I’m often amazed at the way things that I’m reading, hearing and discussing clarify each other, as if each idea is a single candle but as I connect the ideas a 100 watt bulb switches on in my brain. Yesterday morning I mused over the strange mental bedfellows which had just lit up my mind: a postmodern theologian’s work, a bestselling novel I read ten years ago, an independent film I just saw–about an introvert and a sex doll, and a history of a cholera epidemic in London. Just typing that list makes me giggle.
Here’s the book I’m reading…(and the fact that I figured out how to upload the image and put it in the right place may not impress you, but it impresses me!) Brian McLaren has been quietly rocking my world for a couple of weeks now, and this book–which, trust me, has nothing to do with any gnostic gospel–is continuing to challenge me. As usual, it’s not so much that the ideas are radically new but that they are expressed in fresh, provocative language which grabs me by the shoulders and compels my attention.
This book is worth getting and reading carefully, prayerfully, sifting the ways it makes intuitive sense to you and the ways in which it rings quite foreign to your own experience. McLaren, a frontrunner in the emergent church movement, wants simply to let Jesus’ good news be what He said it was: “The Kingdom of God is among you.” He likens each believer to a secret agent infiltrating enemy territory to tell someone, anyone, the good news of reconciliation with the King, of liberation from the oppressor, here, now, through a vital interactive relationship with the King Himself.
“The secret message of Jesus is meant not just to be heard or read but to be seen in human lives, in radically inclusive reconciling communities, written not on pages in a book but in the lives and hearts of friends…”
A radically inclusive community. What might that look like? That’s when I sensed the lightbulb humming, warming up. Wait a minute…a community that loves one another…willing to take risks, to look foolish, to accept things as they are at the moment in order to express loyalty, faith, enduring affection. You may laugh when I tell you the title of the film that I’ve just described, especially if you’ve heard of it but not seen it.
Lars and the Real Girl is one of the sweetest movies I’ve seen in a long time. A deft screenplay which is neither maudlin nor raunchy, brilliant acting, and a powerful message which doesn’t try to bludgeon the audience make this a must-see for anyone interested in what a radically inclusive, loving, healing community looks like. It deals intelligently, sensitively and humorously with mental illness–quite a feat!
Which reminded me–there is a lovely scene in Jan Karon’s second Mitford book, A Light in the Window, where Father Tim takes Cynthia with him when he visits Miss Patty, the dementia-plagued mother of one of his parishioners. Miss Patty thinks it’s Thanksgiving and keeps passing imaginery food to her visitors. While Father Tim is paralyzed by embarrassment, Cynthia quietly plays along. Later Tim tells her, “I think that was one of the most gracious things I’ve ever seen, to eat the drumstick.” I wonder how often we imagine that to make an impact on our sphere of influence will mean doing something heroic and drastically sacrificial, when in fact we may only be called to eat the drumstick, or dance with a doll.
Sometimes, of course, heroics are called for.
The Ghost Map by Stephen Johnson tells the story of two men in mid-nineteenth century London who traced the origins of a cholera epidemic, one with scientific research and the other by simply visiting every family in the community. At a time when most people believed that a “miasma” (foul air) caused the disease, these men swam upstream, so to speak, against conventional wisdom to propose that cholera was somehow being contracted through the water supply. A fearless doctor/research scientist and a local pastor joined forces to track and stop the fatal illness which raced through the Soho neighborhood. Johnson’s account, which reads like a suspense novel, illustrates the power of knowing one’s neighbors, of being quite literally one’s brother’s keeper. Without the work of two brave and compassionate men, unspoken prejudices against the destitute residents of the plagued community–the poor are less resilient or have inherently weak constitutions, the poor are depraved and are under judgment–would have meant an even more deadly outbreak. Discovery of cholera’s causation and cure would have been delayed even longer.
“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” This quote (attributed dubiously to Edmund Burke) has become familiar to the point of seeming trite. But think of the impact of every good man, woman and child, every Christ-follower, every secret agent for His kingdom, doing something. Not necessarily deeds of heroism which rate an AP news headline, not sacrifice of life and limb or a king’s ransom–but something. “Whatever your hand finds to do (for your neighbor), do it with all your might, as serving the Lord…” Do those three words in parentheses make the command harder to obey? Or easier? Or simply more sensible? After all, there really are only two commandments.