As we all remember, most of us during school cursed the need to learn algebra and certain other subjects because "we're never going to use this in real life." We instead left algebra to the people who use it to develop algorithms for things like Google and the accountants who figured out how many millions of dollars they were worth.
Among those useless subjects were diagramming sentences. Speaking from the wisdom our 12 years had given us, we assured our teachers that simply writing sentences made much more sense than all of this line-drawing and trying to figure out what predicates, direct objects and whatnot were. I can only imagine what a teacher has to try to do in a world of Twitter and texting.
But the diagram was intended to show us how to construct those sentences we said we would write. Using diagrams, we were supposed to figure out how to write more clearly -- a complicated diagram often meant a complicated sentence, and a complicated sentence was frequently a hard-to-understand-sentence. I had this thought when reading this passage from Romans, because it seems as though Paul is offering a diagram of what he's outlined in the earlier part of the chapter about being transformed instead of conforming to this world. How, exactly, are we supposed supposed to do that?
Well, look at this set of guides in verse 9 through 16 and see if following them wouldn't bring about a transformation in you or in anyone else who might try them. Look at one admonition in verse 10, for example: "Outdo one another in showing honor." Think about how many ideas in our culture that idea contradicts.
Sure, there's the "outdo one another" part, which seems to match a lot of what we see around us. A movie opens and its revenue is measured against hits from last year or against similar movies. Political news stories focus on poll results -- who is ahead after a debate, and which position on the issues is favored by more people? We focus on who's ahead or who's got more all the time.
But what about outdoing each other not in claiming honor but in showing it? What community operates that way? What people operate that way? Which kind of person do we admire, the one who claims credit for their own achievements or the one who says thanks and then points to another's achievements as even more worthy? If we competed to show the most respect to each other -- not false deference or weaseling, but genuine respect -- what would our society look like? What would our churches look like?
Or blessing those who persecute us? Many of us saw on the news the misguided folks of a certain religious group decide to bring their protest road show to the funerals of young tornado victims in Oklahoma. Very few people outside this group's own community approve of this kind of persecution of families in some of their most troubled times. Condemnation and mockery of them is easy to find, and I have made more than one put-down of their heartless actions myself. But lately I've been wondering where the prayers are for these lost people (the answer probably should be, from me, but it hasn't been and that's part of the problem).
What would a transformed person do? Would I be conformed to the world's pattern of outdoing each other in creativity of my insult directed at these folks, or would I be praying for God to bless them with an awareness of how they've misunderstood him and the joy of knowing they're forgiven? That's an unfortunately rhetorical question -- I know the answer very well and I know how my actions have not followed my words.
I guess in that way, diagramming the transformed life shares something with diagramming a sentence: Neither of them are particularly easy to do. I guess we're blessed that the One who helps us diagram our lives doesn't grade us and offers not only frequent second chances, but even made the test the ultimate open-Book exam.