Missouri Misgivings… September 27, 2012

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Henry Clay was quite wrong. Folks from Missouri don’t favor compromise that much. They are a generous lot, but pretty straight-ahead thinkers and often quite convinced of the nobility of their notions.

So as I took my Six Word Tour“NoOne is better than anyone else”–across I-70, from KC to Saint Louie, I immediately had a few folks with crinkled noses, questioning the veracity of my concept.

Misgiving One: “Jonathan, Jesus was a human being but he was also better than everyone else. So what do you say about that, fella?”

I will tell you what I say about that–Christian theology is completely stalled in the paradox of trying to present the humanity of Christ while simultaneously doing nothing to tamper with the divinity unit. It is something that has come to pass in the past four or five hundred years, as the Catholics and the Protestants have done battle over doctrine instead of finding common ground in the message.

The early Christian church had no problem with this situation whatsoever. Matter of fact, the writer of the Book of Hebrews makes it clear: Jesus was completely human. He was “tempted like we are,” he “learned obedience through the things he suffered” and “he was touched by all of our infirmities.” Even the gospel writer tell us that as a boy “he grew in wisdom, in stature and in favor with God and man.”

We do a terrible disservice to believers when we take away the greatest gift God gave to this earth–the human life of Jesus of Nazareth–and replace it with a Christ who was always God, just wearing cool sandals. What Jesus allowed, which set him apart, was for the Spirit to be involved in his life and included in all aspects of his activities. It is why the Bible tells us that the same Spirit that dwelled in Jesus can dwell in us. When I say “NoOne is better than anyone else” I am not concluding that some folks don’t use their human lives more effectively than others. But as Jesus started out on an even playing field as a human being, so do we all. It’s up to us whether we decide to tap all our resources, or just move into one room of our human house and live there.

Misgiving Two: “Jonathan, don’t some species become extinct and others survive, which would make the surviving creatures better–right?”

It’s rather doubtful that God and nature gave function to any part of the creation just so there would be something to destroy. Dinosaurs had their chance. They just didn’t bring anything to the planet. It shortened their stay.

Everyday certain life forms go extinct. It’s because they refuse to evolve, adapt and become fruitful to the earth. It doesn’t make them better or worse. It just teaches us all a very valuable lesson–that being aware of your surroundings and the changes occurring is a very healthy outlook, and can keep you from running into walls and breaking your nose.

As Jesus said beautifully and poetically, “One sparrow does not fall without God, the Father, knowing it.” God has an investment in all His various incarnations and incantations but He does leave it to the free-will choice of even the spider–whether it will use its lifespan productively or squander it by spinning a web too near its enemy.

An extinct species is not inferior in the sight of God, only found wanting in the deliberation of nature. This holds true for all of us.

So in Missouri I found that some of the people thought there were unique humans–Jesus, for instance. I suppose they would also contend that Mozart was born to compose music, Copernicus to stare at the heavens and Guttenberg to get printing ink on his hands. It just ain’t so, Joe. We’re all born and pushed forward towards a possibility, and if we embrace it, we eventually become very good at it because God has given us the talent to be talented. So if Mozart had been born in a carpenter’s shop, we would have Mozart tables in our house instead of symphonies at the local convention hall. And if George Washington Carver had been born in the Midwest on a corn farm, we would have corn butter and jelly sandwiches instead of peanut butter. (I don’t know. It doesn’t sound that bad…)

So the people of Missouri believe there are unique humans, but they also believe there are unique species, blessed with greater capability of survival. Actually, it rains on the just and the unjust–and that goes for ants and turtles. And what creates an unjust turtle? The same thing that creates an unjust human: you spend too much time in your shell, you get replaced.

We are determined to be unique when the real uniqueness of the human creature is our commonality. And until we find that similarity in one another, we will “unique” our way into many wars, conflicts, bigotries and destruction.

From Missouri, I took a turn south–to the great state of Texas, and presented my six word phrase. What will happen in the Lone Star State?

We’ll find out tomorrow.

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The Garden of Gethsame (Lutheran) … July 2nd, 2012

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Right there in the middle.

Yes–stuck directly in the center of the word “tradition” is “it.”

I don’t mind people who honor tradition. Matter of fact, yesterday morning I was honored and privileged to be granted an audience in front of a traditional Lutheran congregation. Such confinements and constrictions don’t concern me at all–that is, as long as they get “it.”

Yes, if people will admit that their preferences in style, music and procedure have very little to do with truth and they are still able to unearth the true mission of the heart of Jesus, I couldn’t care less if they do it with a tambourine or a pipe organ.

But you have to get “it.” First of all, you have to understand that if you name your church Gethsemane Lutheran, you are acknowledging that your particular work is built on the concept of one of the greatest conflicts between mankind’s ignorance and God’s mercy. The Garden of Gethsemane was where tradition that DIDN’T get “it” decided to arrest, try and kill the messenger of the ultimate expression of love. It is also the location where miraculously and most wonderfully, a human being stepped away from convenience and humbly prayed, “Not my will, Lord. Yours be done.”

So the name itself–Gethsemane Lutheran–carries with it a tremendous responsibility. We need to understand that we must not crucify Christ again, like the stubborn religious leaders of the past, and instead learn from him the simplicity of seeking out an ultimate good in the midst of present chaos.

I saw great hope for that yesterday–people coming out of the service having the wisdom and intuitive power to distinguish between liturgical practice and down-to-earth, Godly commonsense.

For instance, I love the man who walked up to me and said that he wrote a letter to the editor of the newspaper, citing that in America there is no absence of jobs, it’s just that people often don’t want to take the employment because the positions available have not been given value, and therefore they know that they, themselves, will be disrespected for faithfully working. It was an inspired notion. It caused me to think about the motel maids, the waiters and waitresses and the maintenance men that I meet every week. What would I do without them? What tremendous service they offer to us! Yet they are often relegated to the status of secondary citizens and taken for granted as being merely “common laborers.” How brilliant, my brother. Yes, we need to learn to value what people do–and in that action, create and continue an ongoing value for one another.

I listened as men and women came to my table and shared their stories–one having a background in theater, desiring to bring that creative essence into the worship experience; another, a transplant from the Eastern seaboard, who possessed a wealth of history, knowledge and humor in his pursuit of the Christ walk; a leader of the worship service, who came with an open heart instead of feeling the need to sprout some suspicion over the newly arrived strangers; a musician who gave us place and honor to present our own tunefulness with her support; a wonderful, caring woman who presented us with delicious fruit to refresh us between the programs; teenagers, sparked with enthusiasm, picking up our pieces of equipment and carryuing them to our van, lightening our load; and a lady whose heart had been broken many times, but still brought the pieces to Janet, with the aspiration of receiving restoration.

I had no problem with the tradition of Gethsemane, because they get “it.” And what IS “it?”

1. You can’t follow Jesus without occasionally offending some Pharisees. If every stiff-necked, religious fanatic bound by church stuffiness is pleased with you, you probably aren’t doing enough. Truth offends liars. There’s nothing you can do about it. You can be gentle; you can be caring and you can be open, but if you’re going to share Jesus, you will offend some Pharisees.

2. If you’re going to follow Jesus and get “it,” you’re going to believe that NoOne is better than anyone else. “Whosoever will may come” does not allow for secondary prejudice. Even in our cynical world, which would deem such innocent doctrine impractical, we must continue to believe that “NoOne is better than anyone else.”

3. The only thing sacred in churches are the people. As Jesus so eloquently stated it,Man was not made for the Sabbath; the Sabbath was made for man.” We’re not having church if everyone is going through the motions and no one’s being touched in the emotions.

4. To follow Jesus is to understand that the spirit blows where it wants to blow, and nothing will be identical from week to week. You may feel free to have a favorite hymn, but you also must be prepared, if you’re going to walk in the Kingdom of God, to hear a new song.

5. Jesus is not here to please the righteous, but to call sinners to repentance. By the way, that’s HIS quote. If we find ourselves trying to appease those who are already in the rank and file, we will also find ourselves displeasing to the one who was interested in seeking the lost.

6. Nothing is done without good cheer and the pursuit of happiness. Jesus gave us one mission–to be of good cheer. He also told us that our goal is happiness. If your belief is that your faith is going to produce more pain than joy, then you probably should shift teams. It is our job to find good cheer in everything we do, and always be on the lookout for reasons to inspire happiness in ourselves and others. It’s just part of getting “it.”

7. And finally, if you’re going to follow Jesus, you’ll understand that the Kingdom of God is within people, not institutions, ideas, dogmas or rituals. In other words, if what we’re doing is actually making people more cheerful, happy and enriching their lives, then continue. If it isn’t, revise the plan until some “joy comes in the morning.”

After having the delectable experience of being with my Gethsemane brothers and sisters, who were traditional but still got “it,”, I ended my day back at my motel, taking a dip in the swimming pool. I was surrounded by other folks who were trying to escape the St. Louis heat wave. There was a family from Iowa and two young men from Honduras. The young men were a little suspicious of Janet and myself when we got into the pool, because, I guess, we look a little older–and very white. But I flashed them a smile, and moments later they leapt into the pool and struck up a conversation with us. After finishing my first encounter with these two fine, young gents, I then talked to the family from Iowa. Lo and behold, when I finished that conversation, I was once again engaged by my two Honduran brothers, who explained how overjoyed they were that Janet and I were so friendly, because they had been working construction in town and had been “cussed out” by some of the locals because of their Hispanic roots. They worked very hard to understand my accent, as I did due diligence for theirs–but the end result was giddy communication, tenderness and the knowledge that “NoOne is better than anyone else.”

My family from Iowa peered over at us curiously as we conversed with Carlo and Jose. I often think that the problem is not that people are prejudiced–just that they’re afraid. I noticed moments later that the Iowa daddy made an attempt to talk to one of the Honduran workers. It was beautiful. It was what Jesus would want.

Shoot, forget Jesus for a minute. It’s what I wanted. I don’t want to be someone stuck in my “white bread tradition,” unable to carry on a conversation with two hardworking Honduran boys. I also want to be able to communicate with the good friends from Iowa. I want it all. And the only person who gives me the ability to do that is my mentor.

His name is Jesus. And he was the first one to get “it.”

   

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