Guard or Gardener?

I remember one of THOSE guards.  With gladitorial authority, he spoke in graphic detail about what a German Shepherd guard dog could do to human flesh.  He demonstrated by shouting a command to his dog parked in the company’s van.  The dog erupted with a ferocity that left me feeling, “This guy is nuts” and thankful I was on the other side of the van’s windows.  What was he protecting?  Gold at a Pocono flea market.

Faith often draws the same type of individuals.  They are guards and guard dogs.  Charged with careful protection of a seemingly delicate and ancient artifact, they remain ever vigilant about threats to it, and I believe uncomfortably comfortable in the hope that one of the these days they will actually get to use that dog.

It would be great to excuse it away with the oft repeated aphorism that “They are just that way because they love the church so much.”  That could work except for one uncomfortable fact – that orientation kills.  From the famous SNL skit on the “Church Ladies” on down the perspective of “faith-as-guard-and-guard dog” hurts and wounds far more than it builds and heals.  It appears to be a defense of a God who needs human defending which is not the God one finds the Bible.  We can only find that endangered God in our own fears and anxieties.  Build a god out of the ego’s fears and anxieties?  Not the best of blueprints.

Faith far more calls for gardeners than guards.  Such an orientation requires us to move from the pulpit to the ground.  ”The life that leads to heaven is not one of withdrawal from the world but a life in the world. A life of piety apart from a life of charity does not lead to heaven at all.” (Heaven and Hell, 535)   Maybe in some way that explains why Christ, when first seen by Mary, was mistaken for the gardner.   For in a sense there is nothing to “protect” but there is a great deal to plant, a great deal to care for, a great deal to love.    In moving to that orientation, God surprises us doesn’t He.

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