I love a piping hot cup of tea fresh from the kettle. A roasting hot cup of chocolate or coffee is a spectacular way to start or end a day in any season. An Ice cold milkshake is one of my guilty pleasures (Have you ever tried sizzling hot french fries dipped in a thick icy vanilla shake? AMAZING!) Now that it’s getting warmer, I love slurping frozen “FEgg Nog” (Fake Egg Nog) smoothies with frozen bananas, cashew milk, a splash of vanilla, and a few shakes of nutmeg. Delicious! Take a moment to imagine how much you love your own favorite toasty or icy treats. Now imagine that the one you have longed for all day has sat on the counter for an hour or so and instead of being piping hot or freezing cold, it is sickeningly lukewarm. Nasty. Undrinkable. A waste. Lukewarm food and drink are pretty terrible but, tepid actions are even worse.
I’ve had the good fortune to teach adult ed and high school English since 1997. Teaching English can be beautiful because it allows for considerable leeway to incorporate critical thinking skills, current events, history, civics, and human rights investigation. Some questions I’ve asked my students over the years are: Where are our present-day Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.s, Malcolm Xs, Fred Hamptons, JFKs, or Bobby Kennedys? Who are the activists of your generation? Students usually falter over this line of questioning. While they recognize that there is still a lot that needs fixing in our society and can rattle off a multitude of recent travesties or tragedies; while they realize that something should be done, they also recognize that the few brief movements that have started, fizzle out quickly and are followed by more of the same appalling incidents. They know all the hashtags for each new campaign, they’ve seen this or that incident online, but very few feel compelled to actually do something about it.
In years when my schedule allowed, I would have my students participate in the Speak Truth To Power video contest through the RFK Human Rights Center. It was always thrilling when students got so invested in their cause that they created a masterpiece of activism; when the spark ignited under them leading them to the realization that THEY could be the ones to do something to make things better.
Often times I introduced my activism projects with something they were all familiar with, bullying. In our discussions, we talked about the differences between upstanders and bystanders. We have all been bystanders at one time or other in our lives, and it serves as a good starting point. The spectator culture we live in has so adversely influenced people into a bystander mentality that many times kids don’t even see the problem with just watching from the sidelines. “When I was a kid,” I tell them, “bullies had to bully you to your face. Someone was inevitably going to stand up to them. These days, almost everything can be done at a distance; you don’t have to have guts to pick on people when they aren’t close enough to fight back.” We debated zero-tolerance policies and whether good kids didn’t want to get in trouble and so didn’t want to fight back, while the bully didn’t care. We discussed whether society itself has made things worse for those being bullied. They have all heard that they should intervene if someone is being bullied and I’ve tried to help them expand their horizons to see how this can be extrapolated to include broader issues.
In thinking about the activism I’ve encouraged in my students over the years, it had made me think about my own actions. Have my actions been “hot”, “cold”, or “lukewarm”? What exactly constitutes a “lukewarm” action?
Revelations 3: 15 & 16 says, “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you would be cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I am about to spit you out of My mouth.”
Both “hot” and “cold” actions God tolerates, but lukewarm inaction is intolerable. Why is that? Why would God tolerate bad, or evil actions but not lukewarm ones? One would think that “not bad” is better than “all-out bad,” right? Perhaps not. Is inaction actually less bad than bad action? If I see someone hurting someone else and mind my own business is that really so wrong? YES! Of course, it is! In fact, I’ll wager it’s worse. I say inaction is worse because when a person sees evil being done and does nothing to stop it then, they are culpable. Even in the eyes of the law, if you happen to be with a person who commits a crime and a victim gets killed, you are charged as an accessory. This is because you did not intervene, you did nothing to stop it. The person who sees that something is wrong and does nothing is, in some ways, even worse than the perpetrator because bystanders can pretend to themselves that they are better than the perpetrators because they “don’t to that.” Bystanders can pretend to others that they are innocents and “good people.” They get to keep their reputations despite being complicit.
I think God recognizes the impossibility of the coexistence of action and inaction. So, if there is no explicit action on our part, then we must be doing something wrong. There is no way to sit back and do nothing and still be in the right. Some Christians stay on the sidelines because they don’t want to offend people. Some are afraid of the reactions they will receive if they acknowledge what God says. Often people don’t want to step on toes. John Lydgate is quoted as saying, “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” So why then do Christians try to do the impossible? We pretend that if we tweak our standards to fit with popular culture or popular counterculture, we can find a way to please everyone. We try to do this in our personal lives too. We make concessions, we give up a little too much of ourselves until eventually, Christ has gotten lost in the sauce. But isn’t this the essence of lukewarm action if it isn’t taking a firm stand for God or clear stand against Him? Our ambiguity makes us weak, lukewarm. Are we so concerned with fitting into a party or a group that we feel it’s necessary to change what God has commanded for fear of making someone angry? That’s ridiculous! Just take a gander at how Jesus started flipping tables and whipping people when they were disrespecting His Father’s temple! If Jesus is to be our example then shouldn’t we stand up for His teachings? Shouldn’t we be clear about what the Lord says in the bible about how we should live and how to treat others?
Isiah 2:6-9 has some pretty harsh words for those who forget the teachings of the Lord. “You, Lord, have abandoned your people, the descendants of Jacob. They are full of superstitions from the East; they practice divination like the Philistines and embrace pagan customs. Their land is full of silver and gold; there is no end to their treasures. Their land is full of horses; there is no end to their chariots. Their land is full of idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their fingers have made. So people will be brought low and everyone humbled— do not forgive them.” OUCH! If I want Jesus to greet me with a “Well done my good and faithful servant,” when I die, I don’t want to be anywhere near lukewarm.