I want to be part of a Church…..

“Church” conjures up all sorts of images for people. It is easy to see church in terms of Sundays, printed bulletins, bands, choirs, organs, hymns, stained glass, and fights over who may or may not use the kitchen. Sadly, it is possible to “belong” to a church and yet not be part of a community. It is also easy to dismiss the arts (in all of the five major forms: music, painting, sculpture, writing and dance), business, entertainment, the sciences, hospitality, research and development and to consider them not part of church at all.

1. I want to be a part of a church that values all people, regards all people as gifted and talented, and encourages the talents of others to be realized to their maximum, empowering people to discover their deepest longings, realize their wildest dreams, while meeting the needs of others both near and far.
2. I want to be part of a Church that sends people to the farthest parts of the world as helpers, teachers, construction workers and children workers.
3. I want to be part of a Church that meets to celebrate life in times of joy, to mourn and cry at times of sadness and struggle.
4. I want to be part of a church that studies and researches the issues of faith, life and relationships, that honors the achievements of people through the regular practice of shared and valued rituals. I have a cartoon where a vicar is greeting parishioners after a worship service. “Nothing personal. Nothing personal. Nothing personal,” he says to each person, offering a limp handshake to people as they pass by on the way out of the church. [Also, try to see the “Mr. Bean” sitcom where he attends church. It is a good laugh for anyone who’s struggled with the normal church fight over traditional and so-called contemporary worship styles.]
5. I want to be part of a Church that reflects the broader community, encourages community, embraces community and solves its problems through negotiation that occurs within community. I want to be a part of the village that raises children, for my sons to live in such a village and to assume their appropriate and growing roles within that village.
6. I want to be in a community where all types of music, dance, and art are encouraged and accepted, where the art and the expression of it are enjoyed within the body and offered also to the world around it.
7. I want to be a part of a church that has a high regard for humor; that values adventure and fun; that carries a mindset that believes God is Involved and God’s Involvement Brings God Great Pleasure.
8. I want to be a part of a community that understands that God loves because God is nice, that God is more than a Father but also a combination of other attributes like Judge, Peacemaker, Provider, Motivator, Brother, Sister, and Friend.
9. I want to be a part of a church where leadership doesn’t know everything and does not pretend it does; where questions can be debated, ideas shared; where arguments can be intense, where matters of faith are processed through a multiple of counselors and where no one person is seen as possessing all the answers, all the authority, all the power but where the essence of the Gospel (reconciliation between people, the establishment of The Kingdom, peacemaking and societal justice) carries the day.
10. I want to be part of a Church where relationships (the mutual pursuit of knowledge, the arts, the offering of support to others in times of success and failure, times of need and in times of plenty) are more important than programs, the style of music or the acquisition, use of, or style of buildings.
11. I want to be part of a Church where the sermon (on occasions that there is one) is topical, relevant, Biblical, and address the everyday dilemmas of everyday people. I want to hear preaching that promotes morality without moralizing, where truth is proclaimed in love without judgment, where Grace is expressed through the trust exercised among friends.
12. I want to be part of a Church that serves communion with great regularity, recognizing that the symbolic presentations of bread and wine celebrate the very gifts of life, forgiveness and renewal. I want to eat bread for nourishment and recognize my elemental need of food with all of Earth’s people. I want the eating of these common foods to reflect my acceptance of the common lot I enjoy with all people and eat these simple foods in the hope that I will not forget the poor, disenfranchised, hungry, lonely and weak.
13. I want to be part of a Church where flawed, fallible leaders have not lost their zeal or their sense of adventure but possess a penchant for fun, for learning, writing and reading. I do not want perfect leadership but leaders who are not too jaded to encourage me in my faith or too “faith friendly” that they have stopped trusting God in new, dynamic ways.

Blessings at meals… Richard learns…

Richard always made a concerted effort to be a good witness to the Gospel, and the Church Universal and to his Legion of Invisible Witnesses (whoever the book of Hebrews was referring to) and the angels and archangels, whenever he was in public.

I might be the only Bible someone ever reads was a thought that often went through his mind and I’ll be God with skin on was another. Both these exhortations he remembered from a sermon his pastor preached proclaiming that everyone in the congregation, no exceptions, “From myself,” the pastor said, “down to the lowliest of janitors. I want you to be God with skin on wherever you go.”

It was in submission to his spiritual superiors, even though it was sometimes a source of embarrassment to some, that Richard always closed his eyes, held the hands of whomever he was sharing a meal, and prayed out loud, very specifically that God bless the food and bless the very hands that prepared it and in the very name of Jesus. Richard held firmly to the belief that you could never know who was watching and you’d never know the possible consequence of a display of gratitude in a public place with the rampant onslaught of secularism that was visibly overtaking the very nation.

It was rare for Richard to eat alone as meals were always a chance and a very Biblical way to witness, but one day he grabbed a quick meal at a fast food outlet near his office. While unwrapping his burger he decided to be particularly bold and to pray for the food out loud even though he was dining alone.

“Almighty God,” he began.

“Yes, Richard, You called my name,” said God.

“Well, I was just about to ask you to bless this food and to bless the hands that prepared it and to ….”

“Bless? Richard. What exactly do you mean by that? Would you like me to reduce the fat content so it won’t clog your arteries, or would you like me to do a little divine angioplasty while you are eating? Bless? I mean look at it, Richard. You are doing the dietary equivalent of a free-fall off a high-rise and asking me to ‘bless’ your fall.”

“I get it, God. I think. Could you at least, then, bless the hands that prepared it?”

“That’s up to you.”

“What do you mean?”

“Blessing the staff is up to you. That’s what I mean. Go up to the counter and bless the woman who served you. Take out your wallet and give her all the money you have. There. That will bless her.”

“God, You know sometimes you can….”

“Yes. I know Richard. I can be so awfully practical, so downright unspiritual. So ……”

Richard and God talk about love…..

“God? God! God, where are you?” said Richard, feelings of desperation almost clogging his throat.

“Here I am,” God chuckled.

“Why the chuckle? What’s funny this time? You’re always happy. Don’t you have an awful lot on your mind? Wars? Famines? Mel Gibson?”

“Here. I am here Richard. Right here. I’ve not moved in ages – well, not moved in the sense of being away from you or from the masses that preceded you. Or, in fact, from those who will come, so-called, after you. I was just, I was just waiting a little… , you know, checking on how you are doing with your abandonment err, issues!”

“That’s unkind, you being all quiet when you know I …. It is so unlike you to be unkind. You know I don’t like the ‘silent treatment’ not from you or anyone.”

“Lighten up, Richard. I am only, what do you say in that part of the world, ‘kidding’ you. You do know that when you are stressed you have absolutely no sense of humor. So reactive, Richard. I hope you are aware of that. Now what is it you want to talk about today? What do you think is on your mind? Or, perhaps you’d like me to tell you what’s on your mind?”

“Love. I want to talk about love. I want to talk about ‘God Loves You’.”

“I know something about love. Go ahead Richard. What is it you would like to talk about? You want the five or six Greek words, the story of the evangelist and the prostitute who had no birthday cake, or do you want to talk about how love and boundaries al la Cloud and Townsend, or is it the ‘horse and carriage’ stuff you’d like to get into today? Or of course, we could, although it is a little dated, do the Dobson ‘Tough Love’ approach or whip back to the sixties, the 1960s that is, and revisit what went right and what went wrong at Woodstock….”

“God. Please. Stop. I’ve been saying ‘God is Love’ and I am not really sure what it means. I have been saying ‘God loves you’ to strangers and friends and to crowds in shopping malls, I have mimed it on outreaches in foreign countries, danced it in airports, dressed as a clown at two Olympics, and I am still not sure I really believe it. I mean, here’s the bottom line…. do you really love and know everyone on the planet?”

“Gravity, Richard. Think gravity. And, by the way, could you avoid the clichés? Even I get tired of hearing ‘the bottom line’ and ‘there is no there there’ and ‘it is what it is’ and I could go on…”

“Gravity. What do you mean?”

“Is there any human who can escape the power and the influence of gravity? Do you have to do anything to earn it? Do you have to be special? Do you have to know the Bible to be subject to the rules of gravity? Does age matter? Color? Err, Creed? Is it only for Baptists? Americans? Straight? Gay? – oh how I love the way you guys have to name everything! No. You simply have to BE, and gravity is yours. Think of my love like this Richard. It reaches all humans, no matter who they are or where they are. No one is too poor to receive it or too rich or famous to be influenced by it.”

“But….”

“There you go again, Richard. You want to talk about love and I am trying to tell you about my love in a way you can get your ‘head around.’ Think of my love as a Gravitational Presence. There, go ahead, preach that. YouTube it if you want. I am here. I do love all people.”

“But, Lord. That is so simple. So un-intellectual. So…. Childlike, even impersonal.”

“Impersonal? Really? Think about it, Richard. It is very personal. Try escaping it. Then you’ll see how personal it is.”

“But God…. Do you really know me? Gravity doesn’t know me. It just is.”

“Metaphor, Richard. Picture. Comparison. Simile. M-E-T-A-P-H-O-R. It’s not perfect Richard, no metaphor is. But you asked me to talk about love and if I love all people. Yes. I do. And my love reaches all people even if they don’t know it. If I removed it (which, is, by the way, impossible even for me) – well, what would happen if gravity was suspended for a day or two, Richard? Excuse the cliché Richard but it ‘boggles your mind’ doesn’t it? I like saying that. “Boggles, boggles, boggles.”

“Stop. Please. Let’s get serious,” said Richard. “What are you doing?”

“Singing. By the way, have you noticed that whenever you are stressed you want to be serious? You really believe in ‘serious’ don’t you?”

“Singing?” asks Richard, ignoring something they’ve previously discussed.

“Yes. Singing. I am singing.”

“What does God sing? Methodist Hymns? The Hallelujah chorus? The Gaithers?”

“Lots of things. Graham Kendrick – I must say I do get a little embarrassed with ‘Shine Jesus Shine’, Brahms. Dave Matthews. Bananas in Pajamas, Sandi Patti. Raffi. I’ve got ‘United Breaks Guitars’ on my mind since I saw it on YouTube. But today, in fact all day, I am singing…. National Anthems.”

“Why?”

“I like them.”

“Which is your favorite?”

“Unfair question. Ding dong – triangle!!! Pssssssst. You are out! Ever heard of a triangle? Ok, I will tell you. As long as you keep it to yourself. My favorite National Anthem is …….. Australia’s. Don’t you just love the rugby when they beat the Southhhh….?”

“Secular nation! Your favorite national anthem is from a ‘secular nation’? Don’t you know Americans give the highest percentage of their incomes to missions in the whole world? Don’t you think you ought to….?”

“Richard.”

“Yes, Lord.”

“I can sing whatever I want. I can laugh whenever I want. Move whomever I want, but my love is for all people. Everywhere. All the time. Don’t you get it, Richard. I am God. I do all this, and, believe it or not…. I even watch cricket!”

“God? Do you ever sing ‘Because He lives, I can face tommooor……’?”

“Richard.”

“Yes, Lord.”

“Go do something worthwhile.”

The Alphabet for Recovering Evangelicals (check back – it “grows” by a letter or two each week)

A is for Ambiguity

I am going to begin to resist certainty. Not everything has to be so absolute. Things are not so black and white, so for or against. It is acceptable to have unanswered questions. If I am just a little less sure of myself, I might be a little easier to get on with, the “lost” might not feel quite so lost in my company, and I might not have to think the cold shoulder I get is part of being persecuted. I repent of Certainty, of alienating others by being so Good, so decided, and so Right – and embrace the many Ambiguities all around me.


B is for Beautiful / B is for Brutal

I know that life is beautiful, – and brutal. I know that the “bad” (the unrepentant) see and experience the beauty of life, and, I know that the “good” (the pious) experience the brutality of life – just as much as each other. Life is Beautiful and Brutal, they go together like a “horse and carriage.” But, the miracle of a “With-us God” is not that faith becomes a ticket to life’s beauty and a “free pass” from its brutality. The miracle is in learning to courageously, maturely, embrace both, and to see both as inevitable, despite my so-called goodness, or rebellion, and despite anything I have done or have not done, believed or rejected, obeyed or disobeyed. Life was both Beautiful and Brutal to Jesus and it is unlikely it will be any different for me.

C is for Care

I want to indiscriminately care for people, regardless of age, gender, race, language, denomination, sexual preference, house of faith (or the lack of it) according to the energy and grace afforded me. I repent of indifference – indifference to suffering, the hungry, marginalized, disenfranchised, and alienated. I repent of indifference to victims of war, and indifference to those whom life itself, because of their own choices, has humiliated. I want to care more than I have ever cared, and I want that caring to drive me to acts of kindness and generosity so that the love and the truth of the Gospel may be tangible to those who, as a result of misguided evangelical zeal, have become victims of religious scorn.

D is for Domestication

I will not pray, or speak, in any manner so as to suggest that God is at my beck and call, divinely appointed to carry out my every whim. I will repeatedly remind myself that, like all other people, I am here for the good and worthwhile purposes of God, and it is not, to the surprise of some, the other way around.

(THOMAS DOANE) D is ALSO for Dialectical Thinking. There are questions whose answer is both ‘yes’ and ‘no’ at the same time from different angles. Get used to it.

E is for Endurance

I need endurance and patience to be kind to those for whom faith in Jesus has become a weapon, a means of feeling and thinking of oneself as superior, “over and above” ordinary, lesser mortals. Being “in touch” or “touched” by the Grace of God, instead of rendering some persons profoundly humble and grateful, has given some a sense of entitlement, of superiority, – and it is for these persons that I need endurance.

F is for the Failure

When the preacher, the teacher, of even the parishioner, imparts his or her wisdom, insight, teaching, without also first becoming part of the fabric of the group, the congregation, or the larger family of faith, – then he or she stands in waiting to become its judge. He or she will ultimately regard the group of persons with whom he or she has a “ministry” not as equals, as mutual sojourners on a shared pilgrimage, but rather as a group in need of his or her tolerance, guidance, and correction. And when this group is wayward (as groups are prone to be) he or she, who has failed to become part of the fabric of the group, the congregation or the larger family or faith, will move on, to where he or she may judge more effectively, where people are more “open” to his or her guidance, – to where the grass is, of course, greener.

G is for Grace

Grace helps me to overlook what I think is my due, my just desert, my right. It assists me to forgive, to turn the page, and to move on and let go. Grace empowers me to live with an open hand rather than a clenched fist. When under the spell of divine grace, I can forgive, even when forgiveness is not requested. I can write off debts, even offering gifts in place of the repayment of the debt. I will seek to enrich the lives of those try to hurt me knowing that grace is evidence of divine intervention, of growth, goodness, and spiritual maturity.

H is for Humility

Humility is recognizing, acknowledging, then doing – what I am good and gifted at. It’s stepping up to the plate to do what I am called to do with the gifts I have been given. I know it is false humility, worm-like, to claim I am good at little or nothing. To deny my talents is poor stewardship of my life. Like every person, I am gifted and talented, and when I hide my skills in order to appear humble, I am wasting valuable time.

(THOMAS DOANE) I is for ‘I am the problem’

Not the economy. Not my boss. Not my employees. Not someone else. Not President Obama. Not even Glenn Beck. ‘I’ am blocking the way between my life and God.

J is for Jesus

Not King James. Not Joel Oesteen’s “Your Best Life Now.” Not Jerry Falwell. Not Jim Bakker. Consider the source.

K is for Kingdom

Jesus proclaims repeatedly that he is inaugurating the Kingdom of God. The Gospel is the Good News about Jesus: grace, etc. The Gospel is the catalyst for the Kingdom about which Jesus was always talking. The Kingdom of God is here, or the Kingdom of God is near. Either/or. Where it is not, is far away, somewhere else in a Platonic otherworld, where the dutiful will be admitted after death and not before. We continue to live in the always-already/ but not-yet. As an experiment, try behaving as if you lived in the Kingdom of God now, or as if it were dawning at this moment–where time meets eternity.

Adult Jesus Ruins Christmas Shopping

If Jesus would remain a baby, I would find Christmas shopping much easier. But every time I venture out to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child, by purchasing a gift for someone I love, I am stumped. I do not know what kind of gift to buy that will somehow declare the birth of the Son of God. I do not have the where-with-all for a gift that marks the birth of a King. Besides, every time I begin to shop in honor of Baby Jesus, I see him whipped unmercifully upon a cross. Nothing so confuses my shopping at Christmas than the sight of blood spilling from his side and, although I resist the thought, it will not go away.

Before I can do much looking around the malls, Jesus jumps out of the crib, fully adult, onto the streets in front of me and I can hardly keep up with him. He’s healing people and getting into all kinds of trouble with medical experts. I am lost about what to do. Besides, any free moment he goes to the wrong places. He goes to the seedy parts of town. He goes to places I have never been before. He mixes with rejected people. He goes to City Hall and hurls insults at those in leadership who are without mercy.

Downtown, he is outspoken and scathing to those who are unfair in their business practices no matter who they are or what positions they hold. Jesus detests double standards and addresses them at every encounter.

I want to shove him back in the crib where he was safe. I want him back in the crib where we were all safer. Then, just when I thought he would stop in at a church or two – perhaps a cathedral built in his honor – he’s off into a bar befriending losers. He’s talking politics in a way I have never heard. He’s talking about fairness and justice and mercy and truth. I want to tell him not to mix politics and religion but I hold my tongue and blush with the absurdity of it all.

If he would just stay in one place like a baby should is all I can think.

It’s not long before he gains in popularity and I am in a jostle with the crowds for his attention. But it’s not the kind of popularity I was expecting. I will never be able to get a gift at this rate. Prostitutes love him. Drunks run to his defense. The poorest of the poor are out in their masses. He dances in the streets with children and people he has only just met. Young men and women with piercings all over their bodies form a circle with him, and they celebrate like long lost friends, reunited. Then, instead of heeding the city ordinances and honoring the local businesses, he feeds the entire crowd by some miraculous display.

Now what do I buy? Clearly, anything I spend on any gift, if I am really out to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child has to be grand. Yet it has to be modest. His birth couldn’t have been more modest: a shed was the delivery room, an animal feeding trough, the crib. Secrecy, shame and danger were the backdrop of this dramatic night while poverty dictated the details. So I cannot spend much. Yet it was the greatest night the earth had ever seen. It was the greatest moment in all history. It was the night angels sighed! It was the night the hosts of heaven longed to witness; the night the order of everything was disturbed forever by Love’s intervention.

I try to tell him he’s ruining things: that he is too quick to befriend the wrong people. Clearly his mind is elsewhere. I plead with him to befriend the religious and civic leaders but he will not listen. Soon, as if to prove me right, they are up in arms against him. Everybody who is anybody wants him gone. They call him a hindrance to tourism, a threat to peace and they accuse him of not attending church!

Next he’s looking crucifixion in the eye.

If only he would remain a baby. It is so much easier to shop for a baby.

And this is the Gospel expressed as simply as I know how…

Jesus, as a result of the compelling love within the Godhead, made a huge shift in the life He enjoyed and shared within the Godhead, and came to Earth in the form of a baby.

And He, now fully human, grew and lived among humans, and loved them in ways humans had never before known.

He was so free, and refreshing, and uninhibited, and so full of life, and so HUMAN, that it got Him into much trouble, in fact, it got Him killed.

Then after he was dead and buried and had gone, unbeknownst to all who despised him and wanted him gone, His faith in His father in Heaven broke the power of death itself and He rose from the dead. This unified act of love on behalf of the GodHead, which satisfied all the response God has to human rebellion, rendered death (the result of such rebellion) meaningless to all men and women, boys and girls, anywhere in the world, and for all time, who decide to live with His agenda in the forefront of thier lives.

If you want to respond to the Gospel, seek me out (or seek someone out). Join us. Find a way to come by and join a community of people who, just like you, want to find greater meaning in their lives.

Sin (human rebellion) is not smoking or drinking or cussing — the essence of sin, excuse the term but it does tells it like it is — is living in such a manner as to be showing God “the finger.” It is living as if God and all that matters to God are worth ignoring.

Who is this man?

Who is this man
upon a cross
upon a hill
Whose mother stands
to see him suffer?

Who, but a day or two before, broke bread with dear friends

And told them it was the end – of a long and beautiful friendship

At least in the form they had known it

Who is this man
upon a cross
upon a hill
Who prays forgiveness
Upon those who want to see him suffer?

And where are the adoring crowds that swarmed him, hailed him as king
Listened to his every word

There is no crowd now
only

a mother who stands to see him suffer

Who is this Jesus
upon a hill
seated and teaching
the masses
and then feeding them through dramatic display of prayer and faith
and healing the sick
and opening eyes that are blind

Who is this man, this Jesus
Who held meetings on mountains
With Prophets who’d been dead for thousands of years
Who walked on water and calmed storms
And stirred a little girl from Death to Life

And who is this Jesus
Who calls a spade a spade
And ignores the religious and respected
Preferring the company of the despised
And the rejected
And who talks to women in public
And Samaritans, in both private and public

Who is this man who can
And defy Rome
And defy the temple officials
And talk in militant terms of a Kingdom that will
Last forever
Yet be moved to tears at the death of a friend?

Why is He now upon a cross
upon a hill
forsaken
bereft
betrayed

Why is the begotten, forgotten
and left to die a criminal death
between two thives
His head and under a crown of thorns
And a purple robe across his shoulders
Both placed upon him in bitter irony and sarcasm

While his mother watched him suffer

Who is this God
The Son of Man
Up on a Cross
Up on a hill
And who are we to watch
His death, year in and year out
And go from Crib to Cross
From miracle to miracle
parable to parable
year to year
and live sometimes as though
His death were
Of little meaning

Who is this dying Saviour
Abandoned by the God He calls ABBA
Abandoned by Heaven
upon a hill
While His mother stands
to see him suffer?

He is Dead, Dead, Dead
The beloved begotten Son
Is dead – the body is limp upon the cross
The last words are uttered
And now it will be removed to a borrowed tomb

Who is this man?
Who lies in a borrowed tomb
The stone rolled shut
And sealed – and He who said He was God
Is gone…
Gone…
Gone.

I think of Mary, and Jesus, at Christmas……

I imagine, Mary, that it was a difficult birth. All those miles journeyed so late in a pregnancy did not make things easier. Of course there’s nowhere for you to stay, the man you are with is not your husband. You say the child is not his. What else are people to do but hold the door firmly closed and send you on your way?

Here he is, Mary, the baby God promised. In your joy and pain there is no relief as guests who have traveled long distances stand in line to pay homage to the baby as if to a king. I should imagine Mary, that there is a little resentment toward you from some quarters, all this attention for a woman of questionable morals.

I am sure that it was a difficult childhood, Jesus. Being young and studious can be a tiring combination. Feeling called, appointed, anointed, intimate with God and so at home in the temple could infuriate men in search of the God you claim to know. The tongues surely wagged declaring you illegitimate. “Who’s your father,” I bet they taunted, “We know our father is Abraham, but who is your father.” It must have gotten a little old Jesus, even when you were so very young.

I know it was a difficult career. You faced extremes at every turn. Ostracism here, worship there. I cannot imagine the pressure you endured from religious quarters. Turning water to wine, healing the blind, raising the dead, multiplying food, walking on water and calming storms I would have thought would increase your popularity but largely it had the opposite effect. How much good can you do before those who pride themselves on knowing God become a little edgy? Demonstrating the power of God through working miracles can get a person in trouble rather quickly. Perhaps you should have known better.

I know friendships were troublesome for you. I’m sure it was a difficult day when you looked into the eyes of a friend, a very close friend, and found yourself looking into the eyes of your betrayer. There he was pointing you out in the garden and then, to rub salt into the wound, doing it with a kiss. Those who had come to seize and accuse you, place you on trial were taken aback at your composure, your presence, your attitude, despite all you knew about what was in store for you. Where did you get the faith Jesus?

I cannot imagine what it was like to be so widely wanted dead. Religious leaders wanted you out of the way. Political leaders accused you of disturbing the peace. Then, fancy this, they join forces in some weird alliance to get you. Then, the Enemy also wanted you dead. You showed him no tolerance, wouldn’t take his bribe; you wouldn’t join forces or share power. You just wouldn’t demonstrate any flexibility Jesus, not on any front, even for a moment.

Finally, and surely most painfully, God wanted you dead as atonement for sin. It’s no wonder, Jesus, that you perspired blood and pleaded for the removal of the cup that was before you.

After all you went through I cannot imagine what it was like to be brought back to life. Appearing to your beloved friends, your mother, your brothers and sisters and hundreds of people must have brought you all joy enough to party in the streets. The added bonus was that now, death itself, was dead.

I cannot imagine Mary, what it was like to be his mother. As surely as you knew water would become wine you knew the crib would become a cross. You also knew that despite all the pain and drama, the sealed tomb would open and the risen Christ would declare to the world once more, that God is intimately invested in the affairs of humanity and the details of every life.

What Would Jesus Do?

“Now what would Jesus do?” asked the one glancing at her WWJD bracelet.

“Grape nuts,” replied her companion instantly, as if she had served Jesus breakfast that very morning. I slipped away pondering how the will and the ways of the greatest political, religious and social reformer of all time got reduced to a formula for grocery shopping.

I am glad the use of these bracelets appears to be waning. It remains a great question, but wearing it on a wrist somehow suggests that the answer is easily accessible. It suggests that if you will simply stop and think a little, having eyed the bracelet, you’ll get the answer. Then, as you act on your new found knowledge, your predicaments will be resolved, you will have a better life, and conditions in the world will improve all around for everybody.

Quite the contrary: Answering the question and doing what Jesus would do in any situation is neither easily established nor executed. Finding the answer itself would take a lot of work, like tunneling back though a couple of thousand years, researching culture, geography and weather conditions and the political and religious climate. Then we’d have to identify, and then decipher, metaphor, understand and interpret tone and intent, and immerse ourselves in at least a few ancient languages.

Besides all this, we’d need a working knowledge of the subcultures and the prejudices that existed within those subcultures. Then, with all this done we might be able to decide what Jesus would do given some, but not all, situations we face.

The next challenge, once we’ve established the answer, would be to have the courage to do what Jesus would do. WWJD is not about “doing the right thing.” Jesus did not always do the “right” thing. If that were so, no cross would have awaited him. Doing the “right thing” would have endeared him to those who mattered and would not have required him to buck authority at all.

Essentially Jesus laid a platform for his followers to live differently. It doesn’t take more than a reading of the New Testament to see that he despised pretentiousness and empty religious “performance” and was particularly vocal wherever he found religious zeal that was without internal transformation. He despised abusive systems and was a particular critic of those who ripped off others.

I do not think Jesus cares what cereal you buy, or for that matter, what dress or suit you wear or how your hair is or is not cut. But I do believe he cared about what kind of person you are and whether you love mercy, humility, truth and justice, and challenge the systems where these qualities are absent.

It is apparently forgotten that Jesus was hardly a nice guy. Today he’d be a threat to our political order and might not be able to find a church he’d attend, let alone one that would have him preach! Consequently doing what Jesus would do could significantly reduce your popularity rating. The real question, by the way, is not “what would Jesus do” but rather what will you do now that you claim to know him?

Let’s shed the bracelets. It’s not grape nuts or cheerios, but love and truth, mercy and justice, that might bring us all a little closer to being what Jesus was. But be careful, you might shed the bracelet and exchange it for a cross – and it won’t be hanging around your neck.

Sylvia the Hairdresser, or, how NOT to do evangelism

Now my heart warms toward her but this was not always so when it came to Sylvia the Hairdresser. I could barely go anywhere without her evangelical interference. It dogged my childhood. If I went to the barbershop, she would see my bicycle leaning against the wall, and when I came out, she would summon me sternly into her salon-for-girls to tell me about her Jesus. I felt awkward and exposed just standing there, in the bright pink salon – seeing my freshly shaved head a hundred times in her hard bright mirrors – hearing what a sinner I was, with girls watching.

God loves you was her persistent theme. Clearly, she did not share God’s predisposition towards me. I was a potential convert – a possible testimony to her faithfulness, a feather in her heavenly crown – and come hell or high water, she was going to get me saved. Somehow, according to her, I had already managed to embody all the despicable acts of humanity in one pre-adolescent frame. According to my well-versed Representative, if I failed to immediately repent (from what I did not know, nor did she make clear), even the impending bicycle ride home could terminate my miserable sin-filled life and land me in my well-deserved Hell. Any implication of Scriptural evidence that Jesus loved children was lost on her; every encounter with Sylvia the hairdresser was a foretaste of the very Hell at which she said my life was aimed.

To me, she felt omnipotent. Meeting her could happen anywhere. The encounters were most prolonged when she bought groceries from my dad’s corner store. This was when we both got it – Dad and me. As he tried to discuss her practiced presentations of her gospel, she would shrug her shoulders, extend her arms in despair, and mumble about feet and dust and pearls and swine. From behind the counter, I could see dust rising and pearls glittering around her chosen, blessed neck. If the exchange between Sylvia and Dad lasted long enough, I would imagine I could smell slaughtered pigs and see carcasses spread violently across the floor.

She said, “praise the Lord” a lot and never once waited to hear anything from Dad or me. I knew we would never make it with her Jesus. In fact, I was quite sure I preferred not to, knowing she looked forward to a promised preeminent place, ruling and reigning with God forever and ever and ever and ever.

In Sylvia the Hairdresser, the fine art of meddling in the affairs of others, which she called witnessing, was perfected. Because God is all knowing, she made everything her business. No marriage, no illness, no child-rearing practice in her self-declared parish escaped her watchful eye. I knew it was only a matter of time before she would find out I liked to play music. Once she came into our house when I was practicing Lara’s Theme from Dr. Zhivago and she stopped me mid-bar to tell me I was “playing for the devil.” She rampaged about the debauchery that followed young boys who played music for the world. I sat accused, hands spread on the piano keys and wondered how a beautiful melody, played very simply in our living room, was found pleasing to the devil and capable of leading to such destruction, the likes of which in all of my eleven years, I had never heard. “Praise the Lord,” she sang as she left our sleazy home, victory under her belt and my head in a bag. Once again I saw the dust and smelled the swine, and watched the reflection off her pearls light up her shiny smiling face.

So how I ever fell in love with Jesus of the New Testament has nothing to do with Sylvia the Hairdresser who dogged my childhood with her evangelical interference, as much as I am told she believes it. Rather, a few people befriended and loved me beyond my deserving. They listened to my wild ideas about faith, love and life, then, when I asked, told me in Whom they believed. And in the telling of such freeing, courageous and beautiful love, I saw the Heart of God.