I carried mine to school. After all, it was one of my textbooks. Brother C, we called him, taught Bible History at Northwest Classen High School. In Cotton Patch Bible style, Bro. C would use imagery from the popular, if not scandalous, world of Championship Wrestling to amplify stories from the Bible. He attempted to capture the imagination of students who had little to no exposure to the history, the stories, in the Hebrew Scriptures. You have not lived until you heard him tell the story of Eglon and Ehud, not to mention the premillennial version of the Revelation.
Early mornings once a week found us in our Christian club singing 70’s styled Christian songs inspired by the likes of Larry Norman, because it was, after all, the 70’s. We were all getting ready. We would then head off to a day of classes, our Bibles in tow and in full view.
I may have written about Miles before. His story is not unlike Tom’s. Both received less of Jesus from me, though I surely thought I was going about it the right way. Chapter. Verse. See, “Read this one.”
Some days we had more time in Geometry than others. When we finished with our assignment we could chat quietly. Carpe Diem. From just a few chairs away I would strike up a conversation with one of the smartest sophomores I ever met. Not bad coming from a Senior who would win the Anton H. Classen award, ranking among the top in his class.
Miles went to a different sort of church. The Bible was not highly esteemed. My aim was to help Miles see what he needed to see. Something that made more sense if he would just read it like I did. It was there in black and white. He would politely respond, “That is nice.” Nice! What do you mean nice?!
I would try harder to convince Miles I was right, and he needed to know it. If he would just succumb to my artful persuasion, he too would see the light. He may not see Jesus, but he would know I was right.
Over the years I have prayed forgiveness for such naïve antics. Yes, evangelists I grew up hearing would have applauded my hapless attempts to rescue Miles from sure perdition. They too would be wrong.
Winning for Jesus came in losing. His strength was his weakness. His crime was his subversion. I wanted to win. Prove I was strong. My operation was overt.
Today I wonder what became of Miles. Yes, I have tried to look him up. What would I say? “I am sorry. Instead of showing you Jesus, I gave you me.” If I had been living out the way and manner of Jesus suggesting that I was giving me might not be such a bad thing. But, I wanted to be right. I wanted Miles to be wrong.
It recently occurred to me that a regular interlocutor here on the blog is plying me through Purgatorio. His resistance to grace and charity and his stridency to be right is but a mirror of those days of mine. Sadly this seems to be something of a modern evangelical virtue redivides.
Rarely have I had the Bible thumped at me. Too many times I used it as my thumper of choice. When used in this way it is no longer Sacred Text, not really the Word of God. Instead, it is a weapon of my warfare, a posture of the Trunchbull.
Many progressive evangelicals, even Southern Baptists, who choose a more chartable, gracious path, are viewed with scorn as weak. Fine. If it is all the same, I will take the text for this week’s celebration of Christ the King Sunday to include the understanding Jesus’ Kingdom is not of this world, it comes in entirely new and different ways than the kingdom made in my image.
Some of us continue to unpack visions of the Kingdom that seem more to comport with the hostilities expressive of modern Israel and Palestine. We long for a day when, as David’s oracle announced, the true King and Kingdom will promote the welfare and blessings of all as the sun brings life to the earth. For those of us who resist such a King, we will be met not with tenderness but with the harsh realities of our own devices.
Today it seems more important to take Jesus’ conversation with Pilate as timely for a postmodern culture. Explications of “What is truth?” seem to miss Jesus who twice notes that his Kingdom is not of this world – does not come in the same way and does not look the same when it does. We tend to go all epistemological when Jesus goes eschatological.
We should not be surprised that we still lack today even if we appear incredulous toward Jesus’ disciples. Why? We think we are smarter today than then. The truth is we have taken note of our context – this is not Rome – but we have missed the redemptive hope in the cross-dead Jesus now living and reigning. We long for a kingdom of our own making still employing the habits and practice more in keeping with Pilate than Jesus.
May we be transformed by the Spirit to live in the way and manner of Jesus. Rather than thumping those around us, may we always be loving them.
I should thank my interlocutor for the moment to reflect that at points along the way, we have been the same person.