2014 Lent 14

I Corinthians 6:12-20

Questions surrounding liberty fall into that category of lifelong questions to ponder–for me anyway.  Rules are important to any organized game, as I learned early on in my boyhood, usually when I would try to add a rule in the middle of some game or other.  It sometimes worked too, especially when we were playing our own, made up games, usually involving grapes or avocados.

Paintball is all the rage now.  But back in the late seventies, long before paintball was even a thing, we had our own version.  The we to which I refer, by the way, is the neighborhood boys, some of whom are pictured here (I’m the modest one, second from the left):

At the cusp of 13.  I'm the second from the left; my brother is to my right, holding the poker.  Avocado trees are in the background.

We discovered that the grapes my dad had grown as part of a now-failed winemaking project almost fit into some forgotten sprinkler pipe that lay within a pile of other forgotten objects in the corner of the orchard: they were just slightly larger than the inside diameter of the pipe, meaning their skin would break when stuffed into an end of the pipe, producing enough juice for lubrication; meaning too that the now bruised grape could be blown out the end like a bullet.

A little time and experimentation and we found the ideal length of pipe to be just about three feet.  With a little practice each of us became fairly formidable shots to a distance of about a hundred feet.  And then, game on!  Here were true weapons for play: there was no debate when someone got hit, for splattered juice always (and small welts often) showed clearly; yet the pain wasn’t so great that anyone whined too much or otherwise wanted to stop the games.

At first it was every boy for himself.  We’d each grab a bunch of grapes and synchronize our watches for 60 seconds.  Then, at the word go, we’d run willy-nilly in every direction.  At the end of the minute it was time for battle.  Once hit–no question about it, remember–the warrior would lift his pipe over his head and retire to base until only one of us was left standing.  And we’d do it all over again.  The accolades, by the way, consisted entirely of temporal glory: if you won you were champion until the next last-man-standing was determined.

But do you see the rules?  Even in this seemingly anarchic adolescent game we had a base, a time limit, and boundaries–the property lines made these, and going inside buildings was off-limits.

Thence it evolved into team battles, which of course produced DMZs, minimum shot distances, and other, more complicated rules, including not hitting windows–lest we incur the wrath of my mother!  This last rule was particularly challenging.  For you’d sense a sort of safety zone stealthing by the windows, since most warriors lacked the guts to shoot at you out of fear of splattering concord grape juice all over the given window and thereby rousing said mother’s wrath; but if you were a good enough shot to hit the enemy while next to a window the element of satisfaction was extremely high, something akin to the temporal glory of last-man-standing.

Anyway, to the point, rules are important.

But so is creativity.

Where would we be today–in the areas of science, technology, and engineering to name but a few–if it weren’t for out-of-the-box thinkers to give us things like lightbulbs, telephones, automobiles, and touchscreens?  It takes artistic brainstormers, people who are willing to shrug off rules and conventions, people who are willing to experiment and even fail repeatedly–  It takes liberty to make progress.

But out-of-the-box thinking often rankles people, doesn’t it?  I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that most people want a certain way of doing things–a recipe to follow, a car manual for maintenance or repairs, a formula.  It’s as if to say, “I don’t really care about the theory behind it; just tell me how to do it!”  So they boil water on medium heat in a pot without a lid, drumming their fingers as they wait impatiently, without even considering what might happen if they turned the heat up and covered the pot.  And what’s worse is that all too often they expect everyone else to do it their way!  You know what I’m saying?

So far, though, I’ve been dealing with matters neutral regarding morality.  Could the same be said of moral matters?  Are there certain moral rules to follow?  St. Paul thought so.

To quote just one verse from today’s selection, he writes, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?  Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute?  Never!”  As Christians, Paul reasons, we are united to Christ in a mystical way similar to the way a husband and wife are united in marriage.  Would anyone ever want to unite to a prostitute in that same way?  Such thinking is beyond Paul’s moral boundaries.

Now what about when we think outside of the box of moral norms?  What if what was commonly accepted as morally upright in Paul’s day is no longer seen so today?  Homosexuality comes to mind, or at least it’s heading towards common moral acceptance.  I know some people who still find it offensive though; and they do so precisely because they say Paul found it outside of his moral box nearly two millennia ago.

So let’s turn the tables briefly.  What if Paul found something morally acceptable–within his moral box–that we find morally unacceptable today?  “There isn’t anything,” someone wants to say; to which I ask, “What about slavery?”

Paul had his moral box.  Apparently the out-of-the-box thinking Corinthians (“All things are lawful for me”) rankled Paul’s sensibilities.

We have our moral boxes.  What if someone rankles our sensibilities?

At the core of Paul’s thought seems to be the moral criterion of mutual benefit.  That is to say, I don’t think he’s the pro-slavery racist misogynist homophobe that many modern scholars make him out to be.  On the other hand, I don’t take his every word as sacred and indisputable.  Rather, I think his real message shines between the lines here:

“As Christians you enjoy liberty in Christ, sure; but in your liberty and matters of morality strive to benefit one another.”

Huh.  Reminds me a lot of what someone else once said, that we should love our neighbor as we love ourselves.  Now I don’t care whether you’re inside or outside of a box, that is a rule worth keeping!

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