Radical: A Reflection on 1 Corinthians 10-11

“Radical” is a risky word to apply to scripture; it often signals controversy, anticipates antagonism, and puts hearers on edge as they consider the violence associated with many forms of radicalism.

But to be radical is not necessarily to be selfish, violent, and angry. In fact, in this turbulent age, it might just be to be the opposite. By definition, “radical” means simply:

“Advocating or based on thorough or complete political or social change”

Lately I have been dwelling in 1 Corinthians and I realized as I read chapters 10-11 that the only word I could think of to properly describe this passage was, simply: radical. However, the lifestyle expounded by Paul to the Corinthians is hardly a demanding or individualistic radicalism. Neither is it fanatic or aggressive. Rather, it is a radical humility, deference, and submission such that this culture can only — Nietzsche-like — mock. And yet, this great humility leads to glory… What wondrous mystery is this, that glory would shine from quiet deference! And yet how simple this truth and calling, for it reflects the Redeemer and redeemed nature of the Christian faith.

The final verses of chapter 10 feature one of the most commonly-quoted passages in the Bible and one that is dear to my heart as well: 

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (10:31, ESV)

Often this verse is used to inspire believers in their various vocations: Whether you manage finances or play music, do all to the glory of God. Whether you teach high school or run marathons, do all to the glory of God. I do not think, considering that this is both an edifying and encouraging use of this verse, that it is a wrong application. However, I do wonder if this is the correct interpretation. Yes, scripture elsewhere certainly supports seeking God’s glory in all of our pursuits. Here, however, something more nuanced is at stake. 

The passage which this verse concludes is not discussing vocation at all. Rather, chapters 8-10 address something much more controversial, both in the Corinthian church and our modern age. The church in Corinth was suffering conflicts of all kinds; indeed, the racial, moral, and financial divisions were severely hindering the body of Christ. Sound familiar?

What Paul addresses here concerns both moral and even dietary divisions in the church. The question before the church members is: How are they do deal with meat that has been offered to idols? To eat or not to eat? It is important to note that this is a doctrinal grey area; freed from the dietary restrictions of the law, Paul wants believers to know the following comforting truth: 

“Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.” (8:8)

However, Paul does not reassure the church in Corinth of its freedom without providing the following warning: 

“But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.”  (8:9) 

In this particular instance (which we will continue to refer to as a “grey” area because there is not a command one way or another) believers are freed to eat or not eat as their own conscious dictates. However, if one member (perhaps a younger Christian) is uncomfortable with eating meat previously offered to idols, those who dine with him ought to abstain as well so that he is not led to dwell on old sins or confronted by associations which he is not yet mature enough to overcome. It is not wrong for this brother to not eat the meat before him; whichever choice will best keep his heart focused on Christ and the service of his fellow members is the correct choice. Should one person at a gathering decide not to eat for reasons of personal conscious, history, temptations, etc., the other believers are called to an active fellowship with this sibling in Christ, abstaining in solidarity so that this weaker member might not be hurt. 

Paul discusses the parallels between membership in the church and the members of the body in the following chapters, but the analogy expresses the same idea. If one part of the physical body is hurting, the other members must compensate and work to prevent or alleviate the pain. The eye cannot say, “Well it’s too bad that you’re broken, foot, but I can carry on quite well with my business.” Rather, the eye must work harder to support the foot, looking ahead so that the it might avoid treacherous roads. In this way, the weakened foot is saved from further damage and the whole body is upheld as it grows stronger.

In a culture of liberal autonomy, this is a radical thought, but one that the church must ever seek to uphold. The secular person is quick to ask the same question Paul presents: 

“Why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience?” (10:29)

However, Paul answers this question with simply: the Glory of God. As Christians, “little Christs,” we are to emulate our Redeemer and the head of our church body in all that we do. Christ, the Lord of the Law, fulfilled the law that we might be freed. He was under no obligation but his own and yet, we know from the gospel that he who had and has the right to rule all things yet came in injury-prone flesh that he might serve and save us. And the marvelous mystery revealed in this is that in this greatest humility achieved the greatest glory. 

“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (11:1)

So too, we are no longer are under the obligation to the law, but as new creations and grafted members of the body of Christ, we are to live according to the wisdom of our Lord. As “imitators” of Christ and his servant Paul, we are called to glorify him not by parading our freedom, but by submitting it before the consciences of others to build them up. It is true that we have a “right” bought and given through Christ, but it is a right won by a divine humility and ought to be exercised with such. 

“‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” (10:23-24)

We might be quick, as the Corinthians were, to claim that “All things are lawful,” for especially in our current age of individualism, we are tempted to value our autonomy and opportunity to the point of idolatry. However, we will grow stronger together not when we realize our freedom, but when we realize our helpfulness. It is by this countercultural submission and service that we best build up our fellow believers, whatever their backgrounds and struggles. And it is in this counterintuitive way that we glorify the God who became as one of us. 

“…not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.” (10:33)

By choosing to eat or not to eat for the glory of God, we will not only build each other up as a unified body, but bear witness to the wondrous grace of our Lord. We are quick to think of what we can do for the glory of God, but so often slow to realize that restraint might be equally impactful.

One quick story and I’ll wrap up this post: 

I go to a rather conservative Christian college and, upon enrollment, students are expected to sign a code of conduct. This contract is not burdensome, but often I hear students complain about its restraints, especially when it comes to drinking. Yesterday, my boyfriend cooked me a lovely, late Valentine’s dinner at his house and, as we sat down to eat, one of his roommates commented:

“Aw, no wine tonight?”

“No, just La Croix in fancy glasses,” laughed my boyfriend, who proceeded to pray for our meal.

I didn’t say anything just then, but it meant a great deal to me. My boyfriend is a strong, faithful man, but his school does not have the same strict code that ours does and I know that he probably would have liked a glass of wine to complement the food he so thoughtfully prepared. However, he knows that I am committed to abiding by my contract and so he too abstained. This not only makes following the rules easier for me, but it is comforting to know that the man I care for so deeply is committed to caring for my conscience in even these seemingly little things. Indeed, isn’t this the essence of the Christlike love described only a page later in chapter thirteen? 

“Love is patient and kind…It does not insist on its own way.” (13:4-5)

So then, beloved reader, can we consider together what it might be like to love each other in this way? Not selfishly, but in quiet selflessness? As 1 Corinthians 10:30 implies, it is easy to “partake with thankfulness,” but there may be greater reward for deference; whether we eat or drink or — more powerfully, perhaps – abstain, our decision must be guided by a commitment to honoring our Lord by honoring the consciences of our brothers and sisters. Only by radical humility can we demonstrate the radical glory of the Christian gospel. 

Kirkyard Clan

Once again, a graveyard has inspired poetry. This time, it was the historic Greyfriar’s Kirkyard. It was once the post of a loyal dog (Greyfriar’s Bobby) and now is rumored to be haunted by a malevolent poltergeist. It also features several tombstones with names that JK Rowling used as Harry Potter characters! Needless to say, it is a place overflowing with creative inspiration…and wildflowers. Enjoy! 

“Kirkyard Clan”

.

Tombstones sprout among 

and tower over you 

But you care only for 

the shady homes they strew.

.
And though graves lie beneath 

the crumbling, grassy ground,

You care not for the chill

 but joy in fertile found. 

.

That ghostly wind that blows 

can’t scare with screaming howls;

You care not for wuth’ring, 

though larger stems it bows. 

.

Though sun but rarely shines- 

even he hides his gaze-

What you care for are clouds, 

which white, reflect your face. 

.

Toil not, nor spin in strife 

for that’s a desert path. 

You care for torrent rain 

that to you is a bath. 

.

Though haunts may rumor’d be 

and others leave at night.

You care for quiet gloom 

that leaves you to bloom bright. 

.

The daisies short still stand, 

a clan that does not care

For dark decay and death 

that withers others there.

Divided Services, Divided Body?

I love traditional worship and, as a church musician, am in favor of the whole package: choir robes, pipe organ, hymnals, etc. I once even jokingly said I’d drown myself if I ever heard “Oceans” played in another chapel.

That said, though, I am not necessarily in favor of having separate traditional and contemporary worship services. Before coming to the church I currently attend, I found myself in pursuit of a completely traditional service as I sought to avoid what I saw as the church-turned-concert vibe of many contemporary services.

But is this biblical?

I can easily make a case against a solely-contemporary worship regimen. After all, hymns provide a link to our Christian heritage, are (in general) more closely inspired by specific scriptures, and tend to be more musically complex. However, there are many skilled contemporary Christian artists who write songs packed with beautiful music and sound theology and it is not wise to ignore these for the sake of tradition.

Calvin in his Institutes of the Christian Religion writes (in many more words) that so long as it remains rooted in scripture and dedicated to administering the sacraments, churches on Earth are encouraged to grow and develop according to their situation in time and location. Thus, while we should not forget our tradition, we also should not refuse to progress and continue to create.

Thus, the statement that we ought to remember our traditions and the belief that we ought to continue to develop our worship should not be mutually exclusive.

We may certainly choose to attend chapels or such gatherings that have the musical worship that we prefer. However, in the church, it is potentially unwise to cater separately to both extremes: traditional vs. contemporary.

I love traditional worship and do not mind contemporary when it is done with excellence, but I especially love the church services where the two are combined. I should clarify that I am not talking about contemporary remixes of the hymns; for example, when good ole “Joy to the World” becomes “JOY! UNSPEAKABLE JOY!” and is repeated for eternity, I cannot help but cringe. I am simply saying that rather than alter the hymns to make them more palatable for contemporary Christians, we should sing them alongside new songs. And, in doing so, we might bring the two extremes of the worshipping body together.

I have personally observed disgruntled older Christians in contemporary services and, although only twenty years old, I relate. As soon as the guitar and drums come in, we often lose our motivation to worship because the melodies are unfamiliar, the words projected on a screen rather than printed in a hymnal, and the music is too loud. Rather than adapt, my traditional pals and I attend a separate service that fits our expectations.

On the other hand, younger congregation members might feel uncomfortable in a liturgical service. They find the hymnals unwieldy, the music or lyrics too complicated, and the environment too formal. Rather than finding such a service reverent, they might find it stiff and distant. And so, like their older counterparts, they create and attend a service geared specifically toward their desires.

What seemed like an insignificant difference of musical preference is much more: it is a fundamental division of the church body.

In a traditional service, it is rare to see anyone under a more venerable age. In a contemporary service, primarily youth attend. There is a massive gap between generations in the church. And this is wrong; just as only featuring one era’s songs of praise does not accurately represent the span of Christian creativity in worship, hosting separate services for each worship preference does not accurately represent the body of the church, or- more importantly- the body of Christ.

The body of Christ, we are told in scripture, is united. Paul’s letters are overflowing with calls for the crucial unity of church members. For instance, 1 Corinthians 1:10:

“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”

Does dividing the congregation based on means of worship obey this call? Does it reveal that we are living with “the same mind” or does it demonstrate a willing, opposing judgment?

What is the solution to this division? It cannot be to abandon one mode of worship for the other, forcing all members to sing hymns or contemporary music as this would further promote disunity! It would either divide us from our heritage and thus from the brethren that came before us or it would disconnect us from the current Christian culture. Either way, choosing one exclusively is not the answer; severing the past from the present obviously cannot heal a primarily generational division.

Rather, just as we ought to bring together the generations and preferences of our congregation, we must bring together the worship of our history and our present age. Blended services are a blessing (even if it means suffering through that repetitive refrain or faking your way through a wordy hymn) because you might be suffering and faking next to a kindly grandmother, an enthusiastic college student, a smiling toddler, or a wise father. Worship is about more than music; it is about the communion of the saints. Where the members of the body proclaim truth in unity, there is worship.

Romans 12:4-5 reads:

“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”

These verses, which focus on spiritual gifts, may also be applied to worship. We are individual members and, as such, carry our individual preferences. I personally find it easier to worship through the hymns, but many I know find contemporary songs more accessible. These are not doctrinal conflicts, but rather individual differences between members.

Ultimately, though, we are not called to live according to ourselves as individuals but to submit to one another. We are to bring together our gifts- and our preferences- to serve each other so that we join to become something greater: the united body in and of Christ. Combining our worship services, even if it is just once in a while, and singing praises together is a small step toward this perfect and desirable unity. Together, we might sing both beloved psalms and new songs to our one Lord, “who was and is and is to come.” And, together, we might realize fully the truth of Psalm 133:1:

“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”

A Little Epistle

To the church that has welcomed me from the first day and has never ceased to show me the care of Christ,

I thank God daily for you. When I enter the doors of the sanctuary, a sigh of relief falls from my lips, for here the love of Christ is tangible. It is found in the beautiful music you all so carefully prepare, the snacks you bring for me knowing that, as a college student, I will always appreciate free food, and the hugs and smiles you greet me with every week.

Last week, our pastor charged the congregation to create an intergenerational church body and I wanted to affirm that you, church, already have made amazing strides in this. This congregation has taught me what it truly means to have a church family; I play piano for both the children’s and adult choirs here, giving me the opportunity to be involved with people outside of my generation. Living on campus at a college is a great experience, but it is so refreshing to be able to spend time with those younger and older. Hearing the laughter of the kids’ choir always lifts my spirits and, similarly, making music alongside those who are more mature provides an opportunity for wisdom and encouragement.

Our pastor also emphasized the importance of mentorship in love and truth. I could not help but smile and almost laugh; if a church has ever exceeded in this realm, this one does.  You, my wonderful church family, are an example of the unity, care, and ministry that Paul charged other churches to strive for in his epistles. Personally, I have grown so much here in both faith and fellowship and wanted to commend you all in this little epistle of my own.

Thank you for all that you do; it is my great joy to work, worship, and walk alongside every one of you.

In Christ,

The girl at the piano

To the Hermitage of St. Francis

img_1144I’ve been abroad in Rome for the past ten days, but today I was- to the relief of my introversion- able to escape to the countryside of Assisi. There, I hiked to the Hermitage of St. Francis and every step of the way thought, “This is the most beautiful sight…wait, no. THIS is!” It was truly stunning and I was in awe of the Creator the entire pilgrimage.

Upon reaching the top, it was clear to me why St. Francis would choose to worship privately up there rather than only down below. Sure, I have toured some majestic and elaborate basilicas/churches over the past week or so, but none of them had the same awe-inspiring, spiritually-renewing effect on me that this hermitage and its miraculous view of nature did.

So, here is a little poem I composed on the march back down in accordance with this idea:

“No gold to have but sun will do,
And snow shall marble be.
The rocks shall serve as stair-step pew;
For columns we have trees.

The air is chill from wind- not dark
And tombs can flowers grow.
Above the sky’s a painted arc
From which His blessings flow.

This boundless house is Nature’s church
For worship, wonder, prayer.
Climb to that good and peaceful perch
To praise the Savior there.”
Also this: 

11 Writers’ Paradises

I use “I’m a writer!” to justify haunting many eclectic and sometimes downright strange locations. I visited four of the below Eleven Writers’ Paradises today, so I guess you could say it was a successful Sunday! (And yes, I know 11 is a weird number for a list, but it is my favorite number so sorry not sorry.)

  1. Cemeteries: The older, the better. Read the tombstones, guess at the stories behind them, find an otherworldly peace in the quiet stillness, maybe- just maybe- have a competition with a friend to see who can find the oldest grave. And no, it isn’t creepy.
  2. Libraries: Follow the advice of countless authors greater than I (probably because they’ve actually been published…someday, Ryanne, someday…) and spend tons of time exploring labyrinths of shelves.
  3. Antique Malls: I visited one today that was absolutely delightful; there was eerie music box music playing, old clothes on busts that could easily be mistaken for ghosts from the past, cases of heirlooms, yellow-paged books, mismatched teacups to delight the Mad Hatter’s heart….I could easily have stayed forever and quite possibly turned into an antique there myself.
  4. Hipster Coffee Shops: Love them. If you have the choice between Starbucks and some quirky shop you’ve never been, go with the latter and NEVER order the same thing twice. This is coming from a girl with a Gold Card, so you know I am serious.
  5. Used Bookstores: These are the wonderful child of antique malls and libraries. Just a warning; if you stay too long, you might grow lightheaded from the delightful but powerful aroma of old paper and ink mingled with the dust of the ages.
  6. The Woods: There is a reason the author of Walden decided to Thoreau away his life and live in the wild. (PUN PUN PUN!) If you can’t get to the woods, find a place similar. Trees alone are often enough to attract the Muses.
  7. Churches: I don’t mean the modern, movie-seated auditoriums of today’s generation. I mean churches with stained glass, pipe organs, rows of pews, probably a candle burning somewhere beside a large gold-trimmed Bible.
  8. Markets: Any sort of flea market, farmers’ market, craft fair, etc. These are all good because they bring together people and products of all sorts. Always buy something too, be it a bag of fresh cherries or a funky new scarf.
  9. Self-made Forts: Be it made from cardboard boxes, blankets, or you just hiding under a piano where nobody can see you (I speak from experience…I hide under my piano when the doorbell rings sometimes), forts are fun and spark imagination.
  10. Train Stations or Airports: Admittedly when I am in these places, I am often stressed trying to make a flight or figure out how to ask where my platform is in French. But if you stop and look around, there are so many people and packages and destinations to wonder about! And, as we all know, wonder creates stories.
  11. Anywhere so long as you have a notebook and imagination: Yes, this is mostly because I could not think of a tenth place. However, I have found inspiration in really unexpected places and honestly a good writer (I do not claim to be one yet) can make a story or poem from anything, be it a cracked sidewalk, pencil box, auction ticket, you name it!