Sunday, June 28, 2015

Brave is a Plastic Fork

There is a movement that I have taken note of within the Christian church. I say within the church because all churches are members of the body of Christ, and the lines between different bodies is more blurred then it has been in generations, even to human faculties. I say movement because many people have adopted its phrases, precepts, and persuasions across numerous church bodies. This is the Brave movement. The Brave movement holds bravery of Christians as a cardinal virtue, and embraces Jesus as one who makes believers brave.

Real people write worship and their writing follows teaching and understanding. Worship songs can become anthems of the faith, constant reminders of seasons we walk in now and seasons that have been in the past. At different times, Amazing Grace[i] can be the cry of our hearts or a faint reminder of Christians from days past. Oceans[ii] by Hillsong may be the anthem of the body for the past two years, a fresh sound of David echoed across the world. Movements have their songs as well, because music penetrates and reflects the soul of the artist and receiver. If there was a Brave movement ten years ago, it probably would have been headlined by Nicole Nordeman with Brave[iii] (“…you make me want to be brave”). 
Today, You Make Me Brave[iv] from Bethel Music is a contemporary worship song that is the anthem of the Brave movement, an ideological rallying cry staking a claim in the hearts of believers engaging in worship. You Make Me Brave has a great sound, uplifting chords and a catchy hook. It opens with a noble message of humility before Jesus (“King of Heaven, in humility I bow”), a declaration of victory (“Champion of Heaven you made a way for all to enter in”) and proclamation of our calling (“So I will let you draw me out beyond the shore into the waves”). The back half of this worship song is a repeated declaration of “You make me brave” and rebuke of nameless fears. There is much truth in this. Humility is righteous. Jesus is King. Jesus is salvation. We stand called. Jesus makes you brave?

There are three problems with this line of reasoning. The first is a category error, the second is a priority error, and the third is the boy who cried wolf. Brave[v] is an adjective, noun, or a verb describing someone or something ready to face danger without showing fear. Brave is a choice, a manner of action, a method of behavior. One is not ‘made brave’. A firefighter running into his hostile work environment is brave by choice, not by manufacture. Someone did not come and make Rosa Parks brave; she chose to act bravely. No one made the David Livingstone, the ‘Brave Scotchman’, penetrate the African continent for Jesus, he chose his actions and they were brave. 
It is a categorical error to claim ‘you make me brave’ as a truth of Jesus to your heart. This error abdicates the responsibility of the Christian to act brave and fraudulently imposes it upon Jesus, who purposefully does not make our decisions.

Priorities matter. Do not consider all things as of great importance and suffer the opportunity costs of neglecting the important at the expense of the lesser things. Penny-wise, Pound-foolish[vi] is a nuanced example of this false focus. Paul tells us about the fruits of the spirit[vii] and examples of righteousness[viii]. Brave is not among them. Maybe this is for two reasons. First, it should be natural in our new state that we live with courage, conviction, and righteousness.[ix] Second, because of our relationship with Jesus we explicitly make the choices of life, he does not make choices for us. This is free will and it is fundamental to Christian faith. Bravery is less then critical for most of choices, and God calls us into much greater than mere bravery.  

Bravery is the failure to appear daunted, unlike boldness, which is not hesitating in the face of actual or possible danger. I think this is what people mean when they say brave, but words shape our mindsets more than intent and therefore matter greatly. To place ‘bravery’ as virtue above Godly humility or righteous living or liberty from the flesh is a waste of great gifts. This is coming into the feast of the marriage of the Bride and Jesus, equipped with our own plastic cutlery and rejecting all the finest forks and knives of heaven. “No thank you” says the diner, “I want to use these instead. You keep those; I have found something much better.” It should frustrate us to see pearls freely offered cast aside so petty rhinestones can continue to adorn this faith. David celebrated the victories of God over his enemies[x] and he rejoiced in the strength God gave him to conquer[xi]. It is notable that he found comfort in the tools and abilities[xii] and deliverance[xiii] God gave him, not in their rejection.  Importantly, David did not expect nor demand that God make his choices for him, he did not praise God for making him brave.  David was brave and it was his choice to be, and he worshiped the Lord for who the Lord is and what he has really done.

As David was once a shepherd, so let me tell you of another. Once there was as shepherd boy on the hills. In the midst of a summer doldrums, he prepared a plan for excitement and attention. Dashing down the hill with the sheep ruminating behind, he exclaims to all who listen that he saw a wolf! Reacting with due haste his neighbors dash up the hill seek the destroyer, only they cannot find him there. Days go by and the boy becomes dulled with the tedium of his walk, and he prepares his plan for excitement and attention. Dashing down the hill with the sheep of his master ruminating on his departure, he exclaims again to his neighbors that he saw a wolf! Many of townspeople dash up the hill to spy out the wolf, reacting with perhaps less haste then before. The destroyer is not here! This immature shepherd has misled others and wasted time again. The neighbors admonish the boy for his foolishness and leave him again to tend the master’s flock. Days pass on, and the boy prepares his plan for excitement and attention. It has succeeded without fail in the old days! (In summer, the days grow old with undue speed)
He stands, ready to dash once again, when he counts his master’s sheep. The flock is smaller than it was. Counting out, he realizes there are indeed sheep missing. In the near distance, howling breaks forth, and the rustles and hustles and bustles reveal a number of destroyers greater then he can handle. Dashing down the hill with the diminishing sheep bleating confusion, scattering behind him; the boy seeks his neighbors and exclaims the news to his town. Now none listens. He has shown complete disrespect for his neighbors, wasted their time with running hither and yon, and destroyed their trust with falsehoods. He has failed to present truth to them, and so when he does come to the truth, no one will accept. It is critical to present the truth always to our neighbors. When we fail at this, there is disrespect and time lost irreparably. If we cry out falsely, or intentionally misdirect our neighbors, we condemn our efforts to failure.

The Brave movement does this, foregoing the hard truth of personal responsibility and salvation offered and misdirecting to the plastic forks and knives, saying Jesus makes me brave. This is an easy out with only transient victory. It feels good for a while to claim, “It is not me, Jesus makes me brave!” Yet when the grist is ground in life, there is no foundation prepared to act with righteousness. This is a weak foundation, one built on sand of emotions and temporary expediency. The Brave movement sacrifices the truth of making choices on the altar of a strong female vocal, catchy lyrics and comforting half-truths. Church, we are better than this. Do not offer fake answers to a world demanding reality. Rather hold fast to what is true and proclaim the good news in grace and in truth[xiv]
To be brave is your choice; it is the choice to do the right thing at the right time for the right reasons, regardless of the consequences of this world. The song Brave by Nicole Nordeman retained this reality, and emphasized the choice of Christian. If our faith is true, we should experience boldness in our walk that is inwardly experienced and outwardly visible. Boldness to disciple, boldness for grace, boldness for truth, boldness for Jesus as he really is and not merely though song. Daniel in Babylon chose to be righteous and the Lord honored his boldness. Peter chose to walk on the water towards Jesus, and in his faith walked with boldness. Paul worshiped in prison, and from his relationship with Jesus came boldness, boldness we have not seen the end of. Make the choice, and do not feast upon half-truths and falsehoods for your life, wherever they come from. Love rejoices with the truth.

[vi] Prov. thrifty with small sums and foolish with large sums. (Describes someone who will go to a lot of trouble to save a little money,but overlooks large expenses to save a little money. Even in the United States, the reference is to British pounds sterling.) Sam: If we drive to six different grocery stores, we'll get the best bargains on everything we buy. Alan: But with gasoline so expensive, that's penny-wise and pound-foolish.
[vii] Galatians 5:22-23
[viii] Romans 12:9-21, Colossians 3:12-17
[ix] Galatians 5:24, 25. Ephesians 4:17-32
[x] Psalm 23:5
[xi] Psalm 27:6
[xii] Psalm 18:30-36
[xiii] [xiii] 1 Samuel 17:36
[xiv] John 1:14, 17