Friday, April 12, 2013

Debbie Downer, Jesus, & Sabbaticals: A Response to What Ryan Said

My college roommate posted this: Searching for What Comes Next

This post isn't so much to respond to what he said as it is to say: "Yeah...what Ryan said." Ryan speaks my own heart here.

It's easy to be cynical.

I've been really "good" at pointing out what's wrong in various arenas: political, social, but most importantly to me: in the Church. And by "good," I mean that I've done it often, not necessarily that I'm always right.

But this is my point at the moment: Notions of rightness seem so futile to me these days (at least in the objective and formulaic when universally prescribed). You may label me a heretical product of a relativistic generation, but it seems more and more true to me that what's right in one situation is drastically wrong in another. This is different than saying that "anything goes" or "everyone can believe what they want to." Instead, I am calling for acknowledgement that withholding judgment firstly is the path to righteousness.

I tend to think Ryan's right: Patience is very important. Dealing with the situations and people right in front of me and in my little circle of influence is really all we can do. I've got all sorts of great ideas for how Barack Obama should rule the world. But that's neither my call nor my actual opportunity.
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Great comedians know that what makes good comedy is the ability to take what is true in actuality (=lived life) and make light of it. Saturday Night Live gives us a great example of this in the character of Debbie Downer. Debbie Downer is hilarious in great part because we all know her. Even more so, it's because many of us are her.

It's one thing to ignorantly ride in the clouds all day long, and another to drag one's head through the mud all the time. Both are unrealistic. The first is dangerous in that things such as pain and grief exist. The second is because it offers no hope, grace, or love (which also exist).

The gospel reading for this coming third week of Easter gives us Jesus' conversation with Peter in John 21. I can be Peter in this situation so very often: finding the counter-example, pointing out what's wrong, straining gnats, plucking specks, or judging my situation based upon my neighbor's.

But Jesus' response should continue to shape and form me: "What's that to you? You follow me."

If Jesus were a blood-thirsty totalitarian dictator, this would be a problematic. But his example of grace, forgiveness, and love should be attractive enough to want to follow this command.

I know, I know: "The Church can be and so often is a hypocrite, a stumbling block, a whore, and looks nothing like Jesus. Institutions suck. Christians are mean. There are better ways."

I know. I really do. And I too have desired to leave for whatever I think is best. And methods, words, and vessels should indeed change. Wineskins need replacing. But the problem is just that: I think I know best. And I don't. If nothing else, what this ever-changing and fickle world greatly needs is some consistent loving, some stick-it-through determination, and unwavering, unchanging love.

The greatest problems with marriage that exist these days aren't those of sexual identity, but of fidelity. And these marital problems are a microcosm of the whole: we're horrible at sticking things through.

"I don't like this situation. See ya. I'm going to another."
"This isn't working. Something must change."
"This isn't right. That over there must be."

Are there times to chop down the tree and plant an new one? Of course, but by our standards, Jesus had every right to leave the institutional "Church" of his time. And yes, he certainly had words and protests to demonstrate how disgusted he was with these things. But he continued to practice the faith of his people. Indeed: he got away from them to be alone (and often!). But he always returned to his people, his "family," and his tribe, ultimately giving all that he had that they just might see who they should actually be.

Jesus spoke critically. But in the end, his greatest examples were those of loving devotion and self-emptying action.
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I'm greatly looking forward my sabbatical period this summer. The practice of sabbath is one prescription by which I think our brokenness can be healed. To take the time-out to celebrate, to enjoy, to break from the listlessness of our cynicism is to practice the divine creative love.

A lot of people don't get it (I might explode if I get one more comment about my "extended vacation" or underhanded comments about how there are more righteous things to do than take a sabbatical like ridding the world of poverty). Heck...I don't completely get it. But I think that it's because our heads and hearts can be so very muddled by the clouds of cynicism that we need such times.

When our six days of working with the dirt turns into perpetual mud-flinging, we'd do well to stand up and go for a walk for a day amongst the flowers that such dirt can and should produce.
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Jars of Clay ended their first studio album with a song that is probably the least well-known of the whole thing (particularly because it's followed by a more upbeat "hidden" song). It's not chart-topper, but it sure does speak of what I'm trying to say here, I think:

Cynical. It's just your way.
You play the doubting Thomas, Feel the scars and wipe the stains

So you fight, and retreat, 
And talk yourself out of believing in any peace that you can't see.

Blind words you call
Blind words will fall

You're logical. 
You can't find any reason to believe in love.
You are blind.

Crucify, and deny. 
Pass the blame and burn the mission until dust remains and wash your hands.

Blind words you call
Blind words will fall

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