This is the outline of the comments I made to the students at Annapolis Christian Academy in Corpus Christi.
The apostle Paul tells us to be transformed in the renewing of our minds, and so to prove what is the good and acceptable will of God. Because an apostle told us this, we know it is a good thing. But it does not follow from this that we know what he means.
I would like to begin by reminding you that he contrasts this with not being conformed to the world, and this means that the process of not being conformed to one thing, and being transformed to the pattern of another thing, is inescapably social. It involves other people — either this kind of person or that kind of person. Obedience at this point is a social function.
We must not fall victim to a prevailing metaphor for our human identity — for to do so would be an instance of being conformed to this world.That metaphor conceives of the essential you as being packed down inside you, and what you do over the course of your life is “unfold,” like you were one of those transformer thingies. The only real problem with this conception is that it is completely wrong. Other than that, it is fine I suppose.
We like to flatter ourselves in the belief that our identity is essentially our own, and all that is necessary is to dig down deep and haul out that essential identity, as the world looks on astonished. But your relationships play a much more important role in shaping you than you would like to think. It is not all relationship, of course, because there must be a hard atom called by your name so that there might be something to have relationships with. But that hard atom, bounded handily by your skin, which keeps you from slopping out all over, is radically affected, shaped, molded, directed, encouraged, and created by, your relationships.
This is all through Scripture. Those who walk with the wise will be wise. Bad companions corrupt good morals. Remember your leaders, considering the outcome of their way of life. Imitate the apostle, as he imitates Christ. We are not individuals, radically alone, but as one writer described it, we are interdividuals. We are not so many marbles in a box, radically distinct except for the arbitrary box somebody put us in, but rather are distinct leaves on a tree — as easy to tell apart as the marbles, but still all connected.
So you are shaped by the company you keep — your teachers, your friends, your parents and siblings, not to mention the movies and books you read.
Scripture teaches that we become like what we worship. Not only so, but we also are becoming like those we worship with. Let’s take these in order.
The Bible says that when we see Jesus, we will become like Him, for we will see Him as He is. Until that day, we are being gradually transformed into His likeness, from one degree of glory to another. For those who worship idols, they are worshiping idols that have eyes but cannot see, ears but cannot hear, and so on. Those that make them, the psalmist says, are like unto them. You become like what you worship.
But God does not intend for us to worship Him in solitary. We do not raise our praises to Him from an isolated bubble. We worship and serve Him in community. And here is where it gets tricky. This is because serving God in community sounds like an absolutely wonderful thing, the only down side being the fact of having to deal with other people. Community would be great if it weren’t for the other people.
Scripture tells us that love covers a multitude of sins and we, in our conceits, naturally gravitate to what needs to be covered in the others. It never occurs to us that we are the kind of people who need to learn how to cover things. Maybe this happens so much because we need the practice, and not because the other person is hopeless. Maybe we are the one not getting it. But as we learn how to do this rightly, we help one another in our pilgrimage of transformation.
So, with all this said, how do we make it concrete? How do we make it practical? The one thing that will disrupt every attempt to live in community here at Annapolis Christian Academy will be that old chameleon, pride. There are all kinds of pride that will mess up your ability to live together as God summons you to live, which is being transformed by the renewing of your minds.
There is faculty-commendation-seeker pride, which is ever on the prowl for new lines, so that it may color inside them. There is hipster pride, too cool to care. Odd black framed glasses, torn jeans, and insouciant hair gel, this is the fellow who would adore Mumford and Sons, provided he was the only one who had ever heard of them. Then there is the curl-up-in-a-fetal-position pride. They have have such a poor self-image that everyone within a fifty foot radius has to drop everything, pat the back of their hand, and tell them soothingly that God don’t make no junk. No, but the devil does, and your time in school is a wonderful time to learn how to drop the pretenses, and just love other people.
Loving them means treating them lawfully, with a whole heart. Love God with everything you have, and then love your neighbor as yourself. This includes everything you say, everything you write, and everything you type with your thumbs. Let everything be communicated for edification. On my Twitter account, I recently sent out the reminder that we should “tweet others as we would be tweeted.” This is the law and the pwophets.
Note that I talking about getting real, and not talking about copping a pose. Enough of the authenticity fraud. There are an awful lot of people who want to be gritty writer of realistic fiction when they won’t take thirty seconds to be real — as in real nice — to their neighbor. So here is the exhortation, or perhaps a set of them. Dress for comfort — the comfort of others. Take a moment to say something pleasant and complimentary to your younger sister. And yes, I am talking to you. The next time you are in the hallway alone, and there is a piece of scrap paper on the floor, pick it up and throw it away. After every class, thank your teachers.
Live in community. Be transformed. Don’t be conformed to the world’s pressures. Encourage others as they are being transformed more closely to the image of Christ. Get real, and roll with it.