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Interfacing


(actually written 26 July, 2011)

Interfacing

There is a term used by sociologists in relation to alternative lifestyle communities, and it is "interfacing".  Interfacing refers to how the alternative groups interact with the larger society.  In this article I would like to take a look at how those relations can be necessary and helpful, while also remembering that they still need to be treated with caution.  I would also like to consider how this approach to the Kingdom of Heaven vs "worldly" relationships may mirror some other differences in thinking as well.  

First, however, let's examine how totally unavoidable interfacing is.  Take a hermit living in a cave.  You would think that such a person has no interaction with the rest of society at all.  But this is rarely true.  Our good friend Suelo is the most dropped out person I know of, with his determination to survive without money, even to the point of living in a cave much of the year.  I don't know the specifics, but I think he still raids supermarket dumpsters, hitches rides in other people's cars (or on trains), and visits shelters and soup kitchens, etc. in his journeys around the U.S., even though he never uses money himself.  All of this is how he "interfaces" with the rest of society.

Sadly, reference to such things is too often given by "systemites" as justification for rubbishing everything that an alternative person or group may be saying.  Kind of like saying, "If you use what we throw/give out, then it proves you could not survive without us, and if you cannot survive without us, you have no right to criticise us."
If there is any truth at all in what they are saying it could be that we need to not get too cocky about our alternatives.  But, of course, we could just as easily argue that, because we ARE a part of the bigger society, then we have as much right as anyone else in it to make criticisms.  There really is no justification for the push to silence those who disagree with the way the world operates just because they use things that the world makes.  

But that aside, what about interfacing in general?  Is it good, bad, or indifferent.  The answer is yes.  (It's a bit of all three.)
Sometimes when we read the gospels, we miss hints about how Jesus interfaced with the rest of society.  True, he was coming to build a kingdom which is invisible, and quite distinct from any earthly kingdom.  And true, those committed to a more temporal/material vision of life ended up killing him.  But does it make everything about the material world evil?  I don't think so, and I don't think Jesus did either.

Jesus said of his disciples that we are "in the world, but not of the world".  God has never had a problem finding people who are in the world.  The problem has always been finding people who are prepared to turn their backs on the rest of the world in order to build a better one.  But, in doing this, we do not leave the planet, and we do continue to interface with the worldly system that we have essentially rejected.  

Tensions between being "in" vs "of" are also expressed in the common complaint about some religious people being "too heavenly to be any earthly good."  I don't think "heaven" itself is the real problem, but it is possible to be too theoretical to be of any practical use.  Take those references from St. Paul about the "works of the flesh".  Some have taken them so far as to think that all thoughts of sex, expelling gas from between your legs, and even eating are evil in themselves, simply because they involve our human bodies.  Obsessive guilt over just being alive, or experiencing any pleasure seems to be a distortion of what was really intended.

And there is, I believe, scriptural support for this.  That first miracle of Jesus resulted in something like 60 gallons of wine for a wedding party.  Unlike most of his other miracles, this hardly seemed like a necessity, nor did it seem to be meeting any obvious spiritual need... unless one is to assume that Jesus actually saw people enjoying themselves and having a good time as being part of God's plan for the human race.

Jesus was notorious for "eating and drinking", while John the Baptist was the one who fasted and lived a rigorous lifestyle.  There were places for both, and Jesus obviously was disciplined as well, but the Bible writers at least took note of important signs of indulgence on the part of our Lord as well, thus giving us room to negotiate between the hard line and the soft line on ourselves as well as others.

Then there is the matter of money.  The Gospel writers saw fit to let us know that Jesus and his disciples actually used it, and that they had a bag in which to hold it.  Jesus didn't just tell people to give their wealth away.  He instructed them to sell it first (i.e. turn it into cash) and THEN to give that cash away, probably over a period of time.  Selling stuff seems so unspiritual and worldly; yet that was part of the instructions.  The early Christians (we are told) sold their possessions and brought the money to the church leaders, to be used for the good of all.

What I'm seeing here is a mature understanding of the disciplines that Jesus taught, without errors that could lead to some of the more dangerous signs of fanaticism.  But I also see these two forces as being on different levels to one another.  By that, I mean that the primary emphasis of Jesus was on getting people to make sacrifices, discipline themselves, and just generally forsake the world and its ways.  However, it was in the context of life within the real world, where good people could still be found doing good, despite all other complaints about it.  

We are looking for a time when Jesus will return and revolutionise things from top to bottom, putting all the good guys together in one group; but in the meantime, we sincere believers become the "salt of the earth", preserving the world for just a little bit longer, while we do our best to communicate to them how it could be if everybody would do it the way that Jesus taught.

Now I'm going to give several different comparisons to what I have been saying here about our relationship with the world, where we don't totally reject what may be a lesser good (our interfacing with the world), but we do try to keep it in submission to a greater good (the disciplines of the kingdom of heaven).  

I will start with a comparison of the emotional and the rational.  I have taught for some time that the rational is most important, and I have likened it to God the Father; but emotions are also important, and they have, for years, been left out of much of the religious world.  Pentecostals changed all that, with their emphasis on the Holy Spirit, and the gifts of the Spirit.  Problems developed. however, when groups became totally led by their emotions.  Deception, confusion, and perversions took over.  So emotions are good; reason is better; and both together are best.

I have also compared this understanding of the relationship between reason and emotions to the "male" and "female" sides of the brain, suggesting that biblical references to males and females may be better understood if we recognise that all of us have both sides of the brain.  Instructions about women submitting to men may be primarily telling us all to let our emotions "submit" to reason, at the same time that reason needs to love and appreciate emotions.

In fact, this whole study has come from observing what has happened over a lifetime with Cherry and me.  I have pushed pretty strongly such things as forsaking all and living by faith, while Cherry has been more dedicated to little practical things like caring for our kids, cleaning up after people, cooking tasty meals, etc.  Much of it seemed quite unreligious, but it was eminently practical, i.e. of much earthly good.

Most of my life I have not carried a wallet or money.  It sounds rather Suelo-ish... quite heavenly, in fact.  But Cherry has always been nearby, with her handbag, in which were I.D. documents, prescriptions for medicines, money, pens, etc.  All the "worldly" stuff.  And I would simply turn to her when I needed anything.  She paid the bills, shopped the specials, filled in forms, etc. while I tended to see myself as preserving the spiritual purity of our family.  But what was really happening was just that we had two halves working together with both halves appreciating the other (though I have rarely done a very good job of expressing that appreciation) but with the "worldly" half recognising that the "spiritual" half needed to have the final say.

You can see it in the gospels.  Jesus never preached against cooking and cleaning, but one could wrongly assume he did because he reprimanded Martha for letting those duties become more important than hearing the teachings that would make them all fit together within a whole new world called the kingdom of heaven.  Likewise, interfacing with the world is an important part of our Christian service; it's just not the MOST important part.

Another comparison would be that between pastors and prophets (or teachers).  Or to mix this up a bit, liberals and fundamentalists.  The pastors or liberals are going to be less inclined to worry about some of the behaviours and beliefs that would cause teachers and prophets to cry "Heresy!"  Yet it's the pastors and liberals who will win over the masses.  If the liberals take over the church and boot out the prophets (as seems to be happening today), then the church is in serious trouble.  But if the prophets fail to appreciate the special role that the liberals play, we may cease to be heard.  We see people being sucked into the ways of the world, but we also see people being possessed with angry, bitter, self-righteous spirits, like the one that recently led a right-wing fanatic in Norway to murder nearly 100 people in the name of Jesus.

Paul said to the Corinthians that he wished that they all could speak in tongues; but he said that he would prefer that they could all be prophets.  In other words, emotional experiences are great for the church; but sound doctrine is even more important.  We need the liberals, but we also need the fundamentals.  (I think that the term "fundamentalism" largely refers to what happens in any religion when all the more liberal elements are ejected, and all we have left are theorists.)  The fundamentals are definitely the most important; but if we are really looking for the fundamentals of the  teachings of Jesus, we will find a lot of liberal policies that are a part of it as well.  By all means, let's get back to the Cornerstone, but that will involve a whole lot of tolerance, sincerity, and generosity.

In case it has not yet come across in this article, what I am trying to do here (in my traditional role as a "teacher") is to formulate a sound doctrine which takes in the need to tolerate (with fear and trembling, if need be) the views and actions of people who do not "follow the rules" just as I do.  It will take a lot of wisdom (and probably more years than I have left) to get it right.  Getting it right seems to mean staying true to all that Jesus taught, while still getting so close to sin and the world that we scare ourselves and others, but all for the purpose  of  becoming some earthly good.  

Sure, it's a teaching that will be abused.  (What teaching hasn't been?)  And it will hurt to see some people take their freedom to reject the old ways and go away never to be heard from again.  But as long as they're not fighting us, and as long as they are continuing to gather people together to hear what Jesus is saying, and to prepare for his return, to that extent, the kingdom of heaven is being built.

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