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Christianity,

as it most often is understood today, boils down to a couple of core concepts: orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxis (right action). Orthodoxy, in all of its forms, values the ability to formulate Christian concepts into the proper words and then to stick to them, take a stand with them. It goes something like this: Hi my name is Bob, and I believe in the virgin birth. Orthodoxy For millions of professing believers getting this formula correct is paramount. After all, doesnt it sayBelieve in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved? And of course this kind of believing isnt a simple thing. As someone once responded to a man who affirmed his faith in Jesus, Which Jesus, exactly? Because there are some differences. Theres the American Jesus who is pro-economic expansion, highly capitalistic, a dyed in the wool individualist, pro capital punishment, anti-tree hugging (after all he did kill a fig tree didnt hethis puts him in camp with loggers everywhere), etc Theres historic Jesuswho, as one recent Jesus Seminar liberal scholar described him, was most probably short, balding, and pudgy; a skilled mental wrangler, and rabbi in the Jewish tradition with nothing exceptional except that he caught the attention of exceptional followers. Theres hippie Jesusanti- American to the core. Theres Che Guevara Jesus, who simply lacks a machine gun to be relevant to the class struggles of South America. Well, you get the idea. Theres just a lot of versions of this Jesus fellow. Its tricky, even agreeing that one needs to believe in Jesus, just knowing which one gets our belief. Thankfully, two thousand years of intellectual wrangling has given us uncanny clarity as to what this really means. For one thing it means agreeing that Jesus is Co- equivalent with God the Father. He wasnt just a nice young man who got killed for being a professional do-gooderHe was God in the flesh. It also means believing that God got into the flesh through a rather immaculate and improbable conceptionThe virgin birth. Of course all of belief is predicated on the assumption that every word in the Old and New Testaments of the Christian Bible is mostly literalespecially the creation account and the miracles of Jesus while on earth. It also means that Jesus literally died on a cross (as opposed to only appearing dead, but actually being in some kind of coma or trance), descended into Hell where he re- captured the keys of death from Satan, then was resurrectedsupernaturally and bodily (meaning it really happened, he didnt just come back as a ghost or something). And lastly after ascending to heaven (where he now sits at the right hand ), he waits for the appropriate moment when he will return to finish the work started in his first three years of ministrythough this time he will not leave any one confused if he was a hippie or nothe will be all business, so to speak (blood up to his horses bridle, sword drawn, etc) Clearly Im being a little tongue and cheek. I dont mean to be disrespectfulexcept to say that so much emphasis has been placed on these words, that they be literal and concrete and rigidly bought into or asserted as true and right. Each of these facts is seen as absolutely essential to the otherpluck one out, and as Rob Bell

noted, the whole brick wall of fundamentalist faith, falls down. This is what it means to be orthodoxto have a right belief. It translates as having the proper mental structures that you hold onto, the correct categories to put your doctrines in. Heres where Id like to take a right hand turn. The Challenge of Terry My friend Terry is medically labeled as profoundly retarded. His IQ is somewhere squarely located around 40. His memory is progressively degenerating. He, at times, fails to remember the names of people hes known his entire life, let alone facts that you or I might take for granted. Now heres the interesting thing. Terry is also a believing Christian. This is something he feels very strongly about. His faith, his belief, is very important to him. But if you ask him what this means he will be absolutely incapable of formulating anything close to the set of dogmas Ive described above. Even if I were to describe in great detail, or walk him through all of these core, foundational affirmations he would still not grasp them. It makes him frustrated to even begin talking about these kind of things. But, his answer to what faith means to him is revealing. His response is to touch his heart, soften his eyes and make a kind of swooning motion with his shoulders. For Terry Christianity means that at the center of his experience he connects to a sense of love. For him, this is God. This is, to him, what it means to be a Christian. These days I find myself asking if there is really anything orthodox, or more correct than this. Because if there is--if all the formulations and right words and nuanced concepts that demand absolute belief, are necessarythen Terry doesnt stand a chance. And if Im really being honest, Im right there along with him. Most times I fail to get the formula. Right beliefs, appearing from the stable base of historic Christianity, have never come easy for me. I dont get them, dont agree with many of them. Often I just dont see it. Even when I do, my thoughts are finite at best. Persons with profound cognitive disabilities tend to teach us that the truly significant thing, the main thing, is located at the ineffable core of our beingwhere we are left stammering for words, any words, just to express our experience of being loved. For Terry, for others who share his challenges, and maybe for the rest of us too, what makes a Christian isnt so much what we believe, rather it is that we are beloved. Orthopraxis Every so often the system of sloppy grace gets challenged. Some young, brilliant, reformer will stand up and say, Yes, of course we are the recipients of Gods conditional lovebut, doesnt this change us? Shouldnt we be effected by this? In fact this camp often poses a real challenge to the folks entrenched in orthodoxy

circles. It cant all boil down to right belief, they push back. Didnt Jesus say that Those who hear my words and practice them are my disciples? So its less about what you think about Jesus and his accompanying doctrines and more about your active response to the life and teachings of Jesus. Its about what you do! How have you been living out the message of Jesus? Theres a delightful story which articulates this position well: A town was situated near a mighty river which every seventy years or so overflowed its boundaries, putting the buildings and people in danger. During such a season the town elders went to the local holy man and begged him to beseech God on their behalf in order to save the village. The old man immediately went to the secret place and spoke the sacred words to God, and the town was saved. A generation passed and once again the river flooded. The elders came to the new holy man who had been an apprentice of the last. They begged him to speak to God on their behalf. And so he went out into the forest but he could not find the secret place where his mentor had always met with God. Finally he stopped searching and simply knelt where he was, praying: Oh God you are not caged by a secret place, or chained to a special bit of dirtthe whole earth is filled with your glory! Then he uttered the sacred words and God spared the village. Once more a new generation came and as the great flood came the elders went to meet yet another holy man. He went out, as his predecessors had, but could find neither the secret place nor recall the sacred words. He came before God and said, Oh Lord you are neither contained to a place, nor are you held in a certain set of wordsfor all belong to youand we must use every word we know to adequately begin to express your greatness. Now I beg you, take pity on this town and save it from the flood. And so God moved, the village was saved. Time passed and yet another generation of elders came before a holy man in order to plead for the town. The holy man was quite unlike his spiritual ancestors. He did not know the secret place, nor did he recall the sacred wordsbut truth be told he did not even believe in Gods presence, at least not in such simple words. When the elders begged him, he became exasperated, knowing very well the history of the village and flooding. He whipped about and grabbed his walking stick, then leaped out of the door and towards the town. The elders were perplexed, What are you doing? He looked back and said, Saving the village! Now go home, grab your shovels, we are going to move the town to higher ground. After every one had left the holy mans hut a shadowy figure stepped out from the corner. It was God. He whispered to a nearby angel, Now, of all the holy men who served me, this one is the holiest and the closest to my own heart.

I dont understand said the angel. Because he and I are the only ones willing to physically stop the waters. All the others only trusted in words and rituals. Of course this exaggerates the point. We need not be atheists in order to join Gods work. But the conclusion is valuable. Orthopraxy argues that we join with God in working his will on the earth. Dont simply worship Jesusdo as He did. Angela and actions But what of my friend Angela? She has cerebral palsyphysically incapable of even the most basic range of motion, she is confined to her chair and the services of others transporting her. She is also profoundly impaired at a cognitive level. She can neither understand the depths of orthodoxy nor can she inact the breadth of orthopraxy. How is she to carry out the mission of God? How does she join in his great work? What is her role in fulfilling Gods eternal purpose? In other words, if the essence of Christianity is actionthen what of those Angelas who will simply never perform. I repeat what I said earlier: there is so little we can know of God, there is little we may actually do. But we can be loved. Both right belief and right action place their value is a strength based proposition, rightness. But neither of those come close to touching the wounded center of Christianitya crucified God, foolishness to those who are wise, and a stumbling block to the religious. Christianity conceals a rather startling conceptthat neither our behaving nor our believing is the essential value of humanityrather, it is our belovedness. This is the gift that those with severe disabilities bring to us. They remind us of the point.

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