Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Legend of the Whale's Back

I looked and I saw the People. They were on the back of a huge whale called Life. And the whale floated on the surface of a deep ocean, breathing. I asked a wise man who stood watching, "Sir, what will happen?" "It does not take a wise man to know," he replied. "After some time the whale takes a breath and dives deep down into the ocean depths." "And the people?" I ask. "They are dragged down and drown," he said.

I looked again at the People. Some were spreading blankets to picnic on the back of the whale. Others were gathering driftwood from the ocean and building houses on the back of the huge whale. Soon I saw that some became richer and more powerful, and they oppressed the poor. While some grew thin with hunger and fainted in the sun, others lay in their shelters, bored and fat. When they wanted to go from one part of the wide whale back to another, they demanded the poor to carry them on their backs. But still, they viewed themselves as decent and helpful people.

One day I walked on the whale's back myself. I met people arguing, preening, pursuing success. "Don't you know what will happen one day?" I asked. "What?" they replied. "The whale will dive down deep into the water and you will drown. Don't you know?" They looked angry. "It is quite rude of you to mention it," they replied. "There is nothing we can do about it so we might as well enjoy our lives." "Do you call your life enjoyable?" I asked. They looked at their over-busy, hurried lives of labor and boredom and said nothing. "If there were some hope or reason for our life, perhaps we would act differently," one thoughtful woman said. "Do you search for some hope or reason for your life?" I asked. She paused and considered.

"We have been told we are alive by chance and accident," she said. "Our wise men have told us we must each find our own meaning for our lives." "So you must pretend there is a meaning for your life and try to believe it?" I asked. She was silent but then nodded a little sadly. "And if your wise men are wrong?" I asked. "What if there is a purpose for your existence? It seems improbable that such a beautiful and complicated being as yourself is merely a series of accidents." She smiled at the compliment, then grew sad. "Don't tease us with false hope," she said a little bitterly. "It is worse than no hope at all."

She went back to counting strips of seaweed to buy a larger hat for her son.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tin Man and Straw Man

I am spending the week in a Christian commune in Boston.  Not really a commune--just a house that several Christians all live in, sharing some measure of life together. 

These people and those like them put their money where their mouth is. They live simple lives--they donate much of their money to those in need--they care deeply about God's kingdom and will being done here on earth as it is in heaven.  You will feel welcomed by them--no ten-foot barbed wire fence to climb, no hidden landmines which make you walk on eggshells.  In fact I think these people are very close to reliving the life of the early church.

I picked up a magazine here in their house called Sojourners.  It's a thoughtful, passionate magazine that loves God and engages the world around us. It's also more of a liberal than a conservative rag.  I notice they are more likely to criticize Republicans than Democrats, though they submit both to the litmus of God's word and way. 
It may be very hard for a conservative such as myself to swallow that someone can be a good Christian and be easier on Democrats than Republicans.  They have one article I read which analyzed the Libertarian party by Christian standards (doing an excellent and thought-provoking job from the Scripture), but in the end over-stepping and suggesting Libertarian political dogma is farthest from God's way. 

It's very easy for me to step up and pull out my fully loaded conservative shotgun and start blasting away at some of these arguments. But I'm not going to. In fact, though I don't agree with everything they're saying (and strongly disagree with some points), I have been blessed and sharpened by reading this magazine.  I suggest if you are a conservative evangelical Christian you go out and read at least one of these as graciously as you can.  On the other hand, if you are a bleeding heart liberal Christian, I suggest you go out and grit your teeth and read a few issues of World magazine or Christianity Today and listen to some other points of view. 

God, I think, has given His children different insights into Himself. The problem is when we grasp our insight (abortion is wrong, or God cares about the poor) and make it our standard to judge our brothers.  Is it really so crazy to hope that the Tin Man and the Straw Man can learn to walk on the yellow brick road together, until God gives one of them a heart and one of them a brain?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Some Christians are enough to cure you of Christianity

Some Christians are enough to cure anyone of Christianity.

Perhaps we can compare Christianity to a delicious piece of fried chicken. Imagine that you are just sinking your teeth deep into the savory meat and crispy breading, when suddenly you see something terrible. The person just across from you at the table is biting into a similarly savory drumstick, but their teeth are yellow and their breath is horrible. They slobber saliva all over the drumstick, licking it and taking wild bites like a crazed beast. And, let me point out, most terribly, they chew with their mouth wide open, allowing you to see every glob of food as it is mashed in their mouth. Of course afterwards they throw up all over the table.

Now, let me ask you: Do YOU want to go on eating that piece of savory chicken? Or do you perhaps set it down politely and go screaming out of the restaurant? It is a hard job indeed to go on focusing on that chicken leg and slowly munching it while all this craziness is going on around you. It takes a sort of determination that some would call crazy. But that is basically the situation in many churches. We have to go on munching the delicious Bible and Gospel while all around us people are puking their guts out on the pews and making horrible slobbering noises. It is a challenge, let me tell you.

And as if that weren't hard enough, we're called to clean up after them and be patient with them, and even, to love them. It's enough to make anyone who wasn't crazy go screaming from the room.

The one saving grace in all of this is Christ Himself. He enters the sanctuary quietly through the back door and bandages arms scratched bloody by fingernails, then cleans up puke with his shirt. He teases someone chewing with their mouth open and rebukes another firmly who is trying to steal someone else's drumstick. He grow furious and whips a few right out of the church with fierce lashes. Do you see him?

He is glimpsed most easily in a few of those Saints, those glorious ones who for a few minutes are getting it Right, who are riding the bicycle gracefully without wobbling. Look at those beautiful ones, eyes bright even in tears, hearts humble, hands reached out to those around them. They are the fingertips of Jesus. What type of Christian are you?

Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure.