Wednesday, August 10, 2011

What is the deal with Holiness?

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty. Anyone who has been around the church for a while knows this scripture, song, liturgical element. And most people have heard a hundred different explanations as to what holy means. God is holy, we are supposed to be a holy people, but we still struggle with just what that means... to be holy. We struggle because we don't know what being holy means, and we struggle because we think we do know what it means.

The best description I have heard of holiness is: utterly different than... in a good way. So you have your regular dishes, then you have your different dishes, your best china for special occasions. So God is completely different from us, and we are to be completely different from the world. Now that may sound kind of crappy, and it sure could be and often is, if we get this wrong. And boy do we get it wrong.

I have been told I am not keeping the Lords temple (my body) holy, by getting tattoos. Based on a scripture verse in Leviticus that is preceded by don't cut your beard (um, I notice that nice clean shaven face you have there buddy). I am constantly told that my damn language is not holy. We also hear about how the "sanctuary" is meant to be holy (one church hosted a wedding and they had to move to the other side of the church for reception because no drinking in the "sanctuary").

My pastor used to play rook with his family. Rook if you don't know is a card game but doesn't use playing cards, so therefore is not sinful. But they had to close the drapes when they played at home. His mother, the pastor of their church (which wouldn't be holy to other people), didn't want anyone driving by and seeing them playing cards, as they wouldn't know they were rook cards.

And sometimes it gets horribly tragic. I heard of a young girl that was part of the Pentecostal holiness movement. Her father (and I use the term loosely) was the pastor of their church. Every day when he got home from church he would call her into his study and ask her what sins she committed today. He would then spank her for those sins. If she said she couldn't remember committing any sins that day, then he would spank her for lying. This poor little girl got a spanking everyday in the name of holiness.

Well if that is what holiness is, then FUCK THAT!

But, I don't believe that is what holiness is at all. Holiness isn't this idea of individual moralism, that puts us above others. Holiness is an otherness that puts us in service of others. And how different is that? Holiness is not trying to make others behave the way you believe they should, but surrendering your life to those that refuse to behave. Holiness is figuring ways to respond that is different than the way we are taught is natural.

The fact is every single people group in history develops their own way of talking, their own way of dressing, their own style of music. They determine what is right in their context. Now they might not say it is good. In fact they might determine it is right because it is bad, and being bad people, they want to be consistent. So the Christian church, acting like just another people group, doing the same thing, making our own language, and culture, is not holiness. It is in fact, being the same as the world. Jesus shows us a different way. He drinks with drinkers, but does it without becoming out of control. He eats with those who love to eat, he parties with those that are not only sinners, but traitors to Israel. He touches those that are not to be touched, and shows love to those that are heretics and abhorred. And he calls those who are "holy", the religious leaders, and powerful men, sons of their father the devil. See, now I am getting behind this idea of holiness.

In the greatest act of holiness in the history of the world Jesus has been beaten, is being nailed to a cross, his followers have abandoned him, the world shouts taunts and insults at him, and he responds to all of this not with despair, not with anger, not with cries for vengeance... but with the words, "Father, forgive them for they know not, what they do" Jesus responds with love, and it breaks the powers that be.



Anonymous said...

"Cultural Christianity" says that a lot of things are not holy. Your description of holiness may be the best one I have read to date.

john jensen said...

thanks brother

Meredith Gould said...

Culture/religion wars are so...not holy. Re: tattoos, you might be interested in my post on topic and the links within it. My buds at PunkTorah are FINE with tatts!

Final Anonymous said...

Moderation in all things, right? Ironically in most cases that WOULD be counter-cultural today... lovin' the blog. ; )

Patricia said...

You might enjoy the book "Unclean" by Dr. Richard Beck. (He also has a blog called Experimental Theology.)

In Unclean, he explores how the opposite of love is not hate, but rather exclusion, and how the human psychological need to expulse anything that seems "contaminated" or "other" becomes the church's impetus to set boundaries and isolate itself from those it deems "unholy" or "dirty". Puts a whole new perspective on the incarnation, too. Tattoos, for example, means introducing a foreign substance, ink, into the bodily boundary of skin. So those who are trying to be "holy" by maintaining boundaries would get creeped out by such physical intrusion into a protective boundary.


john jensen said...

Wonderful comments thanks


Kimberley Debus said...


laduke13 said...

If getting a tattoo makes someone a less good temple, where does someone born with some kind of a deformity rank?

David said...

Just wondering, John, what a christian anarchist would do in the current UK unrest in London and elsewhere - loot only christian stores?

john jensen said...

nice to see you David, hope you and yours are well

I would hope a Christian anarchist would be out in the streets trying to in some way practice peacemaking, but cute joke


FrSean said...

Okay, holy means "set apart." If we perceive our faith as somehow something we initiated, and something we must do to achieve salvation, then an emphatic emphasis on our being somehow different ensues. I think of it differently. I think God sets people apart at baptism and makes us holy by virtue that we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ's own for ever. So the emphasis is not upon our achieving something we do not possess by acts of piety, whatever they may be, but on the work of God in us. Every Christian movement in church history that has sought to set itself apart by rigorous acts has fundamentally believed that Christ's work on the Cross is not good enough for salvation, in that clearly, don't drink, don't smoke, don't dance, wear a hairshirt, don't speak seem preemptively more important. I think there are times when we are blind to the differences that God is working in us, but the Spirit is living and active at work on us. To believe otherwise is to say that somehow or other I am responsible for my salvation. Alas, Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. "If any person sins we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous One, and he is the perfect offering for our sins, and not ours only," 1 Jn 2:1-2

john jensen said...

the problem with that Padre, is that we also have a responsibility to follow the commands and example of Christ. So we cannot just pick one side of the paradox, we are called to put on righteousness, of our own volition. We are also to acknowledge God's work in our sanctification. By trusting in one we nullify Christs work at the cross, by trusting in the other we nullify Christs work in the incarnation. We must acknowledge both, and live in the tension of that paradox


gubeltrut said...

Loved this. :)