May 23, 2014

The "Attractions of Losing Innocence"

"We may find ourselves deeply troubled 
if we take in our culture's favorite storylines."
-Gregory Spencer

We had a great discussion in our Bible Study group this past Wednesday evening, after watching an eye-opening talk by Mary Kassian, about how the culture we live in is pressuring us all to veer off track from our morals and the way God intends us to live (and how we are veering off, at an alarmingly rapid pace)... and how we need to send out an S.O.S.!

The discussion reminded me of another S.O.S. I had read before but I couldn't quite put my finger on it... 

I searched my books the past couple days and I finally found what it was I was looking for, and here it is for your reading pleasure.

An excerpt from 
"Awakening the Quieter Virtues" 
by Gregory Spencer

(I know it is a long post, but you won't be disappointed 
if you take the time to read every word!!!)

"Adult innocence is not the same as ignorance.  Like competent competitors, innocent adults know their opponent; they understand the shape and appeal of evil.  They may even study evil, but they attempt to learn by observation, not by participation.

Our hope is to imitate Jesus, who, as Hebrews 4:15 says, 
was 'tempted in every way, just as we are- yet he did not sin.'

Innocence is intimately connected with good; it aims to set it free.
At the same time, innocence has much to do with evil; it aims to restrict it.
As it seeks to achieve these goals, innocence does its best to learn about evil 
by observation and analysis, not by experience.

Inadequate views of innocence tend to keep the virtue from being taken seriously by adults.
At first glance, innocence sounds like perfection, like utterly undefiled wholesomeness.

But innocence is not the same as total purity.  

The virtue of innocence doesn't require perfection any more than any other virtue.  
Though we may "lose our innocence" temporarily, it is not lost forever.

Innocence is not a denial of pain and tragedy.
It is not a Precious Moments sentimentality.

Also, innocence is not the same as gullibility, 
a state of mind ripened for manipulation.

Instead, virtuous innocence is a paradox of informed ignorance.
A qualified knowledge of evil makes us better able to resist the seductions around us.

Parents reveal this perspective when they tell their children, 'Don't get into a car with a stranger'.  
In other words, 'Don't be gullible. We want you to be innocent of the experience of being kidnapped,
but not of the threat.'

Although certain tensions are timeless, 
each era's dominant story tellers create their own versions of 
the attractions of losing innocence.  

Hollywood is not in a conspiracy to advance a wicked agenda, 
but certain themes in stories tend to get repeated in appealing ways.
From Clark Gable to the latest incarnation of James Bond, the suave and street-wise man--and, more recently, the aggressively romantic woman-- typically outshines characters portrayed as the shy, unadventurous innocent.

Those who are not boldly seductive or wildly dangerous, or not violating the boundaries of others, are often played as boring and unsophisticated-- in a word, losers.

Hollywood tells us that innocence is fine for children, but the rest of us get the message that we need to suck it up and see life as it is.  Life is dark and gritty, full of deceit and insincerity and greed. Yet the 'real life' presented on the screen is usually far from real.  For the most part, real life is rather ordinary.  My life isn't dreary-- but it will not be coming soon to a theater near you.

Just as Herod's slaughtering of the innocents was a tragedy, 
so Hollywood's stories that slaughter innocence are tragic.

The good news is that Herod was not entirely successful-- and neither is Hollywood.

The Messiah survived then and he is with us today, 
helping us resist breaking the boundaries that protect innocence.

We hear a lot about lost innocence, but what is lost when we lose it?
Some would say we lose the inhibitions that keep us from having fun.
But the more important issue here has to do with the long-term, good effects of innocence.  

Typically, we think in terms of losing innocence, but it might be more helpful to think of what is gained when innocence is found....

-You gain the ability to experience pleasures wholeheartedly:
All losses of moral innocence diminish the fullness of joy in which a pleasure was meant to be experienced.  An innocent pleasurable experience has no tainted memory associated with it; in has no lingering recollection of twisting a good act into self-indulgence or vindictiveness.  

Spoiled innocence, when it takes over a life, leads to a thoroughgoing cynicism.  

We've seen it all and we aren't impressed.  

"Oh you care about politics? Good for you.' 
'Isabel just received a promotion? Who cares?'  

A disdain of all things innocent is a way of saying that nothing is worthy of our commitment.  Wholesale cynicism moves us toward a kind of nothingness, a diminishing of self and a sense that others should vanish as well.

When spoiled innocence reaches a critical mass-- 
or when we believe culture is unredeemable-- 
we live in a communal cynicism.

-You gain the reassuring security of unbreached borders:
In the late eighth century, European emperor Charlemagne asked a councilor, Alcuin, to tutor his son Pepin.  To accomplish this task, Alcuin created a series of questions and answers for Pepin to memorize.  The catechism included the following exchange:

Pepin: What is the liberty of man?
Alcuin: Innocence.

Alcuin recognized the relationship between secure moral thresholds and freedom.

The self-indulgent try to convince us otherwise, but there's plenty of evidence to support Alcuin.  Although it may appear to restrict freedom, 
innocence in fact creates a stability that leads to greater freedom.

Perhaps the most obvious example is the keeping of covenants.  If a wife is secure in the innocence of her husband's faithfulness, she trusts him with greater freedom as he interacts with other women. If a student maintains the classroom covenant of not cheating, her professors are much more likely to trust her during an exam.

We can also see the importance of secure boundaries in neighborhoods, cities and nations.  The greater the communal innocence, the greater the freedom.  In a safe neighborhood, we might not even lock our houses.  But if a sexual predator moves in next door we snap the deadbolts shut.

A culture that, on the whole, values healthy norms 
will find it easier to remain innocent regarding the violation of those norms.

Once borders are breached, forgiveness and recovery are possible, but they may prove difficult.
Rebuilding a secure wall takes time.

Since innocence is a choice, we are all day long deciding if we will keep our borders in good repair, if we will learn of evil without experiencing it.

We need to remember that every hour we make these choices is a good hour.  The voice of the Liar tells us that these choices don't really matter, that once the border has been transgressed, we are now 'damaged goods.'  But this is a lie, because innocence is a virtue, not a 'once and done' phenomenon.  The prophet Micah might have us add, 'Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise.  Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light" (7:8)

And make no mistake; though a border gets repaired, the broken wall is part of our history-- and that's okay.  Our innocence is not hidden somewhere, waiting to be found.  It is in us, by God's grace, waiting to be transformed.

-You gain a heightened sense of justice:
Because innocence is a child of justice, a strengthened virtue of innocence produces a more mature ability to separate the just from the blameworthy.  We also become more willing to speak out against injustice.  When Jesus says, 'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God' (Matthew 5:8), 
I think he means it proportionally; 
the purer we are, the more we will see God, 
that is,
 see Him at work in circumstances around us, 
see life as he sees it, 
recognize what God calls just or unjust. 

During World War II, the village of Le Chambon near Vichy, France, became known as the safest place on the continent for Jewish refugees.  The leader of the town, Pastor Andre Trocme, influenced others with a sense of justice borne of his passion to protect the innocent.

He fed them, often going hungry himself.

Though Nazis constantly pressured him to obey orders to name and locate Jews in the area, 
Trocme refused, and led thousands of Jews to Switzerland.  Biographer Peter Hallie says,
"He believed that decent people who stay inactive out of cowardice or indifference when around them human beings are being humiliated and destroyed are the most dangerous people in the world.  His nonviolence was not passive or saccharine, but an almost brutal force for awakening human beings."

Trocme expected a dedicated innocence to result in a zeal for justice.  

Likewise, the loss of innocence may reduce the 'gumption' that justice requires.

  We tend to downplay the immorality of what we do not resist.  

If we have transgressed boundaries concerning revenge, we may struggle to forgive others.
If we have habitually lied, we probably won't defend the importance of the truth.
If we have lost innocence through gossip, we find it difficult to practice the justice of protecting another's reputation.
If we have lost innocence through promiscuity, we may find it difficult to pursue sexual justice.

Our sense of justice matters, and innocence is tightly wrapped up in it.

The Discipline of Advocacy
Sometimes in the trial of life, we are innocent, 
but we hear voices and arguments pushing us to be unfaithful.

How should we respond?

Thankfully, Jesus showed the way.

In the wilderness, the accuser challenged him to abuse his power, deny his spiritual loyalties and reduce God to a carnival trick.  When asked in these ways to transgress his innocence, Jesus defended his commitments.

He knew what he believed and could cite scriptural support.

When a temptation to break our innocence comes, we can pray, and we can also exercise our reason.

In the context of justice, and our legal system, who protects the innocent?
An advocate.

Who exposes the guilty?
Though lawyers have a soiled reputation these days, 
the falsely accused surely want the best defense.

And remember, one name for the Holy Spirit is 'the Advocate,' 
because he testifies for Jesus and intercedes on our behalf (John 14:26; 15;26).

Though we usually think of an advocate as someone who speaks on behalf of someone else,
I am thinking of the ways we can be an advocate for our own spiritual vitality.

When our innocence is at risk, we can plead our case with good arguments and solid evidence.
We can learn to be bold enough to say to our accusers what Job said of his:
'Your maxims are proverbs of ashes; your defenses are defenses of clay' (13:12)

Many biblical sources affirm the importance of advocacy.
In addition to Jesus' brilliance in the desert during his temptation, Paul skillfully makes his case for the gospel in Romans.  Another resource can be found in Proverbs 7.  In this chapter, a father teaches his son about the dangers of sexual seduction.  He wants his son to know what evil is like and how it attempts to convince.  The son should know about prostitution, but not by experience.

And what does the father offer as resources for his son?
How is the son to fend off the seduction?
First, he tells his son to have clear goals, to remember his words and commands.
Don't be ignorant; know what it is you are trying to retain and to protect.

Next he says, in essence, 'Be wise. Know the innocence-breaker's non-verbal and verbal schemes. 
Be prepared to reject weak arguments.'

The father wants his son to be a good advocate for his own innocence, 
to know the opposing side and how to marshal a case against it.

That's what Jesus did in the wilderness.
He was a skillful advocate against his accuser.

And he prayed.

Maintaining our innocence has more benefits than we might imagine.

Perhaps it is time to attend to innocence."


"Behold, I am sending you out as sheep 
in the midst of wolves, 
so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves."  
Matthew 10:16

I have fallen in love with this bible verse... It was Jesus himself telling us that if we embrace the "purity and peacefullness of doves" combined with "the wariness and quick-strike capabilities of snakes"... that we truly can survive in this world, even as sheep in the midst of wolves.

I'm praying for you all, my blog followers...  
To be wise, and to bravely protect innocence!

(Also see my *much shorter* blog post from last month 
on this same topic of Innocence)

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