Long week, couldn’t get enough time to say this right. Turns out good because He expanded it…
We. Are. Santa!!
Every year in Dallas (as in a lot of cities) there is a Santa rampage; a bar-centric event where hundreds of people dressed as Santa (or reindeer or elves or snowpeople…) wander the streets and trains of the city in a large pub crawl. The event benefits the North Texas Food Bank (and other charities), and this was our second year to go; both years I was struck by a few things about people:
The first is me… I tend to be boisterous and funny, but at these (and most) public events I get super zealous. I become my own bullhorn and try to get people amped and cheering. I couldn’t honestly tell you what started that or how, but I do it because I really Love the feeling when people are unified in excitement. I get annoying and embarassing for my companions, but I just can’t seem to make myself want to shut it off.
The second is onlookers. They come in two flavors: the overjoyed and the impatient. The overjoyed are the more common and they will cheer and laugh and sing at the sight of a couple hundred Santas passing them by. People in cars seem especially exhuberant. Little kids are always stunned into ecstatic silence. The impatient are most often found in hip bars or on the trains; these people have no time for such foolishness, and always act like you’re about to rob them.
The third is the mob: the Santas ourselves. There are a lot of drives that make a person want to dress up as Santa and go drink, but there are a couple aspects of the populace that I find interesting. One is the creativity; from the Cookie Monster Santa to the undead Santa people throw themselves into this. It’s become like a second, less-consumerist Halloween here in Dallas. The other thing I find fascinating is the social behavior. A lot of people tend to stick with the group they came with and not mingle much. You’d think this would lead to a pretty halphazard collective, but it really doesn’t; the group moves very much as a unit. Start singing a carol and everyone joins in. So what could any of this possibly have to do with the series we’ve been going through? How does a… maybe a sleigh? Can we call a plurality of Santas a sleigh? How does a sleigh of Santas relate to fundamental truth about Love?
Give a little bit
Last post we started into 1 Corinthians 13:7 and I mentioned that the verse is written quite poetically. Each quality listed is a nice little rhythm of panta [quality]; last time we talked about panta stegei, πάντα στέγει, and how panta really means “always,” not “all”. That comes into play today with panta pisteuoi, πάντα πιστεύει, because “all” as a definition would just be silly here — believing all things, even if you stretch the connotation to mean all good things, is just not a good thing.
The second part of verse 7 brings up a word that we’re all quite familiar with, but it is rendered here with a slightly lessened impact. Remember that as we passed into verse 5 I explained that verse 4 really set out the primals of Love, and that the remainder were finer distinctions. Verse 7 are still not primary qualities of Love, however they are very much primary qualities of humanity. Being protective is certainly a core quality of a person; you are either a person who guards others or yourself, who seeks oppenness or isolation, and that is often quite central to every relationship you’ll ever have. Today’s topic is no different. So what is it?
The verb pisteuoi refers to the act of exercising a more common noun — one used over 240 times in the New Testament — πίστις, pistis, which the King James refers to as “belief” in verse 7, but which you may know better as “faith.”
Love never loses faith
In this one the NLT gets it mostly right; instead of the weird “believeth all things” of the King James it reads “never loses faith”. That negative frame: “never loses faith” is wrong because panta means “always”, not “never”, and pisteuoi isn’t the quality of having something, but of putting that something into action, so it isn’t having faith it is using faith. Faithing. Sounds funny, which is why it gets turned into “believeth”, but “believeth” masks a critically important thing.
See, pistis itself has a root word, and that word is πείθω, peitho. If you were ever into Greek mythology you may recognize that Peitho was the name of a particular goddess: the goddess of persuasion and seduction. She was the handmaiden of Aphrodite, goddess of Love and beauty, and wife to Hermes, god of travellers and border-crossing, who was a trickster, not unlike Loki for the Norse, and he was the wing-footed messenger of the other gods. When the gods formed Pandora, the first woman, Peitho was one of the attendants who made her beautiful, styled her hair, and adorned her in beautiful garments and accessories. Although Peitho served Aphrodite, and may have even been her daughter, the Greeks had a complicated relationship with her, many followers of Aphrodite thinking of her as the negative side of Aphrodite, the counterpoint to her.
If you stop to consider that there are some deep topics in it. That seduction is sometimes considered the negative side of beauty is normal enough — a pretty girl can convince a smitten boy of just about anything — but that it has such a close bond to travel and crossing of borders is pretty interesting: travellers have both the power to persuade (due to their anonymity and mystery) and the tendency to be easily persuaded (due to their unfamiliarity with the people of the land they’ve travelled to). That persuasion can be the dark side of healthy Love is subtle: the trust that accompanies Love means you can be led to align to a corrupt point of view — to cross a border — without realizing it. This is actually what the word seduce means: ducere is Latin for “to lead” and the prefix se– means “apart” or “away”, so “seduce” literally means “to lead away”. How can “faith”, a word so focal to us and to which millions of words have been spilled to explain, possibly have foundation in such a scandalous topic as seduction?
Say what, now?
Notice that “to lead away” has no innate negative connotation. Christ Himself came to lead us away from the enemy, to lead His sheep to the good pasture. We think of seduction now as sexual, and you can see some compatibility: when seduced sexually you’re being led away from whatever you were doing to sex. But that’s only one frame for the concept; we are seduced by music, by food, by socialization. Seduction is not negative or positive, it is what you are led away from and what you are led away to that form that distinction.
What of seduction’s sister concept, persuasion? The Latin per- means “through” — as in “getting to the other side” — or “to complete” and suadere means “advise”. So “persuade” literally means “to advise to completion”, which is phrased weirdly but means that you are convincing someone of a new truth. This isn’t just passively telling someone; it is a legal term — think “convincing a judge or jury”. You don’t stop at saying a thing you know, you keep on it until you know the other person knows it, too. Both of these ideas, seduction and persuasion, are about altering a person’s resolve; they are about changing a person’s mind in a near-irreversible way.
Pistis, faith, is the effect of the peitho, convincing — it is the truth you have been convinced of, and pisteuoi, faithing, is the act of carrying that truth, of exercising it. See, believing a thing isn’t enough; it is only when you exercise your belief that it is proven a belief and not just a tradition you don’t question. Things you know, but which you are not convinced of, lie dormant and ignored. But things you are convinced of, things you were seduced by, have a hold, a drive. They push you to exercise them, to live them out. And this is why faith comes only by hearing — by persuasion: because faith is active and requires action. This… this what God seeks.
God always faiths
Our Father lives out His convictions, the things He has persuaded Himself of. The Scripture is filled with proof of this; His continual support of His chosen people, His willingness to go to the cross, His blessings from start to finish. And what He is most convinced of, what He lives out most, is that we are His, that His patience with us, His kindness to us, His joy in us is founded, is real. A couple posts ago I wrote about the truth He rejoices in and that it is us. What I’m saying today is that specifically He seeks the times when we exercise our faith, when we live out our convictions instead of passively gliding through life. He rejoices in our revealed, unrestricted, and totally committed moments because they show who we really are in all our beauty. Even when we don’t get it right, even when we aren’t exactly accurate, He is overjoyed that we are trying, that we are standing on our faith — the things we are convinced of.
I am convinced that in their hearts people want to connect and laugh and Love, and even when I embarass my friends at a Santa event my Father rejoices for my willingness to abandon fear or awkwardness and try to act on that conviction. He taught me this lesson about people and He wants to see me use it, finds me most beautiful when I am. When I see the joy in onlookers or feel the unity of other Santas my faith in unity is validated. When I see people segregate or see onlookers shy away I see the blockades of fear and pain that hold us back from that unity. But more than that, these negative reactions teach me to temper myself, to remember that the boldness I revel in can scare others. It is my job as my Father’s Son to reach out, to strive for the unity He taught me not by forcing others to my view, coaxing them to come to my view, but by mirroring them, by meeting them where they are.
This is the goal He had when He struck down the tower of Babbel: to show us the beauty in difference, to teach us that unity is not about uniformity but union. It is about joining hands whether they look like ours or not, about Loving hearts whether they are open or guarded, whether they match ours or not, about appreciating opinions whether they conflict with ours or not. You can do that at times by dressing as Santa and singing Christmas songs, and others by giving a soft shoulder, a merciful smile. Oh, how unspeakable beautiful we are when we reach out to each other. How crisply we display the face of God, the body of Christ, when we Love this way.
I believe, I faith, that we can not just populate Heaven with our unity, but that we can depopulate hell. I will exercise that faith as often as I can, will try to faith every opportunity He provides. What about you? What has seduced you? What has He persuaded you of? What makes you beautiful?