Voting on the Wolf

20 August 2018

We are children of Abraham by faith; we are called to be a blessing. We like to think that our call to blessing means we can be nice to everybody, all the time, and we’re wrong. That’s just wishing to live in a world that doesn’t exist. It is pretending that you can love sheep and never raise your hand to a wolf. That may be true for a while, but only as long as there aren’t any wolves around. When the wolves come, the shepherds fight. And the people who professed to love sheep, but “don’t want to get involved” as the wolves feast, are revealed for what they are: hypocrites, cowards, sentimentalists addicted to an insipid niceness that’s a poor substitute for love.

In Englewood, Christians stand at that crossroads. The situation will be sharpest for the voters of District 3, but the whole city is deeply affected, and city-wide discussion is appropriate. In late August, the city will mail out ballots asking whether to recall Council Member Laurett Barrentine. The voters of District 3 will have to decide on one of three responses: yes, no, or refuse to answer.

Let’s talk first about refusing to answer. In our democratic republic, all voters are bound by the challenge to civil magistrates to function as “God’s servant for good” (Romans 13:4). When a police officer ignores a bank robber, preferring to “not get involved” in such messy business, we all see this for what it is: willful desertion of his duty. When a matter comes to a vote, voters are in the same position. By God’s good providence, they are involved. (That doesn’t mean abstention is never the right thing to do, but a voter need a reason to abstain, just as he needs a reason to vote yes or no. No one gets to wash their hands, Pilate-like, and pretend that somehow absolves them of responsibility.)

Moving beyond futile attempts to remain loftily above the fray, let’s talk about voting yes or no. The charges against Barrentine are serious and well-founded. She has habitually sowed conflict and division in the city, in order to champion one side against the other for her own private advantage. This is something that God hates (Proverbs 6:19), and Christians are required to oppose it. She has used her position of power to falsely accuse those who help our poorest and most vulnerable citizens–and this while claiming the name of Christ. In that respect she is precisely what the Pharisees were, and Jesus would be at war with her, as He was with them. She has spread gossip and lies about various city employees, accusing them of incompetence, criminal negligence, and conspiracy. It has gotten so bad that a number of valuable employees have sought employment elsewhere. Proverbs tells us exactly what to do about this: cast out the scorner, and the strife will cease.

You can review the evidence for those claims at (www.englewoodrecall.com); I’m not going to rehash it all here. The point for our purposes is that if the claims in the above paragraph are true (and they are), every Christian in District 3 should vote to recall Barrentine, and should do so because they are Christians.

There is simply no Christian way to vote “no” without concluding that the claims are not true, or that there’s insufficient evidence to support them. (Given Barrentine’s talent for deception, a good Christian could mistakenly vote against the recall. I am saying that it would be a mistake, and a pretty serious failure of discernment at that.)

But the point for our purposes today is that a Christian voter has an obligation at this point to review the evidence, and having examined the evidence, to get involved. This is the kind of controversy where Christians should take a very public stand. Let me tell you how I came to that conclusion.

What Would Jesus Do?

“What would Jesus do?” can be a hard question to answer. Jesus regularly surprised everyone, even the disciples who knew Him best and walked with Him for three years. 

Jesus didn’t treat everyone the same; He knew that He had different responsibilities upward, toward God, inward, toward God’s people, and outward, toward the world. He was also called to fulfill three very different roles: priest, king, and prophet. Jesus calls us to follow Him, to live our lives by the patterns He set. Since He’s not fulfilling only one role, there’s never just one answer. In any given situation, there’s a priestly response, a kingly response, and a prophetic response; we have to ask what God is calling us to do in that particular situation.

The priestly response is to bless, despite everything, and that is where we started. My allies and I have been working hard to bless our city for years now, both on our own and in coordination with others who want to help. We now find the people we are pastorally responsible for being injured by a wolf in our midst. At that point, I felt compelled to do something more direct. 

We moved next to a prophetic response. We challenged the lies, gossip, and hypocrisy directly, naming the sins for what they were in multiple city council meetings. That was not fun, and we had to defend the necessity of it to many of our friends and allies, who hadn’t ever seen that side of us before. (Our earlier essay, “Speaking with an Edge: The Biblical Case for Hard Words,” laid out the case for doing what we did there.) Barrentine did not respond well to the rebuke and doubled down on her ugly behavior.

Unfortunately, that makes it necessary for the people of Englewood to recall her. Supporting that recall effort by talking with people, writing, putting out yard signs, and every other way I can–that’s the kingly response. I am doing that, and I am doing it because Jesus requires it of me.

This is not something like a municipal bond issue, where good Christians can legitimately be on either side of the issue. There is no Christian way of approaching this issue that leads to the conclusion “vote to keep the wolf in office.” And if you live in District 3, you can no longer avoid the question except by willfully abdicating.

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Household Codes

18 August 2018

I’ve been blessed to share a number of different living arrangements. Like most, I started as a child in a household. During college, I was in a dorm, then shared an apartment with three other guys, and started grad school with a similar arrangement. Later in grad school, I moved into a small apartment attached to a single-family home. I spent several months before I got married renting a bedroom from a couple with grown children. Since marrying Kimberly 15 years ago, it’s just been the two of us. (In case anybody’s wondering, I like the last one best.)

As I’ve put down roots in my community, I have also become an “associate member” of three other households. I don’t spend the night there, but I come and go without knocking and frequently take part in the family life. Two of these households have kids, and recently I’ve been reflecting on what it takes to be a good member of those households–places that are filled with children, but they’re not my children.

As a starting point, here’s a quick comparison and contrast between the roles of child in a family home, a member of a unigenerational household (like a house of grad students, for example) and an adult member of a multi-generational household.

Household Codes Chart

Unigenerational households and multigenerational households operate very differently. Unigenerational households tend to be fairly democratic; multigenerational households can’t be. The tiny barbarians lack the skills and impulse control to function in the world apart from adult support. As a result, there’s a much higher degree of planning and coordination, and a great deal less spontaneity than in a unigenerational household: all the adults can’t leave the house at the same time, food has to be prepared at specific times and in specific ways, the house needs to be quieter at nap times, and so on.

Childcare responsibilities are not equally shared among adult members of a household, for reasons that start with basic biology: women get pregnant, and men can’t breastfeed. Taking one thing with another, responsibilities that involve leaving the house for extended periods of time will fall disproportionately to the father, and responsibilities that can be done at home with children underfoot will fall disproportionately to the mother. (Technology mitigates, but does not eliminate, these effects.) But the sharing extends beyond just the parents. While the parents have primary responsibility for the children, and other adults correspondingly less responsibility (at least in our culture), there are spill-over effects on the other adults who live in the household.

The parents’ greater responsibility means they get—and deserve—a relatively greater precedence; there is a real hierarchy here. Other adult members of the household are expected to plan their use of common resources (cooking, laundry, and bathing facilities, for example) around the needs of the parents and children. This would be grossly unfair in a unigenerational household, but where the welfare of children is at stake, it makes perfect sense. Two quick examples here:

  • When the children are brushing their teeth and making their last trip to the bathroom before bedtime, no adult has equal claim on the toilet. Getting the kids to bed on time is important, and disruptions in the routine tend to balloon out of control quickly. So the routine is maintained, and the adults can hold it.
  • When the small children are down for a nap and that’s the mother’s one opportunity that day to get a shower, nobody’s claim trumps hers. The other adults can shower earlier or later; she can’t.

Which brings us to the subject of how to be a good “associate member” of a household with children. Every household is different, so the particulars will vary a bit, but here are some general principles to work from:

  • Know your strengths. Botching a messy diaper change makes more work for everyone. Know what you bring to the table, and what you’re better off letting someone else take care of.
  • Generate surplus. Food, time and effort, emotional labor, childcare–there are a lot of areas where you can contribute. Bachelors can afford to just break even (not that there’s any future in that, even for them), but adults who live with children cannot; kids are a net drain on the community resources for years, and the adults around them have to make up for that. If you want to live like a bachelor, move in with bachelors. If you’re going to live with a family, live up to the company you’re keeping.
  • Be good with the kids. That will mean different things in different households; make a point of learning what it means to the particular children and parents you’re dealing with.
  • Plan your use of shared resources around the needs of the children and the parents. You have less responsibility and more flexibility; use it.
  • Learn how to provide emotional support to the people around you, including the short barbarians. It might be a pat on the head, a listening ear, help with a frustrating toy, babysitting while Mom gets a shower, or bringing home a bottle of wine for the parents. Pay attention to what they need, and as you’re able, be intentional about adding value to their lives.
  • Short of debilitating injury, don’t put all your needs on the parents. Parents already have their hands full, and the children’s needs will always trump yours. Build your network and find other people to rely on. If you fall down the stairs and shatter your femur, of course the parents will do their best to help you, but even then, the children have to be cared for. Of course friends look after each other’s needs, but friends also understand one another’s obligations; no good friend thinks their own needs trump the children’s.
  • Know when to disappear. You are part of the household at some level, but you are not part of the family, and that matters. There are times the family needs their space, and at those times, the most valuable thing you can do is back off.

Parents, feel free to weigh in here. What am I missing?


Against Methods

10 August 2018

Method is sometimes an excellent substitute for wisdom — insofar as there is any such thing as an excellent substitute for wisdom. But wisdom takes time, and method is a lot easier to pass on to a bunch of people quickly.

We can’t make every day care worker, teacher, hospital tech, etc. into a doctor. But we can get them all CPR certified in a day. Wisdom is the kind of deep understanding of the body that you would need to invent or modify CPR. To just do it, all you need is a good method, taught by a competent teacher.

Method depends on slicing time in a certain way, at certain key junctures.  That works to an extent, but when life deviates from the expected, the next “slice” won’t work the way it’s supposed to — you either do it anyway, not realizing it won’t work, or you stall, not knowing what to do.

Until they are humbled by a situation their method doesn’t cover, lots of people succumb to the temptation to believe that they understand a field of endeavor, when all they really know is how to execute a particular method. But there’s a difference between monkey-see-monkey-do, aping wisdom, and the real thing.  Everybody starts with MSMD — and a wise man understands this and submits to the necessity to walk before he runs — but he doesn’t make it out to be more than it is.

There are fewer absolute rules than people think, and they often don’t apply in the way that people think.  The real world is not a postmodern goo-fest — there really are rules — but knowing which rule to apply when is a big, big deal.

In first aid, there’s a basic rule that you never move someone with a neck or back injury, unless you’re dragging him away from a fire or something similarly extreme — too much danger of making it worse and possibly paralyzing the person.  During my summer internship at a church up in Washington, we had a week-long family camp, and a man collapsed with a lower back injury while jumping rope with the little girls.  He was going into shock, and a friend of mine came and — over the vehement protests of several family members — got the man up, walked him around, and had him do several particular movements and then keep walking around until we could round up a vehicle and a driver to take him to the hospital.

The same family members who protested so vehemently were greatly surprised when, at the emergency room, the attending doctor had the man walk around and do the same movements my friend had made him do earlier.  My friend, it turns out, used to manage an assisted living facility.  While he’s not a doctor, he had seen a lot of this type of injury, and knew that shock was a greater threat at that moment than paralysis.  He knew that getting the patient up and moving him around carefully in particular ways would be safe, and would keep him from going into shock.  In drawing on his greater wisdom and understanding of the situation, he violated a basic tenet of first aid — but so what?

True wisdom understands the heart of the matter, and knows when to depart from method for the right thing, and this understanding is at the heart of many of the biblical stories. So David eats the showbread, Hezekiah asks God for mercy at the Passover, Rahab betrays her city to Joshua’s spies, Jael offers Siserah a snack and a nap, Namaan the Syrian bows down with his master in the temple of Rimmon, and many more.


Levels of Language

3 August 2018

A couple years ago, I read Paul Graham’s ruminations on higher- and lower-level languages in Hackers and Painters. Although he’s talking about computer languages, his insights have bearing on biblical language and hermeneutics. So bear with me while I lay out some of the basic points, and then we’ll look at the applications. 

  • The very lowest level of language has a very small number of things it can do. Every level up combines those basic instructions in increasingly complex ways to get tasks done.
  • Anything a computer can do, you can do in binary. But you can’t do some things in Basic that you can do in C++, and you can’t do some things in C++ that you can do in Lisp (Graham’s examples; I wouldn’t know). Lower-level languages lack the abstractions and features that higher-level languages have.
  • Perhaps equally important, many of the things you can do in all 3 languages take more steps in Basic than C++, and more steps in C++ than Lisp. The code is longer, the further down the hierarchy you go. Longer code tends to breed more mistakes, because humans don’t deal well with obsessive levels of detail.
  • Conversely, the higher the level of language, the faster you can work. If it takes 3x longer to write in (say) C++ than in Lisp, and your competitor is writing in C++, he can’t keep up with you. A feature that takes you a month to program takes him 3 to duplicate. A feature that takes him 3 months to program, you can duplicate in 1. When you’re ahead, you’re way ahead. When you’re behind, you catch up quickly.
  • A programmer thinks primarily in a certain language. Down the hierarchy, he can see that all the languages are lower level than his preferred one, because “they don’t even have [feature].” Up the hierarchy from his primary language, the languages just look weird, because he doesn’t think in them. So they have these higher-order abstractions that he can’t quite grasp, or he can’t see what anybody would ever want them for.

One other observation that is going to be important for this: good programmers often don’t solve a really difficult problem. They formulate another (easier) problem that is the practical equivalent of the hard one, and then solve that.

So given that, the analogy for biblical studies:

  • Basic linguistic/textual analysis tools like sentence diagramming or outlining are like machine code. There’s a very limited number of options, and it’s very laborious to describe what’s happening in the text.
  • Didactic literature is the next level up. It’s using the linguistic options available in a pretty basic, transparent way. 
  • Narrative comes after that. While narrative is often grammatically simpler than didactic (paratactic rather than hypotactic, and so on), there are some very complex things going on that you really can’t get at with a sentence diagram. The tools you use to decode didactic literature aren’t sufficient to interpret narrative well. 
  • Proverbs, parables and typology are very high-level, an order of magnitude beyond narrative. 

So if you think in Didactic, and you do it well enough to really have it and know you have it, then you know you don’t quite have a handle on Narrative. Narrative operates with a whole set of signifiers that your interpretive grid doesn’t know what to do with. And you really have an awful time with Typology. (This was the case for the folks that trained me in exegesis. We had a great set of tools for didactic literature, and we knew we didn’t have a parallel set of tools for narrative. And for typology? Forget it! One of our hermeneutics texts seriously claimed that we could only identify something as a type if the New Testament (didactic) literature said it was!)

Conversely, if you can operate in Typology, you can certainly handle Narrative. And when you go to prove a point using Narrative, your argument makes no sense to a Didactic-speaker, because your reasoning just doesn’t translate into his language (and it’s worse if you use Typology!) You’re using higher-order abstractions that he simply doesn’t have. If we are going to be good interpreters of Scripture, it’s not enough to grasp the didactic literature. We need to learn to read the higher levels of language as well. 

And then, because we are called to speak like God speaks, we need to learn to speak at higher levels of language, too. It comes in handy. I was having breakfast with a group of friends a while back, and one of the guys was making his case for education outside the home (and against homeschooling). His argument centered around the impossibility of sheltering your kids from the prevailing culture forever, and homeschoolers’ inability to cope with the culture when they were suddenly thrown into it at age 19 or so. He took maybe 10 minutes, and early on I told him I was going to rebut him. As he reached the end of his case, someone pointed out what time it was, and he said “Oh, crap! I gotta go!” As he was getting up from his chair to put on his coat, he said to me “But you were going to argue against that. I’m sorry about this, but can you say it fast?”

I said, “‘As arrows in the hands of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.’ You want to send your arrows out in the midst of your enemies — but you don’t let your enemies mess with the arrows while the glue on the fletchings is still wet.”

He got it. I was able to cleanly counterpoint his 10-minute speech in 2 sentences because I was able to find a way to operate at a proverb/parable/type level of discourse. Of course, that’s not the same thing as winning the argument, and I’d have really liked to have more time. But I laid out a relevant objection to his point of view and gave us room for further discussion. Not bad for 2 sentences. 

The Bible is genius-level communication, and the more time we spend with it, the better off we’ll be. Read first for what it’s telling you. After you start to have a good handle on that, start reading for the lessons in communication. I promise, you’ll learn whole new ways of speaking well.


If You Love Sheep…

24 July 2018

This post is part of the July Synchroblog on the topic of Just War and Pacifism. Scroll to the bottom for links to other participating blogs.

In the course of your Christian growth, if you never have a serious flirtation with pacifism, you’re just not paying attention. We serve a martyr king, a lamb who was slain and raised in glory. The original band of apostles were all martyred except John, and the only reason he didn’t die a martyr’s death was because he survived being boiled in oil; it’s not like they weren’t trying to kill him. Those martyrs were consciously following a tradition that stretched all the way back to Abel (see Matthew 23:35 and Hebrews 11, for example). In both Old and New Testaments, there’s a glorious history of powerful martyrdom in service to God, and the blood of the martyrs really is the seed of the Church.

At the same time, in the course of your Christian growth, you ought also to notice that God seems to approve of an awful lot of the violence in the Bible. Even if you’re inclined to a Marcionite tunnel-vision focused exclusively on Jesus, you have to address Luke 22:35-38, in which–whatever its other implications–Jesus definitely told His immediate followers to go out and buy swords in preparation for their future journeys. This same Jesus returns in Revelation 19, all tatted up and slaying the nations. He shall break them with a rod of iron….

Paul says the civil magistrate is God’s servant for good, and does not bear the sword in vain. The kings of Israel went to war regularly with God’s blessing–in fact, both David and Saul had trouble because they didn’t go to war in the way they should have. And so on — ain’t no shortage of divinely sanctioned war and police action in the Scriptures. (There’s even a reference in Numbers 21:14 to a Book of the Wars of the Lord.)

All of this has been written about, over and over again. Lots of divinely commissioned martyrs, and lots of divinely commissioned violence, all over the Bible. The basic data are not much in dispute. The question is, how do we make sense of this mess?

The answer, of course, is that we should exercise discernment. The simple answers — reflexive hawkism and pacifism equally among them — are not just bad ideas; they are temptations. Their appeal is in the way they authorize us to ignore complicating factors and reject maturity.

And maturity is required, because we really are sorting out a mess here. The basic impulse that drives pacifism is a sense that the world shouldn’t be like this, that violence is not okay. The pacifists are absolutely right about that. The world was never meant to descend into struggle and death. But God gave us real choice in the Garden. We broke the world and introduced death, and that had real consequences.

Downstream from the Fall, we live in a profoundly broken world. We need only look to places where rule of law (and the governmental violence it requires) have fallen apart to see that brokenness in all its horror. In such places, rape, murder, and every form of predation on other human beings are commonplace. The strong terrorize the weak at whim, and in the face of such horror, pacifism stands revealed for what it is: a blanket abdication of our duty to care for the poor and defend the weak and helpless. No one has a right to shirk that duty because the world isn’t supposed to be violent. (And there’s nothing more deeply hypocritical than a pacifist calling 911 to summon gun-toting professionals to do violence on his behalf. Yech.)

Our duty to care for the weak requires effective responses, and effective responses to a determined attacker generally involve maiming or killing the person. (Less-lethal solutions are getting better all the time, but they are plagued by range limitations and reliability problems. A stout knife or a firearm are far more versatile and reliable.) We are tempted to appeal to hard cases, and say that no one but God has the wisdom to wield such power well. But we cannot ignore the fact that from Noah to Caesar, from Genesis 9 to Romans 13, God consistently delegates that power to human beings.

From a woman fighting off a rapist in an alley to a nation-state fighting off an aggressor, the same principles apply all the way up and down the scale. A solid Christian response to the problem of evil encompasses an intellectual response to the intellectual difficulties, a compassionate response to the emotional difficulties, and a pastoral response to the physical difficulties, which includes being willing to draw a weapon and say, “Not today, pal.” The shepherd has a rod and a staff for a reason: if you love sheep, you fight wolves.

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This post was part of the July 2018 Synchroblog on the topic of Just War and Pacifism. Here are links to others who contributed this month. Go read them all!


All about the heart?

13 July 2018

As we approach God in worship, there’s a natural tendency to get sidetracked on production values, thinking that musical quality and such are more important than anything else. Of course, that’s not true, and evangelical Christianity also contains a strong impulse to repent of that and focus on the heart as the central thing — as it should.

1. The heart is the central thing. If the heart is not there, then the rest is worthless.

2. A right heart is not a license to do whatever you want. Because a wrong heart invalidates even the best and most tasteful production, there’s a tendency to think that a right heart validates all production decisions, and nothing else matters.

In other words, knowing that the heart is the primary thing, and without it, everything else is worthless, it is easy to slip into thinking that if the heart is there, everything else is still worthless. That it doesn’t really matter what we do, as long as our hearts are right. Not true. Does God value our imperfect production? Of course. Like a proud father sticking a 4-year-old’s drawing on the refrigerator, He sees the heart in what we do, and loves it. But it would be weird for a 25-year-old to produce the same drawing and expect the same response. A good father expects the kids to embrace their responsibility to grow up.

3. Getting your heart right is always the first priority. A right heart will discover that there are vehicles that are more fitting, and others less fitting, to express itself. As that right heart grows into adult capacities, it will find adult means of expression, not just stick to the tried and true strategies of childhood.

4. A right heart worships God, not excellence. When your heart wants to bury the talent in the backyard, you can be sure that your heart is not right. A right heart has a sense of proportion, and would rather do a good thing imperfectly than do nothing because perfection is not available. It never will be, this side of glory.


Stripped to Nothing

5 July 2018

My friend and advisor Rich Bedsoe offers a powerful reflection on how Jesus impacts history in Principalities and Powers, part 1 and part 2. They’re long pieces, but worth your time.

The question that occurs to me is, what now? The Incarnation founded a new civilization when it destroyed Caesar’s power to rule by right of divinity. Justification by faith founded a new church when it destroyed the Roman Church’s power to rule by condemnation. So what now? Something like theosis–the re-animation of the naked/dead ego by the Holy Spirit founds a new…what? when it destroys…what?

Of course the sensible answer is, “Ask again in another 150 years or so.” But in the meantime, let’s speculate.

A friend suggests that the re-animation of the naked ego by the Spirit founds a new kind of human by destroying autonomous man. This new human is no longer animated by justification alone, but by glory.

I want to chase that idea a little further, and cash out something I think is implicit in Bledsoe’s articles. Ideas have the ability to shift culture, sometimes very powerfully, but Christianity makes a substantially greater claim for itself than just some transformative ideas. I want to suggest (and I think Bledsoe would agree) that in each case, it is not simply the idea operating upon the culture. The transformative effect on the culture comes from people animated by the experience which the idea describes.

The ancient kings’ right to rule as divine was not overturned simply by the idea that men cannot be gods. It was overturned by a critical mass of people whose authentic experience of actual divinity rendered Caesar’s pretensions an obvious sham. Providence makes the contrast even starker by providing real-life satire in the person of emperors like Caligula, and in due course, Julian the Apostate.

Likewise, the Roman church’s power to rule by condemnation and contempt was not simply overturned by the idea of justification by faith. It was defeated by people who were no longer vulnerable to human manipulation through false guilt, because they had experienced for themselves the freedom of being justified by faith. In the harsh light of their new experience, the guilt-manipulations of the Roman church stood revealed for what they truly were, and again, providential real-life satire in the person of Tetzel and his ilk only served to further highlight the problem.

Today, our suspicion of all authority strips the self bare. We have succeeded in divesting ourselves of anything that would interfere with our autonomy, and as a result, we have rendered the most mundane relationships impossible. Every relational overture is interpreted as a power play, and therefore treated with suspicion. The real-life satire is all around us, if we have eyes to see. We are headed toward a world where it won’t even be possible to share a cup of coffee except by the power of the Spirit, because everything is overwhelmed with suspicion, and we’re scared we’ll be taken in.

The autonomous self, “liberated” from constricting relationships, discovers it has also rendered its much-vaunted power of choice completely meaningless. Those same substantial relationships that once constricted our choices also provided context within which our choices had meaning. Apart from that context, our choices are wholly arbitrary, and therefore meaningless.

Autonomous and alone, the self craves absolution, but recognizes no authority that might offer it; craves glory, but hates any standard by which glory might be recognizable. Everywhere people gather in elective tribes, collectives, and fandoms in hopes of re-creating a context for themselves–only to abandon them when relational problems crop up, as they always do. As substantial communities, our churches are rarely better than any other affinity group–Jeep Owners, Juggalos, or Jubilee Baptist, take your pick.

But the Spirit broods over humanity, incubating a new people. As Caesar fell before the Incarnation and the church of Rome before the Cross, autonomous man must fall before the power of Pentecost.

United with the indwelling Holy Spirit, the self automatically enters into relationship with the Father and the Son. All who thus enter are in relationship with each other as well, invited into the perichoretic triune dance. We receive this relationship not as something we might possibly earn, but rather as a gift already accomplished for us. We could not, and by God’s grace need not, manufacture such relationships; we need only steward them and harvest their bounty.

We can quench the Spirit; we can grieve the Spirit; we can prefer the flesh’s works over the Spirit’s fruit–and we often do. When we refuse the Spirit’s bounty, our benefit from one another is as insubstantial as if we were just fans of the same band, car, or TV show. But there’s a crucial difference. You can stop liking that band, and just leave the group.

You can’t escape the new birth so easily. Unlike a fandom, the new birth is a historical event, and nothing you do now can make it didn’t happen. You are a child of God forever, and your only choice now is to be a good one or a bad one. Our culture, and even most of our churches, will tell you that being a good child of God means being a great person, possessed of the kind of cleanliness everyone at the country club pretends to have, but doesn’t really. (Pro tip: they’re all wrong about that. Abraham ran off to Egypt; Samuel was a bad father; David was an adulterer and murderer, Elijah sulked in a cave, and so on. Don’t worry; you’re in good company.)

Being the child God calls you to be isn’t about moral perfection. It’s about refusing to hide your faults and flaws (what 1 John aptly calls “walking in the light”), owning what God shows you. It means being seen by the people around you and refusing to project a nice, clean image. You live in the light, and God will grow you into a great person over time.

If you hide, then you miss all the relational benefits God is offering you, and you’ll get worse every day. You’re one of those friends invited to the wedding feast who never shows up. But if you live in the light…ah, my friend, what relationships you will have!

In the context of these relationships, already provided for us, our choices become meaningful again. When we invite the Spirit to move in power and allow Him to follow through, we are not only united to God in fact, but we reap the benefits in practice. The fellowship of the triune life (into which we enter vertically) is mirrored horizontally in our fellowship with one another. In the triune dance, we find our freedom in the ability to grow into who and what we were built to be, in relation to others who do the same.