Wednesday, August 5, 2015

All things to all people

I had a college professor who had been a high school teacher. For some amount of that time, he abstained from alcohol for the specific purpose of being able to tell students that he didn't drink. This headed off their childish accusations of hypocrisy when he exhorted them to the same practice, and also demonstrated to them that teetotalling was a perfectly cromulent option that did not preclude a satisfied life.

In other words, he was not a drunk to the drunks. He was not all things to all people. 

Or maybe it was that he was law-abiding to the law-abiding, or temperate to the temperate, or disciplined to the disciplined. Hard to say. But still: not all things to all people. No one can be all things to all people in this simplistic way, because all people do a bunch of mutually exclusive things.

Anyway, my friend Cheryl said some good things here about what's worth watching and worth not watching if you're a Christian. I am a hardliner on explicit sexual content, written or visual. I just plain stay away from that stuff. You know all the talking points: it's trashy, it's wrong, it sends bad messages about the sixth commandment, it's damaging to society, we have a word for people who are paid to take off their clothes (and also a word for the people who pay them), all that preachy stuff.

But there's a much simpler reason than that. Explicit sexual content, written or visual, messes with my head. I can't claim to have a lot of experience with it, but a huge reason for that is that I don't like what goes on in my head when I run into it. It sticks, smolders, festers, and colonizes. RUN, brain, RUN!

Obviously this limits my viewing options quite a bit, and also my reading options. Alas, those diversions are not a risk this sinner is able to take, not even on behalf of my fellow sinner.There's a line of thinking in which we "have to be able to answer questions" or "need to understand where people are coming from." It's some kind of reverse virtue ethic with the unassailable excuse of Christian freedom and the failsafe of forgiveness thrown in, should we get unexpectedly muddled along the way.

But being all things to all people doesn't mean that we need to reconnoiter in sins in order to reach "the real sinners". We are all the real sinners. Each of us has enough experience to speak quite knowledgeably to others specializing in our own line of sin. No one benefits from exploratory missions into other sins, and no one is doing his fellow man a disservice by saying, "I'm not getting near that show [article/Pinterest board/party/store]. I know it would be bad for me."

Fortunately for all of us, not everyone's brain works like mine. Perhaps there are people to whom the sight or description of others violating the sixth commandment is like meh. In fact, I can only assume this is the case, since I know my personal practice is not in wide use among Christians. That's swell for them. At the same time, familiarity with such things is not being all things to all people. It is just being something to all people. Whether it's something worth being is what we have to decide.

Moreover, I think there is a good case to be made for the kind of counsel my professor's conscientious route enabled. It helps those struggling with temptation (whether of appetite or curiosity) to hear that acquiring regrets is not the only way to learn the value of goodness and divine wisdom. The Christian life is characterized, certainly, by no end of running after Jesus and reaching desperately, shamefacedly, for the hem of His garment. But for the baptized, there is also quite a bit of walking with Him who is the Way. Most of us have at least some idea of the colossal danger that is programmed into every sin, and are able to speak reliably on that basis. Neighbors who look to us for guidance are well served by our saying, Beloved, don't get near that. It is sin. I'll be here not doing it with you. 

And for those who have gotten near and burned,

Jesus paid for that too,


You don't ever have to go back,


Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.