Commentary on Photo (and the 2012 Tennessee Football Season): Lindsay Minton- “How much more humble can we get, we’re 4-7?”
If you’re a long-time reader of the blog, it’s likely you’ve grown painfully accustomed to my often half-hearted, predictably cynical, and endlessly limping efforts to remain tethered to a faith my economic livelihood depends so desperately upon.
You may have even decided long ago, after yet another attempt on my part to grab your internet attention with a salaciously entitled post about the ABSOLUTE NECESSITY OF FOLLOWING MY LINK TO A POORLY EDITED ARTICLE ABOUT HOW CONSERVATIVE EVANGELICALISM IS FAILING THE WORLD, that you know (almost) exactly what I’m going to say before I bother to type it.
“Yada, yada, yada: Democrat this…Gay people that….Racism over here….White privilege to your left…Miley Cyrus…Millennials leaving the church….Pugs.
Dude, we get it. You’re unsuccessful attempts to convince us that the Christianity we reject on an almost daily basis is in fact not Christianity at all, but rather some sort of Dooney & Burke knock-off faith from Canal St, are painfully obvious.”
Ironically, for a writer of my “pedigree,” this is what those of us in the biz would term a “best-case” response scenario.
There are of course, other, we’ll say “less generous,” appropriations of my loosely affiliated sentence fragments on the divine. Appropriations defined more by offense and less by boredom and lack of interest, due not un-entirely to my usual straw-person like presentation (and subsequent evisceration) of what they consider to be bedrock components of their life, faith, and eternal security.
For many people, to question God and faith, is the equivalent of punching their grandmother outside a Cracker Barrel. And to then write about it on the internet in a-Floyd Mayweather-early-round-TKO-2-gloved-fists-raised-in-the-air-triumphantly-gloating-over-her-rocking-chair-covered-body-sort-of-way-is really just crossing the line.
So, if you’re bored, I get it.
If you’re offended, I get it.
And, if, on the off chance there are at least 2 others of us out there, you happen to somewhat agree with me, I get it (?).
Which brings me, haltingly, to 2 of my least favorite moments in the Gospel accounts of Jesus:
“Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more so that nothing worse happens to you.” — John 5:14
“Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” — John 8:10-11
First things first: no, I do not hate redemption stories.
For the record, I watched the entire second season of Heroes in hopes that it would eventually right the ship.
(Sadly, I am nothing if not loyal, at least when it comes to NBC programming.)
Second things second: why, after liberating individuals who’ve been held captive for years to a socio-religious juggernaut of shame, does Jesus implore them, in true tent-revival fashion, to “go and sin no more”?
It’s almost as if you can feel, 2000 years later, the deflation welling up in the eyes of the man, the woman, and the disciples eavesdropping just off stage, when Jesus, after whipping the crowd into a frenzy with a rousing finale, plays hot-crossed buns un-ironically for his encore on the pan flute.
Really, “go and sin no more”?
That’s the big finish?
I stood in the rain for 3 hours, sat through FOUR opening bands, and an eternity’s worth of set changes, and you close with this? Honestly, I’d rather watch Kanye implode at Bonnaroo endlessly with no bathroom breaks, than this.
Now, as a sheepishly progressive internet pastor, I often feel it’s my job to cover-over the less desirable components of my faith as a way of presenting a pristine, deeply relevant, and hopelessly inclusive message of redemption to the blogosphere.
But, as I’ve started ordering black coffee from Starbucks, discovered more grey hairs in the drain plug, and now know what “escrow” means, I’ve found that what makes faith in this Jesus and the world he articulates compelling, isn’t pushing my weight against the broom-cupboard hiding all the parts I find undesirable.
It’s trying to figure out how, even in the midst of my endless confusion and disagreement,
to include, and in so doing,
to make space for an alternative future.
However, I do have one more but(t):
In all the ways I’ve been invited to read these words over the course of my life, it was usually through the boringly bifocal lenses of bombastic conservatism or weak-kneed liberalism: resulting either in covering-over the sharp edges of Jesus’ disappointing conclusions or putting them on poster-board hand bills we had printed at Staples as a way of proclaiming our fidelity to the “hard truths of Scripture”.
But Jesus, as is his custom, chooses neither, and disappoints both.
Because, in his understanding, the one that resulted in his death I might add, the Temple, the law, even faith itself, had become corrosive, toxic, and destructive:
Faith became the tool by which the weak, the poor, the sick, the immigrant, the widow, the eunuch, the impure, and the sinful met their terrifying ends at the hands of the strong and the righteous…
for the sake of national purity and liberation.
Faith, rather than being the redemptive element inside the dehumanizing machinations of a “godless society,” instead became that which baptizes inequality and judgment as collateral damage in a God-ordained fight against evil.
In light of this, I would argue that Jesus, rather than reasserting the tired answers of this way of believing in the world, is instead turning the whole thing on it’s head. Primarily, by commanding what many of us would consider to be an impossibility (we all sin right?), I believe he’s outlining a new location for the determination of our sinfulness:
not one that finds its genesis in Temple and law, but flesh and blood.
Thus, in his understanding of sin,
whether we keep kosher or not,
whether we lean left or not,
whether we find it necessary to picket UT home football games (honestly, I don’t necessarily disagree with this approach, I did watch the first half of the Florida game) or not,
the question Jesus invites all of us to religiously reflect upon is:
“are your neighbors better off because you believe in this, or are they not?”
Because in this way, the only prooftext, the only requirement, the only litmus test for fidelity to a God who breathed life in to the first humans, wandered around in the wilderness with them for 40 years, and even took on flesh and blood himself and moved next door…is whether or not those around you are loved, embraced, and accepted independent of their socio-cultural-economic-religio-sexual purity markers.
In a famous sermon given just a few days before his demise, Jesus comments on the fate awaiting the Temple in which he was currently speaking:
“Do you see all these great buildings? replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” -Mark 13:2
Which naturally scandalized the religious professionals in the room, as he locates the presence of God not in steeples and yellowed scrolls, but in a 30-something rabbi and his would-be followers proclaiming the nearness of God to all those hiding under the bed of totalizing religious fascism.
So may you, whether in your blistering conservatism, bleeding-heart liberalism, or even your militant moderation remember that our chosen lenses are foreign viewpoints for a God who steps in-between those throwing stones and those receiving them in order to invite us into an alternative way of being together in the world.
A way that no longer requires enemies or stones or temples or condescending blogs or those weird calvin-n-hobbes-peeing-on-everything-bumper-stickers.
A way that invites all of us to reflect upon our ceaseless toxicity, proclivities for hatred and alienation, and even our own darkness, and in so doing, leaving us little time for the religiously-motivated public shaming of others as they shuffle zombie-like and bedraggled through yet another disappointing Saturday afternoon.
Because, as Jesus humbly reminds us:
when all of us sin, none of us do.
well, sort of.
Photo Credit: Eric Minton
To read more from Eric Minton at his blog.