Zeal for your house consumes me–well, that and a couple of other things

“But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” (James 3:14-17)

I have been blogging since 2003 or 2004 (I don’t have anything to document it and I really can’t remember). I wrote about why I write this blog here and satirically about Christian blogging in general about 15 years ago, when I was beginning to wonder if it was such an exciting development in Christian communication after all.

Some of that stemmed from the nature of the medium. Whether or not you need to say it, or anyone needs to hear it, your articulated thoughts are just a click or two away from . . well, being transferred to a web page.

I was going to add for all the world to see, but you know it doesn’t work that way. Someone has to find you and/or what you wrote, make a (usually) snap judgment about its value, relevance or suitability based on who-knows-what criteria (the design, the title, the photos, the popup article in the sidebar about how to remove skin tags) and then actually read it.

The truth is, the vast majority of blogs are virtual self-storage units for random thoughts, rants, and the virtual equivalent of old prom dresses and exercise bikes, which are now the Planet Fitness for some really buff spiders.

It’s yours, you have exclusive access to upload and tweak the content, but what you derive from it might have to be something other than attention. This blog is no different.

Perhaps there are ways to promote this that I am missing just because I am still, at 63, a technological novice. The people who contact me with breathless promises of eye-popping traffic seem to think so. (If my eyes pop how can I write anything?) Have they actually read anything I’ve written? I doubt it.

And you know what? I really don’t care. If Jesus could start with twelve men, none of them with impressive LinkedIn identities, and launch a new kingdom, then maybe I need to learn from him instead of looking down my nose at page views from Indonesia when they were probably looking for the Indonesian shopping channel.

But regardless of the scale of what I do, I take the responsibility and call seriously (and I do regard it as a call, not just a weekend hobby). “We who teach will be judged more strictly,” James wrote (3:1). And not by a bishop, a regional superintendent or any other prelate. If I put out a shingle professing to be a teacher, there are standards I must respect.

And there seem to be a lot of Christians out there blogging as teachers, or purporting to. People seem to slip into the role as easily as an old pair of slippers. Last week we looked at the qualifications for being an elder. Today, we’ll be . . . It’s the warm, inclusive pronoun that hooks me every time. You had me at we.

The zeal in the post title is a quote from Psalm 69 associated with the cleansing of the temple. The Greek word is zēlos, which can also be translated as jealousy or envy (the quote from James at the top of the post).

So zēlos can have a positive or negative connotation depending on the context. Or who’s on the receiving end of the zeal. There were probably some temple moneychangers being treated for lacerations who thought differently than the persons who applauded Jesus’ action.

There’s another word for envy (Greek phthonos) which, according to Strong’s, is always negative. The Greek mythological spirit (aka daimon) Phthonus had a number of wives that he murdered because he suspected they were unfaithful, so that should tell you something about envy as opposed to just jealousy.

(Since I diverted you to a siding already, I should add that Zelos was a Greek daimon personifying envy, rivalry and jealousy as well as zeal. His sister was Nike, who must have been the Kylie Jenner of the family. Maybe the swoosh comes from the sound her wings made on the way to the bank.)

Jealousy usually means I want what you have. Envy means I want what you have, but just as important, I don’t want you to have it. Cain wasn’t just jealous of Abel, he was envious, hence the violence. Envy is destructive.

I mention these two words because they show up in the James passage about teaching (and speaking to others in general) and therefore apply to virtual teachers (that’s not a dig; I mean teaching online). There’s a great deal of blogging envy and jealousy masquerading as the positive form of zēlos.

And as with many other negative character traits, its origin can be traced back to a problem with God, not with the top-50 blogger per se who’s pulling in (truly) eye-popping traffic. Just as Cain had a problem with God and took it out on his brother.

I also mention these because there is a particular category of Christian blog–the “watchblog” is the name on the street–that subsists on “zeal” and envy and exists primarily to find fault, even if it means rummaging through your trash after you’ve gone to bed or combing your blog’s archives for something ambiguous you said 11 years ago that could indicate a “secret sin.”

Zeal is in the phony-baloney quotes because both “bitter envy and selfish ambition” are much more evident than anything like what Jesus did. They plod through life aching to bring someone down largely because their target enjoys a prominence they can only dream about. That’s the destructive aspect of envy that is always crouching at the door (Gen 4:7).

And because of that, a lot of people don’t like them. The “watchblogs,” who wear their crown of thorns proudly, are sure they’re “persecuted because of righteousness” (Mt. 5:10). There’s a blessing for that, if it were true.

It’s more accurate to say they’re criticized–justly, I believe–for rudeness, harshness, self-righteousness, hypocritical double standards and generally perfecting the art of being unlikeable and not caring when someone points that out.

There’s no blessing for that. But I’m moving out of my 5 x 10 unit at the self-storage building. You can have that.

When you start ranting, it might cause a squirrel or two to pause and look around for the source of the noise as it scampers across the top of the chain link fence. Other than that I can’t promise anything.

Photo illustration created by the author (still a novice, though)

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