Stones for Your Backpack

The air tasted of salt. It was bitter in his mouth. He hadn’t known how tired he was until he stepped off the ship. His arms ached and his legs felt empty, the stubbornly still dock strange under his feet. He closed his eyes against the sound of the sail flapping in the wind behind him, frowning in disgust at the familiar deep flutter that had accompanied him for so many hard months. He imagined he would hear the phantom sound of waves crashing against the hull in his dreams for weeks. Then he saw her.
She’d already seen him and her face had broken open into a smile. Her eyes glinted with tears in the bright sun. Her hands were clasped in front of her, but she shook as if she might explode into a run toward him at any moment. He felt himself move quicker, his empty legs threatening to buckle. But he’d crawl to her if they did. 

He thought he’d never reach her, never see her face, feel her embrace, and then he was there, holding her tight, feeling her shudder against him. 

Her eyes were red when he looked at her again. Her cheeks damp. His smile broadened, and he pulled his wife close to kiss her. There was no premeditation. It was just the thing to do. Love demanded it. Who would begrudge a man pulled from his wife by the sea for so long a time a simple kiss? But he saw the disapproving eyes, and heard the whispers the moment they were apart. He was aware of them watching for the first time since he’d seen her. He swallowed hard, regretting the reckless act. And he was right to. It wouldn’t be long before he’d be put in the stocks by his Puritan brothers for his crime.

The Crime of Kissing

Was it a crime? Um, yeah. The Puritans had all sorts of laws based on their religious beliefs. Laws on clothes, and sports and, you guessed it, kissing your wife in public. (Wouldn’t want to stir up the lust of the hapless standers-by now would we?) It was a strange time where moralism got people executed, “witches” burned, and wore out the hinges on the stocks from constant use.
A Solid Biblical Case
While such laws may seem far-fetched to our modern ears, they seemed downright biblical and necessary to those who followed them. While we aren’t ruled by the Church anymore (thank heavens), and our petty moral rules aren’t law, we do feel the weight of them in our religious communities–like stones for our backpacks. 

Like the lady who told my wife I must not be much of a Christian because I chose not to identify with a specific political party. The friend who told me I shouldn’t say freaking because we all knew it was just a substitute for that far more insidious f-word. Even, at the risk of raising dander, the logic that one shouldn’t smoke because our body is the temple of God.
I could make a solidbiblical case for some of those (and a myriad other righteous rules if that’s your kink), because they often seem to make sense. (Our body is the temple of God, after all.) But I could also, retroactively, make a strong case for why one shouldn’t kiss their wife in public when it might cause a brother or sister to stumble. See how slippery a slope this can be? (You’re composing your rant on the smoking thing, aren’t you?)
I See Your Point
It’s not that we shouldn’t have personal ethics or convictions. It’s not even that someof these types of rules aren’t good ideas or maybe even smart or healthy. I’m not against rules. The problem is when we universalize our personal opinions, or stretch the logical conclusions of a biblical principle to its breaking point. These so-called righteous rules can pile up to the point that we feel stagnated in our interactions with others, constantly guilty about not meeting all of them, feel self-righteous when we have, and—most disastrously—more focused on these pulled-out-of-thin-air laws than on Jesus.
Not to pick on the Puritans too much, but they also had folks running around town making sure the citizens were pious enough in their behavior. The Piety Police, if you will. This kind of rule-based righteousness causes us to become curators of our brothers and sisters personal morality. We feel like we should remark on every slightly askew comment, correct even the tiniest error, and shame those othersinners into shape. We beat them to death with the log in our own eye over the speck in theirs.

Love, the bible says, covers over a pile of sins. That doesn’t mean we don’t also lovingly and humbly correct the brothers and sisters who’ve stumbled into the quicksand of sin–those whose lives in which we have earned the right to be heard. But it does mean that we aren’t walking around with a moralistic magnifying glass, inspecting the every action and word of the other as if that was the be-all end-all of the faith.

Spur one another in love and good works, not harass one another until they snap in two and you win. Our peacock tails of self-righteousness might seem impressive, but they will wilt in the holy presence of God. Instead of adding to the burden of ourselves and others, creating rules that seem like good ideas, but are really just self-righteous indulgence, let us live in love, and preach the gospel of Jesus for sinners to one another. In this way, our message won’t be that we’re better people than the world, but that there is One who is good, and there’s enough forgiveness for all. That’s like, well, a kiss on the lips.

-Chad West

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