Posted by: beattieblog | May 23, 2011

Pop-Culture Karma and Our Enemies

I’m scheduled to talk next Tuesday, 5/31, on “Just Me and My Enemy: Grace Gets in the Way” for a young adults worship service at Bel Pres. It’s got me thinking alot about ‘pop-culture karma’ – you know, that vanilla spiritual concept that permeates our culture. I hear it talked a lot about by people like Oprah and just about every drive-time radio talk show host (it seems) – “you get what you give”…”what goes around comes around”…”you reap what you sow” (does the Bible teach Karma?). I’d go so far as to say the default mode of the human race appears to be Karma. Even within my Christian tribe we pull out verses – like the reaping and sowing above or even our ‘golden rule’ – to get on the Karma train. We may not call it Karma and most Hindus and Buddhists would likely cringe at these pop-culture understandings of Karma. But it’s all a part of this meta-idea that our thoughts, words and actions impact what comes back on us in the world. And in my opinion, it’s a little…insidious. Too strong? Maybe. But the more I think about it, the more I see this thinking as a prison – a train hurtling through our world that you can’t jump off.

Let’s take an extreme example. I spent 10 amazing days in Cambodia this past Spring. Karma is everywhere in this country dominated by Buddhism and it’s syncretistic blending of Hinduism and animism. Here’s how it plays out on the streets: Something bad happens? Karma. Bad sales in your shop or market stand? Karma. Lose a bunch of money; lose your house or moto? It’s your bad Karma – or for the person who gets your money, house or moto, th


at must be their good Karma. Experience one of the worst examples of genocide this world has ever known? Must be collective bad Karma. Not the choices of people to commit evil acts. But Karma. Now, I’m speaking pretty generally but this is part of the insidious nature of Karma-thinking. Evil and human choices often get off the hook. How about in our context? Does this kind of thinking creep into your mind about how and why the things in your life have gone the way they have? With either the good or the bad things, do you chalk them up to being what you deserved based on how you been livin’? How about the way you view others? Ever looked at a homeless or cleary impoverished person on the streets of Bellevue or Seattle and thought, “well, their bad choices got them there.” Maybe, maybe not. Regarless, we live amidst a spiritual smorgasboard – an “Old Country Buffet” of ideas, practices and rituals – and pop-culture Karma is the main dish for many. And you know what? It makes a lot of sense. I’ve got my mashed potatoes, jell-o salad and veggie medley; it’s time for some prime rib or fried chicken. Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe our choices matter. The way we treat others impacts what happens in our family, friend, neighbor and work relationships. There are consequences for our actions. Just ask Osama Bin Laden – I mean if anyone ever got what he deserved, right? But, particularly as Christians, we need to give Karma up. Why? Because grace changes everything. Grace comes along, smiles and kicks Karma right in the junk and runs off inviting us to follow. Grace pulls up alongside that Karma-train and yells “jump!” Unlike Karma, Grace doesn’t force us to follow or jump, but why wouldn’t you? Grace is about redemption and not holding you hostage with guilt and shame. Grace offers hope instead of fear, Grace makes beauty out of ugly things (shameless U2 reference). If you’ll allow it, Grace will welcome you back into the fold and says, “Let’s try that again from the top.”

But Grace isn’t cheap and it isn’t your spiritual a%& cover. It is a force to be reckoned with – THE force to be reckoned with. It costs a lot and it will eventually ask a lot. I realize this sounds like an oxymoron, but Grace is a big spender that likes a big party. Eventually grace is going to ask you to make some room on its own freedom-train. At first, it sounds great – of course we should make room. But then you see who Grace wants you to sit with and you remember you’re supposed to be somewhere.Grace isn’t cheap. Which means it can cover some pretty big debts. An old mentor of mine used to say, “If you hang out with Jesus long enough, he’ll piss you off.” (BTW, you can’t talk about grace without talking about Jesus – he’s driving the train). One minute Jesus is hanging with you and your crowd and then you look around and he’s over across the street having dinner and drinks with that group you can’t stand. Call it, “pulling a Zacheus.” That’s irritating – but what will really infuriate you is when he asks you to host the next party for everyone. But that’s the nature of Jesus and his grace – grace can’t help herself and eventually, if you let grace set you free, you’ll ‘get it’ and ask to host. Here’s a video testimony about the effect of grace on one young community. As you watch, ask yourself – “is there grace enough for me?” “Who is God asking me to forgive and extend grace to?”


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