Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Acid Test of Discipleship

"Acid test" is an interesting term. It originated in the 19th century and referred to a test to determine if what appeared to be gold was, in fact, gold. A drop of nitric acid would leave real gold untouched but would turn blue on "fool's gold" which contains some element of copper. By the 20th century, it had entered general usage referring to whatever kind of test would distinguish the real from merely the apparent.

As I was praying with Sacred Space this morning, I reflected on what would be the acid test for a Christian. Would an objective observer conclude from the way I live my life that God exists? Or would such an observer conclude that my "espoused values" were Christian but that my "values in action" reflected the prevailing values and attitudes of my culture? Am I a thoroughly acculturated 21st century American who espouses Christian values or am I a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ who lives a life "in but not of" this 21st century world? This is a constant question for anyone, regardless of religious belief or engagement. The terms--"espoused values" and "values in action"--are from the work of Chris Argyris, noted organizational behaviorist. He uses these concepts to analyze the very human trait of saying one thing (usually what we think people want or need to hear) and then doing another (usually what we want or need.) We have all heard the same thoughts expressed in different ways:
  • Values are not taught; they're taught.
  • "If I had ever met a Christian, I might be one." Ghandi
  • "Children pay more attention to what parents do, not what they say." Most any parent.
  • "The good that I will, I do not. The evil that I do not will, that is what I do." St. Paul
While Christianity is inherently counter-cultural, I know that it is impossible for me to act outside the culture of which I am a part. But I know that I can live in tension with that culture or in a barely conscious complicity with it. Setting aside overt religious observance, could an observer look at my behavior this past week and at least get a glimmer that there is something at work in my life other than the prevailing values of my culture? If so, what would those be exactly? Such an examination is an uncomfortable exercise but one that I want to make part of my life.

No comments: