Looking back over my nine day holiday in England a number of common themes came up in all the places we stayed. A major interest of the Renaissance was a renewed faith in the intellect. With the advent of the Modern era, humanity was going to solve all the problems of the past. The violence of the Clan system of Scotland, the filth of the plague, the inferior tribal systems of the colonies; all this was going to be sorted out by the discipline and the intelligence of the British people.
The sad truth is that for hundreds of years every generation has considered itself intellectually and morally superior to the generations before. It’s still true today. We are convinced that our networks, technology and mobility will bring the world closer together and allow us to develop a superior individual morality and while the world is getting smaller, we are more isolated than ever.
The primary measure of humanity continues to be ‘Good’ and ‘Bad.’ We are good and those other people are bad. If I am good it will go well for me and others will like me. People who are bad deserve to have bad things happen to them (and come to think of it perhaps we should be the ones to make it happen to them). Barbara Brown Taylor writes in An Altar in the World, “the operative categories are not ‘bad’ and ‘good’ but ‘dead’ and ‘alive’.”
What really defines the difference between me and these people I’ve learned about from hundreds of years ago is that I am alive and they are dead. Their stories have ended. They are being told today; maybe even incorrectly. My story isn’t done yet. It’s not that it is a better story; it’s just that it’s still being written.
In addition to the obvious sense of being dead and alive, those who live follow a way of life or a way of death. Being a follower of Jesus Christ is not a set of beliefs that I profess, or even moral directives that am compliant with. I am a follower of Jesus because of who I trust. I cannot be good. I can only trust Jesus Christ to be good for me. A follower of Jesus continues in the way of life: Jesus (John 14: 6)
A drunken sod, abusing alcohol or other substances is following in the way of death. While his heart beats the same as mine, and he keeps breathing just like me, he is following in a way that does not deliver an enduring or abundant life. But how do you communicate that authentically without slipping into the morally superior good / bad language that makes people so defensive? It’s not that I’m good and you’re bad. We’re all bad; the folks at the Tate Art Gallery in London had it right, “We are evil.”
Walking in a way of life leads to every increasing glory for the one whom you live for. You can bear the greatest suffering if it is done as a witness to the one who has made this all possible.
The way of death is known for being a diminishing return. You know you are participating in the way of death when more of the same elicits a diminished return. It takes more of the same to provide the satisfaction you used to receive. When walking in the way of life you get greater and greater returns for what you invest.