Monday, February 21, 2011

please, won't you?

That lovely, gentle saint, Mr. Rogers used to sing:

'It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?

It's a neighborly day in this beautywood,
A neighborly day for a beauty,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?

I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you,
I've always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.

So let's make the most of this beautiful day,
Since we're together, we might as well say,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won't you be my neighbor?

Won't you please,
Won't you please,
Please won't you be my neighbor?'

Seems to me that God is (and has been trying for millennia) to invite us to live in a wonderful neighborhood, where revenge is not the norm, but reconciliation; where trying to have a bigger house, a newer car, more successful children and grandkids is not the standard, but it is taking care of the kids of the family down the street whose single mother has to work two shifts a day in order to put food on the table; where angry words are put out in the garbage can by the curb, and songs of friendship are sung over the backyard fences; where the losing side in the recent political election invites those who voted for the winners over for a picnic in the backyard, to talk about how, together, they can make the neighborhood a better place; where folks constantly live out the quaint notion that I show how much I love myself by how much I love those around me.

From Abraham to John on Patmos, from Leviticus to teenager Mary, from Jesus to Paul, over and over the Bible tells us of the invitation God offers to us.  Not with starry-eyed optimism, not with pie-in-the-sky promises, but with gritty honesty, with stark realism, with blunt words which let us know exactly how dangerous this invitation is.  Folks who want to live in God's neighborhood have to be willing to see people in a different way, to accept differences rather than trying to change them, to be willing to swallow pride, to listen to people who are constantly trying to shout others down, to recognize that the neighbor is the person who glowers at you as well as that person who showers you with love and hope.  The person you would love to hate turns out to be the person you are called to love, indeed with as much love as you have for yourself.

It's a dangerous invitation, but then it has always been risky to open one's ears, one's heart, one's life to God.

© 2011 Thom M. Shuman

Friday, February 04, 2011

the blessed way

When I was growing up, it was the tradition in many Presbyterian churches to read the Ten Commandments before the prayer of confession in worship, and after the prayer, we would hear the Beatitudes.  While personally I think it was one of those ways to teach these passages to folks, both readings only served as weekly reminders as what a screw-up I was.  After all, the preacher didn't have to go much past the 2nd commandment to catch my attention on my mishaps of the previous week, while the 'blessings' only reminded me of the kind of life I was supposed to lead, but usually fell flat on my face trying to follow.

After all, it was pretty clear that in the world's eyes (and baditudes) that Jesus wasn't very realistic.  Poor in spirit sounds laudable, but it meant getting pushed around a lot.  If you were meek, you were seen as a doormat for those around you.  Hungering and thirsting for fair play sounds very commendable, but you could expect to be chosen last for one of the teams on the playground.  And peacemakers could expect to pick up a bloody nose or two along the way.

But if, as some commentators believe (and I agree with them more and more), the Beatitudes are not so much calls for us to go on a strict righteousness diet, or walk around with our eyes cast to the ground, or to act so pious it makes everyone want to throw up.  No, they are Jesus' affirmations of those who, perhaps not knowing they are doing so, are already a part of the kingdom he is bringing in.  If that is true, then maybe we should come up with some new beatitudes for our time.  Here are some of mine.  Who might be showing you the blessed way?

Blessed are the dog-walkers,
   for they shall discover the kingdom's streets.
Blessed are the asylum seekers,
   for they shall be a home for others.
Blessed are those who read to children,
   for they shall plant seeds of wonder.
Blessed are those who weep for the homeless,
   for they shall be shawled in God's grace.
Blessed are those who stock food pantries,
   for they shall taste God's hope.
Blessed are those who bring in the marginalized,
   for they shall be called bridge-builders.
Blessed are the faith-full foolish,
   for they shall be called the clowns of God.

© 2011  Thom M. Shuman