I remember some professor in class explaining that for Jews keeping Kosher, or the rules for Shabbat, had different levels of interpretation, which is why some groups define the rules differently. I remember in college lighting the match for a Jewish roommate for Shabbat, and I was confused as to why using a lighter or match could be considered work. This prof explained that some people added human layers of rules in order to assure they were following the Divine’s Desire. Explained that way, I am reminded of how rules can be comforting. We know what to expect, and within a rule you can convey great nuance as well as simple restrictions; this is found in the Ten Best Ways, the Ten Commandments. Yet as we know, rules can be left to interpretation.
Not only are rules as subjective and as personal as the person who lights a Shabbat candle, we often desire the social other to follow the same rules. This is how we design our religion and our religious practices. However, we balance rules with revelation. Amos even laments our rules (5:21-24):
I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Jesus takes on the deeper religious rules of scapegoating and sacrifice and stands up to continue living. Jesus is the revelation that our desire is to follow the desire of God and not the rules humans have layered upon our lives to assure our own order or comfort, often hiding the blood of those sacrificed for peace.
Nonetheless, it seems that the churches today that have more rules also have more people in the pews. We claim to desire a relationship with Jesus over simply following rules. However, recently I had a revelation of my son using a napkin. My seven-year-old son has autism and I can tell you simply making the rule, “use your napkin,” does not work. Months of us reminding him positively, after every bite, has created a situation where he now wipes his hands and face as often as most boys his age, perhaps even a little better, as he has incorporated this act into his ritual of eating. Not by a rule, but through the intense relationship.
This is how everything is taught. For our child, including safety rules like, “you can’t go outside without permission,” would be as effective as me making burnt offerings. So we make the ritual of asking “Go outside, please,” part of his routine of going outside, through the intense relationship of us making that a positive expectation, but is that not what we need to do as the church.
We are commissioned to be the Church, The Resurrected Body of Christ, to be the revelation in the world; not rules. Rules are easy--trust me for I know--as I desire to make a few rules for my son, but alas, I will need to stick to the relationship of revelation, and that helps with Church as well.
A little more exciting then napkins and door, here we are feeding birds at the zoo.