Today is as good a day as any (and better than some) to reflect on the apparent and unreal failures of our life...those times when it seemed as if we had failed, as if opportunity had passed us by, as if loss had won the day. Yet, we can now look back upon those times and see that life would not be undone, that failure created the possibility for another victory and something larger than us had won the day.
For this, I am most grateful. Happy Easter.
God has an insane tendency to pick screwed up people for doing big things. In fact, if we take even a cursory look, it seems that the business of God interacting with humanity is all about screwed up people, which causes me to ask, “Am I screwed up? That was a rhetorical question. Some of you are a little too eager to chime in. Thanks a lot.
There's a bumper sticker that comes and goes in popularity that reads, “Christians Aren't Perfect We're Just Forgiven.” It’s a true enough statement. What interests me most about it is that it needs to be said at all. There has grown this assumption that Christians are, in some manner, positioned as better than some other group of people – non-Christians for example. The erroneous process behind that thinking is that there is an initial condition of imperfection, often seen as sinfulness, brokenness, or being generally screwed up, and that this condition needs to be fixed via a religious course correction. The next step is for the person to engage in the particular faith and spiritual rite of passage that addresses this condition and then through the wonder of one doctrine or another (take your pick – sacrament of baptism, sanctification, redemption, indulgences or scape goat sacrifice) the broken person is fixed and the problem solved. It’s a great story (brokenness gives way to perfection) and it is told over and over again from pulpits, podiums and stages. There’s just one problem. For many people, their experience is that it doesn't work that way.
If we give this broken-to-fixed process even a cursory thought, we know it isn't true. How many people do we know that have been indoctrinated or converted into a particular religious system and are now outside that system still struggling? Or, ask yourself, how many people do we know who are still within their religious system that are struggling with deep and personal demons? The myth that religion is a magic elixir that once drunk will fix us, must be abandoned. We are creatures with complex and enduring psychological and behavioral habits: some of them very destructive and many of them highly entertaining.
Have you ever had a deep, flesh ripping, and blood gushing wound? The kind that is worthy of a medical slide next to the term “complex laceration?” Well imagine placing an adhesive bandage on it and calling it fixed. Yet, we somehow expect a momentary religious experience to fix deep seated issues in our life. Some of us need more.
Think on this. Our religious beliefs and practices are only part of what we need to learn, develop and do to be better humans. If our faith journey isn't about more than a chronological event that designates us as saved versus condemned, then we are all in trouble. Here’s why.
Look at the people, traditionally, that God called to do wonderful and amazing things. Moses reportedly couldn't speak very well and complained to God about this. Yet, God called him to be God’s spokesperson to Israel. David, the greatest King of all Judaism started as a shepherd boy, followed his lust to the point of arranging murder and having an affair. The first disciples were vagabonds: fishermen, tax collectors and prostitutes. Paul was originally a persecutor of the early followers of Jesus’s way. Jesus was the son of a carpenter. Do you see a pattern here? God has an amazing tendency to choose the least, the last and the lost among us to do God’s work.
I have a favorite Christmas TV special. What’s yours? Frosty the Snowman? How the Grinch stole Christmas? The Charlie Brown Christmas special? How about White Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 42nd Street? Nope. Mine’s Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. You with me, yet? I’ll bet you a sleeve of communion wafers you will be in a few sentences. Here goes.
The whole Rudolph story is about how certain characters don’t fit in. Obviously there’s Rudolph. His nose is too bright. He looks and talks funny. There’s the elf who wants to be a dentist. The there’s this prospector, Yukon Cornelius, looking for gold by licking his mining pick. Top all that off with a terrible beast that turns out to be a bouncy ride and you have a group of odd and abnormal characters. They all end up exactly where they belong – on the island of misfit toys. There they are with the swimming bird, the square wheel train and the Jack in the Box named Charlie! What a group of misfits!
Then the story turns and Rudolph and his friends are cast off even the island of misfit toys. Of course, we all know that in a strange turn of events, they each discover that their strange talents are in fact just what is needed to save the day. The elf dentist pulls the monster’s teeth, Yukon Cornelius protects his friends, the Bumble monster places the star on the tree top and Rudolph saves Christmas. The misfits are just the fit, as it turns out. They even get Santa to pick up the misfit toys and find them homes.
Are you with me, or do I owe you those communion wafers?
We love the victorious misfits. Maybe it is because we see ourselves in them. Maybe we all have those parts of ourselves that aren't normal, that don’t fit with preconceived ideas of who we should be and what we should do. Perhaps it is because this story tells that grace isn't about becoming something you are not, but rather about being accepted as you are and beginning the journey of being a better version of yourself. Whatever our reason for cheering for the misfits, the reality is we can all relate.
The next time you’re around the folks called Christian, take a mental inventory. Are their misfits in your midst? Remember to look at yourself, too. Of course they are there…the addict, the divorced, the troubled, the angry, the mournful, the depressed, the emotionally needy, the criminal, the list goes on. God’s people aren't perfect and it is high time we started acting like the lovable misfits that we are.
If you’re not seriously screwed up you don’t belong here and because you are, you are an integral part of God’s work. What I am saying, in a sentence is this: you are a child of God, nothing more and nothing less. Can we lay aside the pretense of perfection and attitude of ‘better than’ and live with this amazing truth?
If I were in the pulpit this week, I'd be preaching about the long, arduous and still un-won battle for gender equality and respect. Despite the long standing and erroneous biblical references to female subordination to the male, I hope most contemporary clergy are NOT espousing a patriarchal culture under the guise of religious doctrine.
I would also be talking about the Oscars. Recently, even Hollywood fell prey to tasteless and demeaning gender bias at the Oscars. For a well written and logical account of the Oscars gender bias, please see PeaceBang's article: "Girl's Remember Who You Are..."
The 2013 Oscars telecast was a teaching moment for women in the industry, or should I say, a moment when women in the industry got schooled, which is a different thing. The Oscars schooled uppity Hollywood women about their place, which is to be hot bodies to ogle. The takeaway, reinforced in joke after joke after joke was, “Girls, remember what you are, and what you’re good for.”
In the 1980s, the need for a reformulation of gender roles was captured in books like "The Hazards of Being Male," by Herb Goldberg and "Why Men Are The Way They Are," by my friend Warren Farrell. In the early 1990's John Gray brought us "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus."
I wrote a short story (see below) during that time period to raise the question of societal expectations and gender roles. At it's base, the roles that are created in any society are the result of the expectations that are placed on children that in turn shape their self image and development into adults. These expectations and promoted via parents, role models and media influences. While a great deal has been done to advance the freedom of choice without gender based prejudiced when growing into a personal life role, we still have a long way to go. Read my short story below and see - are we there, yet?
“The Land of The Nams and The Nims”
Once, long ago, in a far away land there lived an odd group of people. They lived much the way we do, eating, sleeping, playing and such things, but in this land there where two types of people, the Nams and the Nims. Oddly enough, the only difference between the Nams and the Nims was a simple steel plate.
You see, when a new child was born, it was decided if that child would be a Nam or a Nim. The Nams were the rulers. They made all of the important decisions, did all of the hard work and were served by the Nims. Both the Nams and the Nims where born exactly alike, small hands, round hairless faces, big brown eyes and most importantly, with a small hole in their chest, right over there heart. It was a dangerous hole, because, as every Nam knew, if anyone touched your heart, you would surely die. Thus, those that were picked to be Nams had a steel plate fixed to their bones over their heart hole. This made it safe for them to rule, of course,”
“On one day, a young Nam named Ned was following the instruction of his teacher. ‘Remember, Ned,’ he said with a strong huffy voice, ‘Your job will be very important and you must always remember to hold your head high and work hard.’ ‘Yes, sir,’ the young Nam replied.
As they walked down the hall, two young Nims passed them and quickly entered a room off the hallway, laughing as they went. “What are they doing in there,” Ned asked? “Just silly Nim stuff, cooking, cleaning… Don’t worry about,” grunted the teacher.
At that moment another Nam ran up, “Master Teacher,” he excitedly announced, “there is trouble in the outer garden! A dragon I believe!”
Well, before Ned knew what happened, his teacher and the messenger had left him there, standing alone in the hall. “Figures,” he thought, “I miss everything.” Ned turned to head back down the hall to his room. When he passed the door the young Nims had entered, Ned heard them laughing again. Then Ned had a thought, a clever little thought. “I bet I can find out what they are doing,” he reasoned. Without another thought, Ned ran down the hall to the storage room and slipped inside. Making sure no one had followed him; he closed the door, and grabbing a chair, the young Nam climb up and into an air ventilation pipe. He knew he could find his way, and soon had crawled into the pipe directly back to the Nim room and was peering down the vent at them.
Teacher was right, they where cleaning, washing dishes, and stacking towels, and all the while, they would laugh and giggle with each other. He was a little disappointed, but figured that The Master was right. Nims were silly and less interesting than Nams. “It was good to be a Nam. It is good to rule,” he thought. Ned touched the plate over his chest proudly and started to slowly crawl back down the pipe. Then he heard a scream come from the room below. He looked quickly. One of the small Nims had been hurt. It looked like a tray had fallen and hit him in the head, cutting the Nim's face. The nim knelt to the floor and began to cry. Then Ned saw the most peculiar thing. The older Nims moved closet to the young nim and gathered in a circle. One by one, they reached out and, to his disbelief, touched the nim's heart hole. Ned gasped. “They are going to kill him,” his mind raced, “What should I do?” But, the little Nim did not die. Instead, as each one touched his heart, he began to feel better. The nim stopped crying, his face stopped bleeding and soon they were all laughing and singing again.
Ned looked down at the steel plate that separated his heart from all others, and wondered.