As I was getting ready for bed, a casual conversation with my wife kicked off a thought that resulted in me rushing to the keyboard. This post is the result.
Those of you who read me on LJ may not know that I am a Christian. That’s not a very comforting thing to have to type. I’m actually happy that I’ve had this kind of post, because I want to have more of them. I’m not going to gloss over my faith anymore here, but I’ll still be the guy who swears when he’s pissed, who thinks that churches need to get over the lie that two men or two women getting married somehow attacks the sacred institution of marriage on any meaningful level, and who tries desperately to balance my Open Source longings with the steady paycheck from Microsoft money. In short, I’ll be even more me than I have been. I hope you all stick around to see it.
LJ readers: you are going to have to follow the link to my blog to read the full post.
Remember the parable Jesus tells about the shepherd who has 100 sheep?
One night, he’s getting them under cover for the evening and finds that one is missing. You can probably recite the ending along with me: the shepherd goes after the missing lamb, searching high and low, until he finds the lamb and brings it back. Clergy wax lyrical about this parable; they describe the typical sheep fold in detail (big round wall of rocks, thorny brush on top, small opening, more thorny brush to close the gap) and get dowright teary-eyed telling us about the trials and tribulations that shepherd has, searching for that lost lamb, naked uphill both ways through a blizzard with dead batteries in the Maglite. And anyone who has set foot in church in the last 30^H^H99 years knows the punchline: we’re the lost lamb, Jesus is the shepherd.
Well, rest easy. I’m not going there; I want to talk about how that stupid lamb got cut away from the flock to begin with.
(As an aside, you ever really stop to wonder *why* we’re sheep in all the parables? Our largely urban society has constrained sheep to the realm of Little Bo-Beep, things to count to combat insomnia, fluffy white animated bundles of wool, foul-tasting mutton and heavenly lamb dishes, petting zoos, 4-H projects, and the spunky mentor who helps a talking pig learn what life is really all about. But because the bulk of us aren’t getting up three hours before sunrise, we don’t know what sheep really are: the DUMBEST ANIMAL EVER. No lie. Sheep are noisy, smelly, and dumb. They panic more easily than IT buyers at SCO’s lawsuit against IBM, and when one sheep panics, they all have to get in on the act. One stinking butterfly can turn a peaceful flock into a stampeding rush to drown themselves in the river.)
(Kinda reminds you of people, when you think of it. I think Jesus spent more than his fair share of time in the hills, watching the sheep.)
So accepting that we are sheep — we are dumb, we are followers of all the wrong things, and we panic every time we take a breath (“Wah! It’s all around me, I can feel it!”), how do we get separated from the flock? How is it that we walk away from the shepherd when all our life, he’s been the thing that kills the snakes, leads us to green pastures, walks us through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and foils SCO’s discovery motion digging expeditions?
The tools the Enemy uses aren’t new. Pride, greed, envy…you know them. The Seven Deadly Sins, the 42 Not-So-Deadly Sins, the 5,732.483 Kinda-Sort-Deadly Sins, the 157,150 More-Of-A-Minor-Irritant Sins, and so on the list is longer and more complex than the friend maps on LiveJournal. They all come back down to one thing: taking our attention away from where it needs to be.
For geeks (and I am speaking to geeks; where else, when my pulpit is a blog, for Pete’s sake?), I believe that the Enemy has an extra shiny tool lined up. It’s one of the oldest, but since it’s surgical steel, it still gleams prettily and still cuts just as well as it ever did. It’s called PRIDE, and friends, we geeks have it in spades. For above all else, we pride ourselves on our identity as geeks. We hold ourselves separate from the poor unwashed semi-literate masses who can’t program their toaster to record Law & Order while downloading the latest stock reports to our handhelds. We are so focused on being geeks, on establishing what we are, that we forget that as Christians, we have another identity badge that we should be cherishing even more.
Not that we geeks are alone in this behavior, oh no; we’re just elitist snobs about it. Listened to the radio? I don’t care which station you listen to; there are plenty of people dividing the populace into camps of “us” and “them”. Watched our country beating itself up right now over the Presidential election? I firmly believe that if you handed out blue coats to one political party, grey to the other, and pointed them to a field, we’d have the biggest re-enactment of the Civil War ever seen — and we’d have a lot more blood on the grass this time around. Now that our culture’s connection to God has been so thoroughly scrambled by divorce, alcohol, drugs, big business, suburban malls, chain stores, child abuse, spouse abuse, unemployment, and boy bands, we want our flock. We want to be a part of something. We want that identity so badly that we will do damn near anything to get and retain it. Baaaaah!
Take a good look at Jesus, as recorded in the Bible. Whether you take every word as absolute literal truth, or whether you look at him through the filters of metaphor and linguistics, the stories recorded for us don’t give a picture of someone who was a follower. Jesus, the man who time and time again talked and thought the Pharisees into a corner, who was no stranger to the temple or synagogue and was holding his own with the greatest religious minds of his day at the age of 12, who counted many rich and important men as his friends, was not a separatist. He was a bridge builder. He looked past the labels, the clothes, the group, the bankroll, and he reached out to men and women from all walks of life. True, his call was most often heeded by those who were disenfranchised and trampled, because they already had less to lose.
But, hey, let’s be honest here — which one of you reading my blog really would be the modern-day Nicodemus? Joseph of Arimathea? Heck, let’s go for Matthew the tax collector. Sure, he was hated, but he was rich!
Or would we be the Peters and the Johns and the Jameses and the other dregs of Judean society, the Galilean fisherman? I’m neither a mover nor shaker; I’m just this guy with a blog. In the day of Jesus, I’d be some miserable bastard living a life of not-so-quiet desperation. And He’d have taken me, if I really gave myself to Him. He’d have made me part of his crowd. He’d have started the long and never-ending process of teaching me how to reach for God, how to recognize that God was always reaching for me. He’d try to get me to raise my eyes out of the dirt and look at the real treasures. He’d have put me in the fields, encouraging me to the harvest.
He did all that, one day long ago in 1977. Far too many days of my life, I’ve forgotten that. I keep trying to live that life of not-so-quiet desperation. I keep trying to be a Galilean fisherman, a Republican, a science fiction fan, an aspiring author, a sheep looking for the next panic to join and the next river to drown in.
I don’t think Jesus minds that I’m a geek; I don’t think he minds that I am proud to be one. I’m pretty certain, however, that it hurts him greatly when I use that as an excuse to ignore my fellow Christians. I don’t have much in common with them, true — when you look at it from the world’s view. But they are my fellow believers. They are in the fields beside me, sustaining me and praying for me and expecting me to do the same for them. They are running the race all around me. If the first century church was scattered all throughout the known world, spreading the Gospel, what have I been smoking to think that I’m going to stay in my safe little self-chosen group and live a life of Christian comfort interacting only with those few I decide are acceptable?
Oh, no. If we’re to be Christians, we don’t get to pick and choose. One body, remember? I don’t get to tell the eyes I don’t need them. They don’t get to ignore me. We don’t get to try to make each other over to all be the same. God made us with these differences; He gave them to us for a reason. It is not wrong to celebrate them, but it is horribly wrong to let them keep us from pursuing the very work He gave them to us for, to sabotage the mission of the church, to poison the body, by permitting our differences to become excuses for avoiding fellowship with other believers.
If judgement is coming to this country in our lifetimes, this is surely why. Not ordaining women or gays, not abortion, not Democrats, not any policy or cause or statement of belief or creed or treaty. But rather because we no longer remember how to be a family, and we are stubbornly turning our heads away whenever God tries to remind us.
Good night, and may the peace of God always be with you.