Lent 16

And to love: a god
And to fear: a flame
And to burn a crowd that has a name

It was not a very flattering cover art. A preacher-man, holding a Bible, his head lifted above those clinging to him, some of them scantily clad. The title of the album was “Throwing Copper.” I have heard it rumored that Ed Kowalczyk meant for the cover art and lead single “Selling the Drama” from Live’s break through third album “Throwing Copper” to evoke phony TV evangelists. It has always reminded me of Johann Tetzel’s supposed quote that helped spark the Protestant Reformation, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs”

I struggle a lot with the fact that I am a capitalist. I don’t want to be. I don’t want to have white privilege either. But this is the skin I was born in. My meager efforts to speak up and be a voice for change for my black brothers and sisters does not change the fact that I don’t have to worry about walking down the street with my hoodie up after dark or being harassed by police like my friends of color. Likewise, I can appreciate other failed economic systems from a cursory view. I can move into a hippy commune and eat only organic vegetables. But there is only so much social conditioning and context that you can undue. I don’t know if we can ever fully and completely “re-wire” ourselves.

I often struggle with the vernacular of “sales” that I am responsible to offer up to customers 40 hours each week. But in reality, I have always been in sales. I used to have to try to “upsell” soda and gum as a retail clerk. I had to propose big-box retailer credit cards and “club memberships.” These days it is my responsibility to talk someone’s HR or administrative assistant into buying more employee recognition products.

But make no mistake, when I was in seminary and a pastor, I also had to do sales. Sales, trade, commodity, is a language that long predates the hyper-capitalism of our day (or any of the other possible equally flawed economic and social structures). My first two sermon assignments in seminary were daunting. They were both about “the cost of discipleship.” The first sermon I had to write was about the Church in Pergamum (Revelation 2:12-17). It is one of the places that even the most critical of scholars believe at least some real, localized persecution of Christians was happening. According to the good ‘ol book it was a place where ‘a faithful witness was put to death; a city where Satan lives.’ But to ‘the one who is victorious, Jesus would give some of the hidden manna and a white stone with a new name written on it.’

It was my second sermon assignment that really hammered home the language of “exchange.” After saying, “None of those who were invited will taste my dinner” Jesus turns to the crowd and says,

Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

Sometimes this passage is a “hard sell” even in the most devout and sectarian of Christian communities. Explanations for what Jesus didn’t mean abound: ‘Surely the one who said elsewhere to love your mother and father didn’t mean to literally hate them; only that we should love him so much and be so devoted to him that all of our other loves should look like hatred in comparison.’

It is a sales pitch. And taken holistically, into the broader context of the Bible and the framework of Christianity, it is doublespeak. “The gift of God is eternal life.” It only, “demands my soul, my life, my all” (as the old hymn says).

Despite my cognitive “all or nothing” distortions I am a bit of a mystic. I too am attracted to mystery and paradox. But some things are just plain contradictions. I don’t want to hate my mom and dad, my children, Amanda, my brother, my sister or my fucking life!!!

Nonetheless, I am still a bit addicted to Jesus. I mean I am taking a 40 day writing challenge and framing (some of it) with Lent and the concept of following Jesus into the desert and facing my own demons head on. If you call me at work Monday – Friday I will do my best to sell you something. But I don’t want to sell you any drama anymore. You are here. I am here. We were all dealt a shitty hand with at least some good cards. I want to make the best of it. I want to make the best of my conditioning by a hyper-capitalist society and evangelical Christianity, my dysfunctional but loving family. I want to love. I want to love the world that formed me, even as I resist some of its trappings. I am dust. I will return to dust and in between I want to sow seeds of love that I hope will take root and last, and last, and last -even in this dusty land – even after I am sprinkled out to sea (or hopefully Lake Michigan).

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