Well, I must admit, I am a little shocked. Last week, on the podcast, Matt and I announced with sure and certain knowledge that the annual traditional, celebration of “pride” would unfurl over our neighborhood on the first, or perhaps even the second, but surely by the 3rd of June. All the people who, year by year, lovingly tuck their little flags and their Love is Love signs in among their peonies would get right on it. Indeed, I was braced and ready, because it deeply depresses me to see it happen, and so I set my jaw and prepare to pray more persistently. I walk day by day past these settled, quiet houses feeling the deep and true alienation reflected in those very flags. We want to belong to each other, but we have no way to reach across the chasm of the self, to find any connection beyond the amalgamation of outward characteristics and unholy desires.
But, apparently, we were wrong. Although the month is still young, it looks like most of the people around here have opted to put out an American flag rather than a rainbow. Is it possible? Has the pride flag suddenly, with but a whimper, lost its power to confer not only goodness, but also blessing? What happened? Was it Dylan Mulvaney? Or Target? Or fatigue? It’s not the Christian chicken because we don’t have that up here.
The main thing that most people want–I keep saying this to myself because I forget it all the time–is to be good, or at least to be thought good. Remembering that basic principle is the only way to make sense of the so many shifting and changing mores and memes of the moment. Why is it ok to do or say something one minute, and then the next minute no longer? Because the definition of what is good changed, suddenly, and everyone, with barely an inconvenience, adjusted their thoughts and actions accordingly. Indeed, they didn’t remember that a few minutes before they disagreed with the current iteration of their new, bright moral or spiritual vision. They always hated Bud Light. If they ever drank it, it was because it was convenient, and not for any other reason. In this way, one flag is traded for another and another.
Make something shameful, and people will try not to do it. They might fail, but they’ll try. They’ll do everything within their power to at least outwardly conform to what they think will divest them of any hint of shame. That’s what the rainbow flag and the Love is Love sign represent–the easy and unmistakable opportunity to be rid of shame, at least in the eyes of all the neighbors.
This is Trinity Sunday, as Anglicans, at least, know. What is so difficult about the Trinity–besides it being the easiest kind of Christian doctrine to describe heretically–is that God is the ground–both literally and metaphorically–of who we are, derivatively of course. We aren’t God, but because he made us in his image and after his likeness, we are inclined towards the same kind of social and spiritual goodness that characterizes God in his essence as love–and truth and goodness. His image and likeness binds his creatures together, rather than rending them asunder. Inclined, though, because of the fall, also disinclined. Because of the fall, we are quick to trade real goodness, real communion, real love for the counterfeit, the appearance of those things without their substance.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was soBe. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
We set out our pots of geraniums and shove ourselves into our summer leggings morning by morning, collapsing into bed at night disappointed, wishing we could have been happy after all. And behold, it is definitely very “good,” we tell ourselves and each other, trying by the power of our money and our aesthetic sense to be acceptable without having the inconvenience of worshiping a God whose very nature and character is to draw each person so closely and completely in. As the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are always in perfect communion with each other, so perhaps we could not be that close, but certainly that good.
Try, always, but without being able to succeed. I guess there is a documentary out about the Duggars called “Shiny Happy People.” I will probably do my best not to watch it. Based on how many people on Twitter are expressing the sort of delighted horror that each of us feels when we discover someone else being bad, I know I won’t enjoy it, or discover something I didn’t already know. I haven’t watched “What Is A Woman” either because, in the same way, I already know how destructive someone committed to their own brand of goodness can be. A mother who decides to embrace “gender-affirming care” for her child is at least as bad as the Christian who exchanges legalism for the gospel. Both kinds of people are trying, very hard, to be good. As long as enough people around them partake in the same image and likeness, everyone is ok. But the tide inevitably recedes, and the ugliness is seen for what it is. And then everyone else has the opportunity to feel better overall.
There is another way of being good, though, of finding the chasm close over, of discovering the deep communion for which we were created. That is to turn to the real Jesus and look humbly at him. It’s hard, of course, because he isn’t here. He is in heaven, seated at the right hand of the Father. All authority in heaven and on earth belong to him. And so, because he is good and all his works are kind, he has given each person who belongs to him the Holy Spirit. For all outward appearances each of those people is alone, unhappily drifting, bereft of what matters, in a sea of other people’s goodness, unable to establish their own. But appearances are usually deceiving. In reality, the person who belongs to Jesus, who is being listened to by the Father because of Jesus, who has the Holy Spirit because of Jesus, that person has the authority and power to speak and call others into that same communion:
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
What a task–to go. To keep going over and over again to so many people who want to be good but can’t, who want to belong but don’t that Jesus is the one who has the power to keep them, in himself, forever. Paul sums up the problem for all Christians rather nicely: “For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.” We cannot, because the Holy Spirit is making us into the image and likeness of Jesus day by day. He is establishing the perfect and unchanging goodness of God in you as you try to love him. Seriously, go to church! A Good One, not some weird bad one. Praise him according to his excellent greatness. It’s the only way.
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