Thursday, February 25, 2021

Stir the Pot - Poke the Beast

Skin on the Pudding

When I was a child, my mother used to make homemade pudding. It wasn't a pudding that came from a package, it was a legitimate homemade pudding. I've tried to do this a few times myself, but it is more work than the Cook and Serve pudding mix and it is a whole lot more work than pudding cups. Plus, when I've tried doing this myself, I usually ended up with lumpy pudding... and it wasn't the tapioca sort of lumps. 

One aspect of the childhood pudding making that I remember the most is being drafted by my mother to stir the pudding. I learned that this was an absolute necessity during the cooking process. Because of the ingredients in the pudding recipe, allowing it to simmer would inevitably lead to a burnt layer sticking to the bottom of the pan. A good homemade pudding can be ruined by a few seconds of unattended simmering. I also remember that stirring that same pot of pudding after it was cooked, would still be necessary to keep the skin from developing on the top of the pudding. 

Now, it is possible that you may like a nice pudding skin. If that is the case, then I can't be your friend because you probably also like the little hard piece of mustard that forms on the mustard squeeze bottle or the sludge in the bottom of an old jug of tea. Pudding just shouldn't have skin. It's wrong. For those of us that know that, we solve this problem by stirring the pot. 

From this pudding-centric introduction, you probably already know that I am going to argue on the side of being a pot-stirrer, at least to some degree, but I feel that I will need to do a little more clarifying before I get into the basic tenets of that argument lest you misunderstand the debate points and read them as hate-speech. I also wouldn't want you to think that I am naturally a pot-stirrer or that I always argue on behalf of the pot-stirring crowd. If I need to, I can give a few examples of the times where someone can over-stir or over-mix... that can be equally detrimental. This all leads me directly into my main point. 

Stirring the Pot

One of the challenges that my wife and I have been wrestling with is where to draw the line with topics and opinions that tend to stir the pot. The specific topic that initiated a recent conversation we had was the stand we ought to take on wearing (or not wearing) masks. This is a challenging topic for a few reasons, but not least because it is possible for one's opinion to literally be displayed on their face. In my case, it is usually even a little more obvious than that, simply because when I am forced to wear masks, I choose to wear masks that have actual statements on them that are sharing my actual feelings on said masks. (Consider my "Placebo" mask, my "The Government is forcing me to wear this" mask or my "Maybe Orwell got the date wrong" mask.)

Another reason why this is a challenging topic is because of the strong beliefs associated with mask wearing. I know that in my own little town, I heard a preacher on the radio saying that one of the reasons why people were suffering was because of their sinful hearts keeping them from wearing masks. According to that preacher, pride was to blame in that case. In non-religious circles, I have also encountered those who blame ignorance, and operate under the assumption that any rational human being will wear a mask or two in order to keep society safe. The point in mentioning this is to acknowledge that associating willful pride or blatant ignorance as a founding part of one side of an argument will make it exceptionally difficult to have a rational conversation.

This is all compounded when people have loved ones who have died, either directly or indirectly, because of the virus. It is easy to allow the trauma of losing a loved one to affect how you see a particular side of a debate. It has become personal. To those who have this additional influencing and personal perspective I will say that I, too, have lost those that I love directly because of this particular virus. I am not coming at this conversation from a distance. The realities of these ideas have direct connections to my own emotions.

Because of this, it must be said, before I go any further that if you are reading this right now, and you are feeling motivated to discuss mask wearing (pro or con), then you might need to stop reading this post and come back to it at a different time. I am absolutely not trying to start a discussion on masks or make an argument for or against them... but the very fact that I felt the need to elaborate so extensively on the example that I was hoping to use as the stepping-off-point, demonstrates the challenge that I would actually like to discuss.  Should we or shouldn't we stir the pot? 

What just happened?

Do you see what happened here? In my effort to get to the focus of my post, which is centered on whether or not we should bring up these challenging topics, the conversation has completely derailed: demonstrating the need to figure this out. This is why, on the one hand, amongst those that are opposed to wearing masks, there are some that would feel that I shouldn't even bring the topic up. I should just leave it alone. No need to bring this topic up, it isn't really that big of a deal... just drop it. Many, but not all, in the 'no big deal' group, are regularly affected by the stares and glares of the masking crowd and will dread even the thought of someone asking them to put their masks on. Others in the 'let it alone' group will tell you that it just isn't worth it. I can definitely lean this way sometimes, and the complicated nature of even trying to type all of this out, will lean me in that direction. 

At the other end of the non-mask spectrum, there are others, who are drawing a line in the sand. "This is it..." they say, "... we will not be wearing these masks."  There is no concern whatsoever for the masked masses and their haughty glances. They are unaffected by the emotional "what ifs?" that might sway some to just slap that mask on. In fact, I know of some who have gone as far as to say that if they are required to wear a mask, then they will have to be fired, walked out, or relieved of their badges.

These first two groups of people have the exact same belief about the usefulness (or pointlessness) of masks but they disagree as to whether or not one should bring up the topic because it does, in fact, stir the pot. So, what do we do? What should we do? Where should the line in the sand be drawn? Should we even be drawing lines in the sand? (and more importantly) What do the scriptures teach on this? What sort of Biblical examples do we have to follow? This post has already gone on too long, so allow me to present a brief stance on this issue. 

The Bible Spoon

First of all, the lasting inerrancy and sufficiency of scripture in contrast to our ever-fluxuating, sin-infested culture will... by the very nature of each... never be in a state of full agreement. This means that there will always be portions of Biblical Truth that will be in conflict with portions of the current consensus truth. Speaking words based on an unchanging standard will always stir some segment of a changing society. It is unavoidable. 

I know that this doesn't fully answer the question, but it does give us a starting point. We can't expect society to be in full agreement with our stand. It just won't happen, and just like they hated Christ, they will inevitably hate those who follow Christ and teach Christ and attempt to emulate His life. 

But Masks aren't in the Bible.

Ok. True. You are absolutely right. I was a little nervous that you would read that previous paragraph and think that I've gone off the deep end and now believe that masks are like a mark of the beast or something. I'm definitely not saying that. I just wanted to start by pointing out that we can't always be in harmony with our current cultures. And, honestly, I'm trying to talk about stirring the pot -- not masks -- anticipating potential criticisms associated with the mask topic is wearing me out.

In order to answer the pot-stirring question, we will need something else to look at... something Biblical. We need a 'Bible Times' issue that the majority of the populace from that time would have felt was necessary and would have associated it with an accepted point of right-ness. If possible, it would need to contain a slight shade of risk, not only for the individual, but also for the greater community. If it could additionally be an issue that, when adhered to, would speak love to others and an issue that would have been rooted in universally accepted truth, but could have a potentially divergent application, that would be great! Let's go with the first century Jewish custom of hand-washing before a meal. This meets all of the criteria, and is the closest thing I could think of to draw an easy connection and find a clear Jesus response. 

Wash your Hands!

One text that discusses this is found in the gospel accounts. Consider this one from Luke 11:37–38

[37] While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. [38] The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. (ESV)

In Mark's account, there is some slightly different information that is shared, leading me to believe that this could have been a similar, but different instance. Consider Mark 7:1-5: 

[1] Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, [2] they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. [3] (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, [4] and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) [5] And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 

It is important to understand that in the Jewish mind, for one to disobey the commands of the Lord could potentially, to God, represent the entire community. This washing was more than just a sanitary washing of the hands. It was based on the interpretations of various rabbinical teachers, trying to lay out practical applications from those Levitical ceremonial washings that had been specifically prescribed. 

Add to that the understanding that there is more than one case of deadly consequences stemming from the behaviors of just one person or one family. There was, quite literally, a "we're all in this together" sort of perspective on these customs. Choosing to not wash their hands, Jesus and his disciples - well they - stirred the pot.

Since, by all accounts, they could have easily complied with this custom, it can serve as an adequate example to help determine whether or not pot-stirring can be appropriate. (NOT whether or not it is always appropriate.) In this particular case, it was. The Pharisee's attention to cleanly detail on these points of behavior was standing in stark opposition to their spiritual cleanliness. Jesus' decision, in this case, to NOT wash his hands, served as an opportunity to call out their sin. In Luke 11:39–40 Jesus responds this way: 

[39] And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. [40] You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? (ESV)

You are so worried about clean hands, but what about the filth on the inside? And in Mark's account we get this response:

[6] And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; [7] in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (ESV)

Their focus was completely off! They were so diligent to follow the rules to a "t" ... but they were dotting the i's and crossing the t's on a billboard message attached to a burning building. It wasn't that i's should or shouldn't be dotted and t's should or shouldn't be crossed... Jesus had a larger issue that needed to be addressed and the pot-stirring that he dabbled in wasn't without greater purpose. And maybe that is precisely where we need to think.

So, pot-stirring principle number one is to be non-selfish and purposeful pot-stirrers. If I choose not to wear a mask, just for example, I ought not to do it simply because it is infringing on my own rights or my own comforts. I believe, from Christ's no-hand-washing example, that I ought to have a greater purpose than my own selfish issues. I also believe, continuing to follow his example, that the purpose should be to bring a bigger, greater... but similar truth... to the surface. A truth that points people, in the very least, to their need of the gospel. 

What if... 

What if, in choosing to not wear a mask... and to engage in that "risky" behavior... what if I could bring to the conversation a reality of greater importance? First, that we ought not to fear what can destroy body, but not fear who can destroy both body and soul in hell. (See Matthew 10:28.) Next, that avoidance of risk ought not to outweigh the loving deeds that we do for others in the scope of obedience to our heavenly father. (See 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 and especially verse 26 and the word "danger.") 

My third, and possibly greatest purposeful pot-stirring would be to demonstrate the important reality that we are free from the pressure of society's consensus truths. I bring this third point up, for this reason: The majority of people that I know and talk to don't believe that they need to be wearing masks, and yet they do because of a fear of cultural rejection. I can't tell you how many people have come up to me in a store and said, "bravo for not wearing the mask!  It is so good to see an actual face! I wish I had the courage to do so!" How many other areas have we believed the culture was wrong but chose to say, "Not that there's anything wrong with that."?

What about Love?

One of my sons brought up a good point the other day. He wondered if simply wearing a mask, which isn't necessarily that big of a deal, would be an easy way of simply showing love to our neighbors. That is a valid question. I think that it could, in fact, speak love to some. And if one chooses to go that route, I wouldn't blame them. There are plenty of examples of this exact choice in scripture. I think of Paul's teaching on meat offered to idols. And thanks to a friend of mine at church, I'm also thinking of Paul, encouraging Timothy to get circumcised. 

I totally get that love ought to be our navigating directive, but from Jesus' response to the pharisees' hand washing custom, there is clearly room, within the scope of love, for some love-dominated-pot-stirring!  Ammiright?

Poke the Beast

In Jesus' case, the stirring of the pot served to ultimately poke the beast. His disruption of their ways and refusal to follow their prescribed outward displays of righteousness (that first-century Jewish virtue signalling), played a key role in the development of their hatred for him. This, in turn, led to his crucifixion on a Roman Cross. And I can't help but think that my own pot-stirring might ultimately serve that same purpose. 

Masks aren't important to me at all. If I am around you and you feel uncomfortable and you ask me to put a mask on... I'll do it. If you see me at work, I'll already have my mask on because my boss told me to. But if you see me out and about, I'll have my mask off, and if you are astonished that I'm not following the prescribed customs, I'll try my best to be both loving and purposeful in my response, hoping to emulate the hero of my faith and the savior of my soul. 

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