“Music serves a grand function in this crazy old world, and all of us, one way or another, are singers. Let your song fly. The rest of us need it.”
“We would rather be ruined than changed. We would rather die in our dread than climb the cross of the moment and let our illusions die.”
W. H. Auden
Due to my underlying suspicion of the people’s motives (and other smokescreens I use to justify my general avoidance of anything requiring discipline), I’ve always steered away from memorizing scripture. However, in a recent lapse into militant mode, I decided to join a few friends at 7:00AM once a week to memorize entire chapters of the Bible. The boys and I are currently two weeks away from finishing the fifth chapter of Matthew’s gospel, and questions are unsurprisingly simmering up in the kettle.
For instance, is it consistent with the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount to infer “life for life” in the “eye for eye – tooth for tooth” section? If so, am I willing to stand against capital punishment? Another question relates to litigation. Is it simply wrong to sue anyone? If so, what do you do if you’re a Christian attorney faced with such a case? Or for that matter, what does Jesus mean when he says, “Do not resist and evil person”? This statement seems much more far-reaching than the courtroom. Another question relates to taking oaths. In today’s world, does this mean that it is immoral to sign a legally binding contract? If so… wow. Or why is it that people who claim to be Christian divorce as frequently as those who don’t? Lastly, related to the specifics above is the larger question – to what extent have I rationalized the teachings of Jesus so that I might be more comfortable?
Enough for now. Next week, we’re supposed to memorize the section on loving our enemies. Joy…
Spreading her wings above a large section of my front yard is a vary large and very old oak. My family and I have lived under her influence for over seven years now, and I’m convinced that there is a not messier tree in all of God’s creation. She drops her acorns in the fall, her leaves in the winter, and her pollen in the spring, but it’s her sticks and twigs that she scatters across my lawn on a daily basis.
I have to say that I’m embarassed by my response to the routine. If there was ever any question that I have a perfectionistic, compulsive bent, it is surely answered every time I walk outside to my car. I imagine the neighbors gathering around their windows and rolling their eyes as they watch me succomb to my riptide desire for a clean front lawn, scurrying around as I gather the new day’s deposit like a mother baboon in preening mode.
I’m not exactly sure where to go with this thought, but something about it seems worth remembering. Maybe it’s another reminder to me of some other “less popluar” repetitions in life such as cleaning the dishes or doing the laundry. Maybe it’s my desire to carve out at least one small niche of order within the chaos that is my property. Whatever the case may be, life consists of “messes” — both large and small, repetitious and random — and despite my frustration or lack of willingness, I believe that taking steps to bring “cosmos out of chaos” (to borrow a phrase for Madeleine L’Engle), is a fundamentally good thing. When viewed from a larger vantage point, it is the Gospel.
Back to work…
I have recently been reintroduced to a man named Clarence Jordan (If you visit this link, I recommend watching the 7-minute tribute). The following quotes continue to cut and turn within me like a plow to the soil:
“But you know it’s hard to reshape our lives to conform with the Gospel. It’s so much easier to reshape the Gospel to conform with our lives.”
“Faith is not belief in spite of the evidence but a life in scorn of the consequences.”
So I’ve almost finished reading Bonhoeffer As Martyr: Social Responsibility and Modern Christian Commitment (my brother-in-law’s new book), and before the impressions fade any more than they already have, I thought I’d jot down a points (still a bit fuzzy for me) that have been bouncing around in my head:
1) There are two ways of encountering Jesus – either I must die, or I must put Jesus to death (a paraphrase of Bonhoeffer’s words).
2) The first question to ask regarding the ethical questions of life is not “How should I live?” Rather it is “Who is Jesus?”
3) The incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ is life/world affirming instead of negating/denying. Christians must not withdraw and condemn, we must engage (as through a permeable membrane – if that idea works) and work toward the healing and redemption of the world.
4) Until I die, I’m not fully able to answer the question “Who am I”? I am still becoming, and my being is best measured across the entire span of my life. It is possible for my view of death (both of the body and of the will) to inform my life… today. In some way, this relates to Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4.
That’s all for now. Hopefully, more to come…
Yesterday afternoon at Subway, while I was answering questions about my preferred ingredients to the lady behind the counter, a young guy walked in and asked if they had any job applications. To me this seemed like an innocent enough question.
Well, maybe it was the way he was dressed… maybe it was the color of his skin… maybe it was the way he asked the question… whatever the reason, the three folks behind the counter seemed very reluctant to either give him an application or offer any advice on where he might find work at any of the other Subway locations in town. The guy preparing the cold cuts finally let his suspicions be known and asked the fellow why he wanted an application. “I need it for welfare,” said the young man. “Sorry, we don’t have any,” was the cold reply. After the young application-seeker left empty-handed, the guy in the back let his frustration be known. “Welfare application… gimme a break!”, he said a couple times – making sure it was loud enough for me to hear.
I walked away from the counter angry at people I’d never met. Why was this young applicant so unmotivated and clueless about beginning a career? Had anyone ever taught him about taking responsibility for himself? Why did he seem so willing to settle with governmental assistance? On the other hand, why did the guy behind the counter immediately write off the young man as a lazy, good-for-nothing, taker? Why did the store manager seem so unwilling to offer an ounce of effort toward the redirection and/or motivation of a floundering young man in need? Oh yeah… and what should I do once my little reflection has been documented?
Do these words remain relevant in today’s context?
On one occasion an attorney stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ ; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” In reply Jesus said: “A fundamentalist Muslim was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of his enemies. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. An American tourist happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, an Israeli commuter, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But (am willing to insert my name here?), as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He pulled off the road, went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on medicine and applying bandages. Then he put the man in his car, drove him to a hospital and took care of him. The next day he took out $5,000 and gave it to the physician. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of his enemies?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
(A Rewritting of Luke 10:25-37)
I continue to be drawn toward the ideas of redemptive suffering and incarnational living. Along the road, I’ve discovered several writers who have expressed these ideas in ways that continue to shape my thinking:
Shusaku Endo – “Silence”
Georges Bernanos – “The Diary of a Country Priest”
Graham Greene – “The Power and the Glory”
Sheldon Vanauken – “A Severe Mercy”
C.S. Lewis – “Till We Have Faces”
God is “strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”