Friday, July 30, 2010

The Kind of People Who Follow Jesus

Sara Miles' book, Jesus Freak, has had me reflecting on my own reticence to engage with homeless and/or mentally ill people. I've had homeless people approach me and I've talked with a few. One or two have even thanked me for responding, because most people won't.

Let's just say I'm far from consistent in this behavior. I can ignore voices and avoid eye contact with the best of them.

And Sara has me asking myself, why is this?

Here's my answer: I'm afraid they'll start approaching me all the time. I'm afraid they'll follow me around and want more from me, if all they want is to talk. I even have a term for people like that---emotional black holes. I'm afraid of getting caught in the gravitational pull of whatever put them on the streets (or mental hospital) and no light will escape. I'm afraid that everything that enters that gravitational field will simply be crushed.

Some Sundays ago, I don't remember the exact context, a reference was made to the crowds that followed Jesus. Now, I don't know about everyone else, I admit that I've generally pictured these crowds as being fairly ordinary, middle class, sane people. Sure, I know there were some oddballs in the group. Prostitutes, demoniacs, whatever. I guess I pictured a sort of Hollywood hooker with a heart of gold. And the demoniacs were healed, so they became nice people, pillars of their communities, people who knew how to act in public and only answered voices everyone else could hear (and politely at that---no screeching or yelling).

Reflecting on my own fear of "emotional black holes" and hearing of the crowds following Jesus, I suddenly realized that nice, middle-class, comfortable, polite, sane people don't go around following a preacher and his band of merry men. (For one thing, they're all busy with their nice, polite, middle class, sane, careers.)

What if those crowds, the same people Jesus kept telling "the Reign of God is among you," were those people I avoid because I'm afraid they'll suck me into their black hole? Even worse, what if the crowds who followed Jesus and wouldn't leave him alone looking nothing like me and the congregation I worship with every Sunday morning?

And what if we're called to risk that gravitational pull to help find a light that resists the black hole? More than resist, but turns the black hole inside out, so that it no longer pulls in and crushes, but reaches out and heals?

That's the miracle of Sara Miles' stories. The ones I'd call black holes are moved to serve. Miles doesn't whitewash the burnout and frustration of working with the people who come to St. Gregory's food pantry, but she testifies to changed and changing lives.

I'm not sure what to do with this new point of view, this new vision of the crowds following Jesus. My escape route is to rationalize that not everyone is called to Jesus' type of ministry---or even to Sara Miles'. At this moment, I'm sitting with this, recognizing the risk involved in maneuvering crushing gravitational forces, keeping in mind Sara's testimony that in serving there is healing and resurrection, not only for the one being served, but maybe also for the server.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Fault Blame Responsibility Etc.

So after weeks and weeks of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico, we have a pause. We have cautious optimism. There are still things that could go wrong, but we have progress and hope that the worst is behind us.


Has anyone else been looking at what they use everyday? I don't own a car, but I take the bus which uses petroleum products. Plastics come from petroleum products. Does that include the plastic in the pens I use daily? The disposable drink cups at coffee shops and fast food joints? The many disposable containers that bring food into my home, from produce bags to peanut butter jars? What about all that shrink wrap on everything from books and CDs to new furniture? What about all the plastic on this computer I'm using right this minute? Are these seemingly innocuous things part of our "addiction to oil?" (I'm actually asking. I don't know what other sources produce plastics. Are there other sources? I know, I know, I live in the age of Google, I should be able to find this out. My first attempt, though, confirmed the "plastics from petroleum" thing, but then got technical rather quickly. I'm totally a fine arts/liberal arts guy. Technical stuff loses me very quickly.)

A few weeks back, there was a rather silly video with kittens "acting" out the attitudes of oil executives. It wasn't all that profound, but it's final statement haunts me: "Because you're not mad enough to stop driving your car."

I spent about 15 seconds feeling smug about not owning a car, but then started looking at everything I have and use and dispose of daily that are made of plastic. I've tried to think about how I would go about not using plastic. Talk about a lifestyle change! Is it possible to get any foodstuff into our homes without using plastics? Short of hunting and foraging for our every need and storing leftovers in containers made of stoneware or metal, it appears impractical to try. The ubiquitous convenience of oil and it's byproducts so saturate our lives we practically need new lives to do without it.

And that's the thing. Convenience. It's easier to complain about BP and it's carelessness while sipping on our plastic straws from our plastic cups than it is to give up the lifestyle of consuming BP's product. All these plastics are convenient. To try to live around and without plastics would be hugely disruptive to any life in these United States.

In thinking about all these things, a slight theological leap occurred within my pea brain. Over the centuries since Jesus walked the earth, there have been attempts to blame someone for killing Christ, most famously the antisemitism that wants to blame the Jews---and not just the Jews of 2,000 years ago, but contemporary Jews as well. Of course not everyone believes that and there are arguments that lay the execution of Jesus at the feet of the Romans. But either way, or some third or fourth way, we are left with the fact that someone went about preaching the Reign of God and healing and feeding and raising the dead and other crazy things and some powerful people found all this rather disruptive to their way of life. And rather than let their lives be disrupted with Good News, they chose to kill the central disruptive figure. And while this makes people angry, that someone would unwittingly kill the Messiah, I have to say: few are angry enough to follow Jesus in feeding and healing people. We're just going to keep on going our way, never realizing that we can keep Jesus alive, piously condemning someone else for killing Christ.

We're basically a lazy species. We so easily give into routine, inertia, and pointing out who is to blame, who is at fault, who is responsible. It's just plain inconvenient to change our ways. Call it human nature, call it sinful nature, but the truth of the matter is that the ones responsible for killing Christ and the ones responsible for the risks taken on Deepwater Horizon are the same people.

As Pogo Possum famously said: We have met the enemy and he is us.