Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Build Them Up, and They Will Become

It took me a while to figure out how well Christie (my partner) was training me to be a better husband. It was sneaky. But most of the time it worked.

She would encourage me to do the things she wanted me to do by complimenting me as if I was already doing them, and doing them so well.

"You drive so calmly and defensively, not aggressively at all. You're a very understanding and forgiving driver," she would say. Or: "I'm glad that we like the same level of cleanliness around the house - you don't leave piles of clothes or things laying around," as I'm kicking my dirty laundry out of sight under the bed.

She knew, obviously, that I wasn't deserving of the compliment or the identification - yet. But there is something very powerful in being identified with particular characteristics. Something about the human psyche makes us want to live up to those expectations.

I think the same thing is going on in Paul's (?) letter to the Colossians, when he writes:

And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, [Jesus] has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before [God]... (1:21-22)

Of course, we are not blameless and irreproachable - we still are estranged, still hostile, still doing evil deeds - we are in constant need of re-reconciliation. But Paul identifies us as already everything God wants us to be, already whole and blameless, already abandoning hostility and evil acts.

Is Paul tapping human psychology here? Paul declares we already are what God is trying to make us! And you can almost hear the Colossians wanting to be better, wanting to abandon hostility, feeling motivated to cease evil deeds, beginning to feel less estranged and unworthy. We can almost hear the Colossians response because we hear ourselves responding to the same impulse.

And the verses above followed a hymn about Jesus - so Paul tells us we are Jesus', we are like Jesus, we are reconciled by Jesus, just after a hymn describes the glories and power of Jesus, Paul links us with that glory and power. Talk about giving people something to live up to!

Do the Colossians respond? Will we?

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  • Thanks Christian! This is great!

    This taps into an ongoing wondering I have about how we work with people towards change while at the same time remembering the generosity of grace that is always with us. I think of the environmental movement, whose scare tactics and guilt trips have worked for a few people, but don't seem to have inspired everyone to change their habits and live more softly with the earth. I wonder how we can capture and swerve people's desire as a way of motivation, rather than motivating through shame and guilt, which just isn't a nice thing to do to people.

    I like what you've said because it taps into that swerving of desire - our desire to be in truer relationship with others, to be the type of person others want to be with. If we praise people for who they can be as if they're already that person, it allows grace to go before and allows people to be their own possibility rather than be shamed and guilty.

    I have this suspicious intuition that we actually don't expect enough of people these days. I think a lot of people want something to devote themselves to, something that requires sacrifice, something that binds them into relationships of flourishing and possibility. I think Christianity can offer that kind of path and practice for people - can we dare to be so bold as to ask?

    By Blogger Shannon, at 9:46 AM  

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