. Not so much like Jesus.

But we do share the gospel, and we’re “nice,” and sometimes people get mad at us anyway. I think it would be great if that anger toward Christians was for the same reasons religious leaders in the first century got mad at Jesus, but it’s not. In America, the non-religious folks sometimes get mad at Christians because, well, we’re arrogant and we want power. They see the hypocrisy of many Christians who proclaim a gospel of “niceness” and then believe it is just fine to kill enemies and abandon the poor to their own resources. But when they hate us for these reasons, frequently the Christian response has been to cry “Persecution! Persecution!” And so the battle rages.

Of course, this is a somewhat more difficult problem than my description here, and not all Christians fall under this description. But enough of “us” DO fall under the description that I believe it’s safe to offer it as a generalization.

In other words, “we” are sometimes abrasive for the wrong reasons – for really bad reasons, reasons that are decidedly NOT the gospel of Jesus the Messiah.

So, though Hauerwas has sometimes been criticized for his abrasiveness, could one say that in this characteristic he is very much like Jesus? I’ve heard him say (and he may have written this somewhere, too) that if he goes somewhere to preach and doesn’t make someone mad, he feels like he’s been unfaithful to the gospel. And THAT is why I would like to be as abrasive as Stanley Hauerwas.

Precisely what is it about the gospel that is “abrasive”? And to whom? I’ll consider those questions in a subsequent post.

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