BLOG 8/28/18. CAN BEING CANTANKEROUS BE A CHRISTIAN VIRTUE?
I’ve just finished reading two books, both of which triggered such an outrageous question. One was a scholarly study of the ethical challenges that have confronted the humanitarian agency Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) that tracked the ever-changing issues faced over its forty-year history, what with the ever changing and challenging contexts and crises that it has engaged. In the conclusion of the study the author commented that it could almost be written into the constitution of the agency that it was deliberately cantankerous in that it was always dissatisfied that it was accomplishing it purpose in the most effective way. The other was a book about the ever-disruptive effect of creative thinkers, of how un-safe such non-conforming thinking can be.
Which, in turn, reminded me of the word from the apostle that those of us who are called into Christ’s New Creation are not to be conformed to the world (i.e., the existing powers (economic, political, cultural, etc.) and determining influences that are our context), but, rather, are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we might prove what is the will/agenda of God (Romans 12:1ff). That sounds awfully much like a call to being cantankerous to me. There is no way we can be so non-conforming and not, at the same time, be disruptive (though with sensitivity and gentleness).
In a world, such as ours, with daily mind-boggling new discoveries, old ways are constantly being outdated and replaced by new and often disruptive realities. One of the biographers of Larry Page and Sergei Brin, the co-founders of Google, summarized their motivation as their assumption that “if you wanted to make the world a better place, then you had to break a lot of rules, and piss a lot of people off.” Pardon me for saying so, but that sounds a whole lot like the effect of Jesus and of the early church, doesn’t it?
Then I think of Jesus coming into this human scene with a message that God was, in Jesus himself, invading this present with a disruptive and radically new creation that would be the ultimate fulfillment of God’s prophesies back from the very beginning. He was bringing into our human neighborhood a message of the ultimate meaning of God’s design for men and women that included meaning, acceptance with God, and hope.
Along the way he looked out on the crowds and had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he became angry at the ostensible spiritual leaders of Israel because they seemed to be so self-protective and indifferent to these sheep without a shepherd. In announcing his role in bringing about a new creation, he put his focus on the lost, the meaningless lives, the helpless, the hungry, the sick, and the oppressed. He gave a whole new agenda that acknowledged that this message of true righteousness would not be well received, but would incur retaliation, … but that his followers were to incarnate mercy, identity with the poor, peacemaking, good works, and to, in general, be demonstrations of his compassion for the sheep without shepherd. They were to be cantankerous, to be disruptors for the Kingdom of God. Then he sent his followers out to herald and practice this non-conforming new life that comes from God.
This being so, I often look with dismay at those ostensible church institutions that are so focused on their own survival, their handsome sanctuaries and their inner congregational life, … and show not a whit of concern for those sheep without a shepherd all around them, … are content to exist year after year without reaching any new believers, or making any redemptive impact upon the populations around the who are seeking to find some understanding of their lives without a center, without meaning, without justice, without a guiding line, or a final goal, … and I want to be cantankerous, to raise my voice and to be disruptive, to be non-conforming and so proving the will of God, and the reality of God’s new creation what with all of its hope and meaning and love through my life and community. How does that sound?