gratitude & hoopla: Are You Whole-Hearted?

gratitude & hoopla

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton

21.10.05

Are You Whole-Hearted?

Are you whole-hearted? I know I'm not. Seldom even close. In fact, I can honestly say that the most whole-heartedness I have ever known has probably been with regard to sin. Yup, I have been pretty-near whole-hearted about that at times? Not going into details, mind you.

I was whole-hearted at the birth of my children. At my wedding? Well, mostly numb, I confess. I have on occasion been whole-hearted about the Red Sox (shallow me). Once, as a boy, running down an alley with a bully following close behind crying murderous threats, I ran with all my heart! Another time, I sat on my back porch and read the last pages of How Green Was My Valley, and cried with all my heart.

But the sad fact is, mostly I'm half-hearted. My fervor has a tendency to wane, and my passionate intensity is always accompanied by doubt. I take this to be "the human condition," more or less. That's why appeals to passion always fall short, or so it seems to me. Pep-rally fervor is followed by take-out-the-trash mundane reality. There is glow, then there is after-glow, then there is, well, hardly-any-glow-at-all. That's life. I find myself keenly empathetic with the fellow who cried to Jesus, "Lord I believe. Help my unbelief." [Mark 9:24] Yeah, that's me.

Not that I'm against fervor, mind you. Not that I'm against passion. But passion alone is not the mark of righteousness (this much should be obvious). William Butler Yeats wrote of just this problem in another context, some 80 years ago.
The best lack all convictions, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Indeed, perhaps the most important thing then is to start with the right convictions. Perhaps what it all comes down to is a recognition that our passion must be for something that is more steady, more solid and reliable, than we ourselves will ever be.

I'm thinking along these lines because I've just finished reading Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis. It strikes me, now that I've finished the book, that much of what he extols there is simply "passionate intensity," but it seems in the end to be founded on mist. He is fervent about many wonderful things, and at one point he actually says, in his usual off-hand way, that to be a Christian is to be whole-hearted. But one is left wondering, whole-hearted about what? And for how long? Because I have to tell you, this Christian blogger's heart is fickle, changeable, deceptive, and misleading. I've experienced this much on a regular basis.

So I think Bell's book is essentially facile, slight, and misleading with regard to the human condition. And I think he is essentially out-to-lunch with regard to Jesus. Christ is at best a model fellow, it seems, and synonymous with everything Bell holds dear. But you would never guess, having finished the book, that the human situation is intensely problematic, so much so in fact that it can be defined as an impasse, a dead end, a problem without a solution within ourselves. The cross is mentioned once in passing by Bell, and the Holy Spirit also just once, only to brush it aside quickly with a paean to man's whole-hearted doing.

Bell is not a bad fellow. Not one of "the worst" that Yeats spoke of. But youthful fervor is no substitute for a clear enunciation of the truth in all its dirty complexity. The good news is that we have not been left helpless, of course. The grace of God in Christ is the solution for this humanly unsolvable problem. The question each of us must ultimately ask (and this again and again) is this: where does my help come from? The answer is not, can not, have anything to do with me. If it did, I would be destined for a major disappointment.

***

I've also discussed Bell's book over at m.o.g. blog, as well as atthis previous post here at g&h.

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