“Come Out Ye From Among Them and Be Ye Separate”
The biblical admonishment to “Come out from among them and be ye separate” and to be a “peculiar people” received strong emphasis in the church of my upbringing. And, looking back, God must have been proud of us for we certainly accomplished this, though with great (unconscious) irony. We just had no idea how different we appeared, how “peculiar” we were! And, well….now, with hang-dog face and shamed faced…I have to admit, “Yep, I probably accomplished that more than the rest!”
There are so many anecdotes I could share to illustrate things we did to do maintain the illusion of this separateness. A common bromide was to never, “drink, smoke, chew, or go with the girls that do.” On the drinking part of that bromide, the onset of canned soft drinks in the ‘Sixties posed a problem as if we drank a soft drink in a can, it might appear to others that we were drinking a beer! One young adult I knew pointed out with pride that at office parties, he would drink a coke…from a bottle and with a straw…to make it clear to all parties that he was not imbibing.
This obsessive need to be the “peculiar people” of the Old Testament reflected a core identity problem . For, people who have a secure identity do not have to make a show of who they are in any respect to any dimension of life, certainly faith. They can merely “be” and have confidence that their “be-ing” in the world will suffice. These people of faith who are secure in their identity do not have to be ostentatious with their faith as it will not be a suit of clothes they wear, but merely be part and parcel of their life, a completely natural part of that life. They do not have to announce with word or deed, “Hey, world! I am a Christian, or Buddhist, or Hindu, or whatever!” Their faith is very personal and is not for the purpose of show.
Now a person of faith will certainly stand out in an important sense as their life will reflect values different than most people have. Their focus will not be on the ephemeral, but on Value itself. In our culture, they will not be so obsessed with “stuff” though they well might have plenty of “stuff.” The roots of their heart and soul will not be in mass culture. they will not subscribe to the adage, “He who has the most stuff at the end of the game wins.”
Shakespeare described this ostentatious faith as that of “hollow men” who have to “show their mettle…like horses hot at hand.” When I watch a televangelist or some smug, oily Christian who is “strutting his ‘Christian’ stuff”, I often pictures a team of wild horses pawing the air, shrieking to anyone interested in looking on, “Hey, lookee here! Lookee here! See me! A’int I pious?”
And T. S. Eliot wrote a powerful poem entitled, “Hollow Men.” Speaking of mankind as a whole, not just with respect to spirituality, he described shallow, empty, “hollow men…stuffed men leaning together, headpiece filled with straw.” His poem beautifully captures the futile emptiness of alienated lives bereft of any spiritual connection to self, others, the world, or God.
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;
Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us—if at all—not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.