I’m a pastor in Texas.
That fact brings with it many strange norms that my pastor friends north of the Mason-Dixon line (and even some of those in the South/West) really have no appreciation for. Some of those norms are narcissism-related, some of those are weather-related and some of them are theology-related. Part of the latter reality is that Reformed theology is about as anathema to Texans as Obamacare or flying our state flag lower than the US flag. The reason is probably pretty obvious to anyone who’s spent a significant amount of time here: we don’t believe anyone can or will tell us what to do. Ever. Think Chuck Norris. It’s almost like we think God should be thankful to us for allowing Him to be so popular in our state.
This leads to a lot of interesting conversations for me, especially to deeper-thinking people who are discovering Calvinism for the first time. I find many native Texans go through the five stages of Calvinist grief when they engage it well: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Many of us Northerners can relate to that, I think.
The most telling difference I find in myself and others when it comes to how much we really believe Calvinism is real is the level of anxiety we feel about things. Let’s be honest: Arminians are an an anxious bunch – and with good reason. Literally, every breaking second there is a need to do something, lest something not be done. We have our own problems, obviously – like doing nothing or talking smack about each other – but if we’re following our theology, we don’t have to be anxious about eternal destination, which is a pretty big deal.
But I think there’s a scared little Arminian in all of us – I know there is in me. Honestly, guilt is a more efficient motivator for me than gratitude. All the women in my life can attest to that. I’m not very good at evangelism unless I have the fear of people going to hell staring me down. I’m not very good at going to church unless I’m worried that God’s taking attendance. And I probably wouldn’t be a great tither other than that I picture God with a big frowny face every time I want to write the check for less than what I should. So I’m a good Texan – a people pleaser, a narcissist, a guilt-motivated workaholic. Also, somewhere in the back of my brain, I believe that if I work hard enough, God’s going to put a plaque on His office wall with my picture on it. Strangely enough, anxiety comforts me – it keeps my hands busy.
How does that all relate to Advent? I have trouble waiting. I have trouble thinking that Prince of Peace is an apropos title for a God who’s sitting on pins & needles waiting to see who will make it across the finish line into heaven. Metaphorically, I’m more likely have a fearfully-loaded gun ready for intruders than a cup of hot cocoa.
But I’m a Calvinist! I should greet the coming of the Savior with the calmness of a recliner and popcorn rather than the anxiousness of a dog during a thunderstorm. And I should still have joy. Deep joy. The kind of joy that warms you from the inside like hot tea. Joy motivated by gratitude rather than quelled anxiety.
Joy to the World.