Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Feel Free to Say, "Um... What?"

The Good Samaritan
A while back, I wrote a sort of rambling confused piece about the famous parable of the Good Samaritan (click here to read it), in which I pondered this question: “Who is my neighbor?” The parable, found in Luke 10, is actually Jesus’s response to that very question... but as with a lot of things Jesus said, I find the answer more confusing than the question!

Anyway, after writing that crazy thing, it suddenly came to me... an answer to satisfy my "Um... what?" I'm going to try to lay it out for you here, but I honestly don't know how clear it will be. That is to say, feel free to also say, "Um... what?"

To recap, the whole thing starts when a guy asks Jesus “How do I get eternal life?” So Jesus says, “What does the law say?” And the guy says, “"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, with all your mind, (Deuteronomy 6:5); and your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18)."” Then Jesus says, “You are correct, sir!”

But… of course the guy can’t leave it there… the Message translation says that he was “looking for a loophole!” Anyway, he’s like, “Who is my neighbor?” Maybe he thought there should be a limit to the amount and scope of people he was required to love… So then Jesus tells this long story:
Jesus answered, "A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who both stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. By chance a certain priest was going down that way. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a Levite also, when he came to the place, and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he travelled, came where he was. When he saw him, he was moved with compassion, came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He set him on his own animal, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, and gave them to the host, and said to him, 'Take care of him. Whatever you spend beyond that, I will repay you when I return.' Now which of these three do you think seemed to be a neighbour to him who fell among the robbers?"
He said, "He who showed mercy on him."
Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
What I have always found confusing about this is this: if you think about it, The man says, “Who is my neighbor?” (as in, “who do I have to love?”) and Jesus doesn't say that the neighbor is the one who needs your help – ie. the guy in the ditch. No, it says, that the neighbor was the one who HELPED the guy in the ditch. Um. What? I mean, wasn't the question sort of... who do I have to help? It just seems sort of flip-flopped to me.

"Won't you be my neighbor?"
In my previous blog, I sort of picked it apart and pondered over it, drawing no sound conclusion. Here, now, is the idea that invaded much later when my crazy mind was at rest:

And it’s that being a neighbor is a STATE OF MIND… and the helpful Samaritan actually lived in this state of mind. That is to say, there was no question for him about whether or not the guy in the ditch was or was not in his “jurisdiction.” Unlike the priest and Pharisee who were hanging out in their home state of disgust… fear and loathing… legalism and laziness… busy-ness and haste.

See what I mean? The weird thing is that the guy who was picking Jesus’ brain seemed to understand that all the little details of the law had an overarching spirit, and that this spirit was love… yet he still felt the need to figure out how he measured up.

And I have to say, I have felt his pain. It sure is a lot more convenient to have clear demarcations… specific instructions… Like when you’re on a diet – it’s a lot easier to have all the foods laid out on a menu plan than to just kind of wing it and all the time you’re wondering in the back of your head if you’ve eaten too much. People like me - we LIKE specific rules… so we’ll know if we’re hitting the mark.

A diet plan... much easier than guessing.
But I’ve got good news for us nitpicking legalists... First, there IS a clear demarcation… and it’s shaped exactly like a cross. And Jesus DID give a specific instruction… He said, “Believe in me.” And that’s really all there is to it. It’s completely easy.

However, it’s also difficult. I mean, you can’t lean on the picky little rules anymore. You can’t be the priest walking by the guy in the ditch who’s thinking, “If I touch that guy, I’ll be unclean,” or the pharisee hurrying by because he’s late for the class he’s teaching. No... now you’ve opened yourself up to that “neighbor” state of mind*… and the only boundary is Jesus Himself and His love and amazing grace.

*Now, as to how to achieve this state of mind... well... I'm still working on that. Paul tells the Romans to "be transformed by the renewing of your minds." To which, I say, "Um.... what?"

Sunday, November 3, 2013

On Your Knees, Boy

Soul Asylum
So finally we come to the end of this epic journey (sic) through Soul Asylum's Grave Dancer's Union. Was it good for you? Frankly, I'm a little tired. But this song… it's sooooo sweet! It's about… well… i think it's about … humility … and the humbler gifts… Click on the title and take a listen.


Tell me how you get that shine
You must polish all the time
Though I know your job is thankless
They will thank you up in heaven

Oh, the Sun Maid
Looking for the shade
The Sun Maid

Though they say she's not too bright
She takes care of all the light
Without you it's cold and stark
We would all be in the dark

Without the Sun Maid
Looking for the shade
She never gets paid
The Sun Maid

You are so taken for granted
WIth each and every seed that's planted
And the earth is so demanding
All the young girls are out tanning

With the Sun Maid
She's such and old maid
She never gets laid
I owe the Sun Maid

Now you're tired, your day is over
Now the moon is one day older

Oh, the Sun Maid...
It's… a song about moms! Or, more specifically, those who do the grunt work. Wiping noses and little tiny bottoms, cleaning and putting food on the table… I mean, the world needs its movie stars and astronauts and brain surgeons… but it also needs teachers, nurses and moms. And this song is an ode to these unnoticed, (hitherto) unsung heroes. 
A lot of the book of I Corinthians is Paul talking about all the different spiritual gifts people can have – teaching, preaching, miracles, healing, tongues, discernment… 

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. (I Corinthians 12:4)
He has this great analogy about how the church is like a body. And all the parts are needed. The people with the humbler gifts (wiping asses, for instance) should not think less of themselves, nor should those around them.
But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. (I Corinthians 12:24-25)
Therese of Lisieux said it this way:
"If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose,
spring would lose its loveliness."
She called the way of humility
"the little way."
This chapter is followed by I Corinthians 13, the classic wedding reading chapter about love… the point being that no matter what awesome superpower you have… if you don't have love… what good is it?

Now the Sun Maid… she's not all flashy and in your face – she's just hanging out, making things warm and shiny. Nobody notices her, but she's comes up faithfully every day… whether we notice or acknowledge her or not.

She's like one of those people Jesus talks about in his famous Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew 5: the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted because of righteousness.

Bono, kneeling.
He goes on to say that the kingdom of heaven belongs to these people. "Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven…" (Matthew 5:12)

My own psyche is a mix of pride and humility and teeth grinding resentment. Warranted or not, I can be a bit proud of my writing at times. On the other hand, for about three years, one of my jobs in life was the actual wiping of feces from my child's behind. I never resented it, as my joy in motherhood greatly eclipsed any humiliation I might have felt. I do, though, sometimes find myself resenting some of the other humbler tasks that are part of being me… such as cleaning toilets. I'm not proud of it, but there it is.

Tell me how you
get that shine...
What I'm getting at is that … when I am down on my knees scrubbing a skanky bowl… it is at these times that I can remember the Sun Maid and the promise of heaven to the humble and humiliated. A certain surrender of pride and self concept may, in fact, be vital to my access heaven... as to accept Christ is to deny my own righteousness... As Bono says, "If you want to kiss the sky / Better learn how to kneel."