Wednesday, November 7, 2007

not in my 'comfort zone'

Hang around most contemporary churches very long, and the idea of "comfort zone" will creep in. In fact, it won't so much creep as it will parade itself, being a part of almost every idea being spoken of. The ways it may be expressed would probably be in words such as these, "God wants to stretch us, take us out of our comfort zones", "Yes, doing this will be strange for us, and some people may think we're crazy, it's not traditional, it's not comfortable, it will take us out of our comfort zone".

Over a year ago, while living in Lexington, I was attending a certain church, and one Saturday was with a group from the church having dinner at a restaurant. I was sitting with three other guys, two of whom seemed to have been newbies in town, and were talking about a certain minister or ministry I had some familiarity with, and wasn't one I thought overly highly of. I didn't really say much, nor get too upset about it, but to one of them did mention that I did question some things that person taught. But when in response he tried to say something about my 'comfort zone', I have to admit I spoke pretty hard in response. Nothing major, no shouting, just rather firmly stated that he shouldn't play the 'comfort zone' game with me.

It's an idea I've never really liked, and didn't really think was completely correct, but didn't think it out far enough to see why I thought it not quite right. Until somewhat recently.

In an essay called "The Weight of Glory", C. S. Lewis began by pointing out the differences between unselfishness and love. If I remember correctly, his idea was that while unselfishness has more to do with what a person chooses to do without, love has to do with considering the good of the other. In essence, unselfishness measures itself by the what the self chooses to not have, while love measures itself by the good done to the other.

A similar parallel could be made between, for example, being nice and being kind. Niceness tends to have be concessional, not given to standing strongly for anything, and afraid of offending. Kindness can be firmer, stronger, may even offend if need be.

My thought is that in this likening of "comfort zone" rhetoric and obedience, a similar transposition is occuring. The focus is more on the self, and how an action is considered right or wrong. More so, it's a way of measuring if an one is 'living in faith' or if what one wants to do is based on faith.

But it's a subjective measure, and it's based on feelings. It assumes that an action of faith will feel a certain way, a sort of Christian version of a Mountain Dew commercial.

And as with the others, the focus becomes more on the self and less on God, more on feeling and less on real obedience.

Perhaps more then that, it's a catch-all that can be used to justify almost anything. Those who want to do something, and more so something questionable, can use the "comfort zone" type of rhetoric to claim that those who disagree are not willing to "go out of their comfort zones". A person speaking things that may be bizarre can also insinuate that their opposition is based solely on the 'fact' that what he is saying makes them "uncomfortable". Kind of like what the man in the restaurant tried to pull on me.

It's not that there isn't some truth in the "comfort zone" idea. Often, perhaps even most times, obedience isn't comfortable, just as love will cause one to sacrifice and kindness does consider how one's actions are perceived. But that is only a part of the thing, just as those others are only parts of the bigger virtue.

But it's an emphasis on the one aspect, not the whole. Discomfort is not a reliable measure for the obedience of an action. I would guess that most people could think of things they considered bad and even evil that they would be uncomfortable doing. But the thing is, God could well ask a person to do such a thing, much as how He asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.

That is perhaps the biggest charge against the idea--it's trite. Speaking of "comfort zones" to Abraham while he is on his way to sacrifice his son would rightly in my opinion by considered insulting. It wasn't a case of him "leaving his comfort zone", it was a case of him obeying when what was asked was rending him to pieces.

It is obedience, not discomfort, that defines faith.

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