Tuesday, May 07, 2013

On Abstinence, Austerity & Arrogance

“No one ever talks about it
But no one can disguise
The cloud of competition
That's hanging behind their eyes
There's more bad blood
In this bar than there is beer
And it's subtle but it still sucks
And I want out of here
We got egos like hairdos
They're different every day
Depending on how we slept the night before
Depending on the demons that are at our door”

~ Ani DiFranco

Two themes have intersected in my social media world, one being the recurring conversation on the lingering effects of the purity movement, the other being a critique of radical missional Christian practice.

The first conversation is one I have been participating in for years now, unpacking the baggage of my own experience with the True Love Waits and associated movements. 

The second conversation got my eyes rolling: “Really? These people have nothing better to do than critique a call to live more simply in order to live the way of Christ? They want so badly to give into the messages that a comfortable life will be fulfilling that they have to find something wrong with choosing to restrain your desires for more? 


[Insert deer-in-the-headlights look]

It didn’t take long to sink in, as much as I resisted with every fiber of my being: there’s some truth here. 

If I don’t sit, and breathe, and listen – I am missing an opportunity to start speaking positively into lives before they start resenting a beautiful and well-meaning movement the way I did. 

Here’s the thing – as much as I loudly & boldly critique the purity movement, I still see beauty in the practice of abstinence. 

And as much as I see beauty in the practice of austerity, I have to be willing to listen to even the quietest critiques that come up against it. 

Asceticism of any form can be a powerfully centering and freeing spiritual practice, and to step voluntarily into that discipline is to be commended. 

However, if history teaches us anything, it’s that the human ego is a powerful thing. When we are practicing a discipline, we want others to be just as passionate about that same discipline – it validates our own experience. Particularly young, zealous practitioners may be prone to wear the practice as a badge of superiority, even if they don’t explicitly state that. I know that my own practice of abstinence and everything I had been indoctrinated with put me in a place to unfairly judge those who, for whatever reason, did not follow the same discipline. As Ani said in her lyrics above, it was “subtle” but it still “sucks.”   

And when we are judging others by the standards that feed our egos, we are also judging ourselves. When we are unable to forgive others for being at a different place in their journey, we are unable to extend grace and forgiveness to ourselves. We are unable to accept the grace and forgiveness we have already been given. We are unable to be a light along the way, and we end up stumbling in the dark, practicing control when we should be practicing love. 

So, I want to sit and listen, and hear the hurts of these students who don’t feel they’re living up to “purity” of a radical, missional lifestyle. And I don’t want to assume that their hurt comes from a desire to live a McDonaldized life in a gated suburb with the picture perfect family, but because they truly desire to walk an authentic path of love: love of God, love of their neighbor, love of their self. I want to help them see the variety of ways people are living out the idea of being an “ordinary radical” and of doing “small things with great love.” I want them to know their worth, so that they are free to open their hearts and shine into other lives, unveiling the worth of everyone they encounter.  

“I got my kitchen stocked
I got my door unlocked
There're no demons here
And I don't really care
Whose name is printed in bigger type
You know I live in a world full of hope
Not a world full of hype
I ain't no saint
I help myself to what I need
But I help other people too
I sleep soundly”

1 comment:

Jim Banks said...

Kim, this is great. As always I love your insight. Good stuff. Be blessed.