Jesus Creed

I have been skipping through some of Leo Tolstoy of late, and came upon William Shirer’s incredibly insightful study, Love and Hatred, which details the turbulent relationship of Leo and Sonya Tolstoy. For years and years they fought and warred and called one another hateful things, and then worked out their feelings in their diaries. The pattern was set: fight all day long, write about it at night, apologize, make up (which they didn’t always do), and then start all over with the same cycle of violent emotions the next day.

And what got me going was that Tolstoy converted to the gospel of peace and nonviolence, chucked all his previous thoughts and dreams, and in such a state couldn’t bring it to bear on his relationship with his wife — whom he loved. She loved him, too.

When he died in the cottage across the street from the forlorn train station, he did so because he had run from his wife and the turbulence at home.

I’ve been writing a book, A Weekend called Grace, in which I am seeking to explain the gospel by explaining that we don’t understand the gospel until we learn that we are “eikons” of God (images of God; “eikon” is the Greek term; I think “image” is too colorless, and the Hebrew “tselem” will get you nowhere!). Made as “eikons,” designed to reflect God’s glory to all around us, we choose to sin and are hence “cracked eikons.”

Is this what explains the turbulence of Tolstoy? Why couldn’t he be more eikonic in his real life?

Last night at Willow Randy Travis gave a mini-concert. The place was packed. We are not country fans, but his song on the three wooden crosses was good enough to make it on all kinds of charts, and won our hearts. He then led everyone in a worship song. And then he finished off with Forever and Ever, Amen.

So today I’ve had a hard time getting that kind of music off my mind. Randy Travis has quite a story, and he seems to be quite innocent about it all. I was impressed with his lack of understanding why he was so angry as a young kid. He just knows that Christ took it away, which reminds of the blind man who had been healed by Jesus and he didn’t know all that much theology but he was quite sure that he was once blind but could now see.

Our son and his wife, and my daughter, were here this afternoon. Then we had a nice dinner together. Nice to have all of us together (our son-in-law was absent, away at a church conference in California).

And, how about Tiger? Great tournament, which the Masters always is. And lots of those good southern folk who were at that tournament probably listened to some Randy Travis on their way home. I hope Randy’s story was more important to them.

I’ve been left wandering in my thoughts in my commute of late with a challenge to reach our world and our local communities more effectively. And my thoughts have considered at times how it was that Jesus drew so many to the kingdom. Here’s my conclusion: Jesus had the ability and willingness to establish permeable walls between himself and his world.

John the Baptist, by calling people to get purified in the water of the Jordan, and Jesus, by calling people to the table as the “place of grace,” were in effect saying the “Temple is not getting the job done as it ought.” Too many are left out, and the priestly establishment needs to hear it.

To establish a new “place of grace,” Jesus chose the table, but not just any table. He chose the regular ol’ dinner table in homes in Galilee. Consider the pictures we’ve seen of St. Peter’s and the Sistine Chapel and then think of just a regular house in Roma and its dinner table. Now you see what he was doing. Jesus democratized the “place of grace,” and called people to come to him.

In so doing, he let people get as close to him as they wanted: they could walk with him daily; they could sit at the table with him daily; they could stand at the back of the room for awhile, until they chose to sit or walk; they could stand at the door and listen in on the conversation; or they could stick their heads through the window to take it all in. Or, they could even just ask others who had been there. No forcing here; just come as you are and as you wish.

This created a permeable wall between him, the kingdom, and the world.

Do churches today have permeable walls? Is it not the case that “strangers” who come to our “churches” know in fact they are strangers. Is it because, and I think it is, we have “impermeable” walls, tall walls, thick walls. Could we perhaps reconsider once again how to reach our community, and think instead of how we can create permeable walls between ourselves and our community?

I welcome your thoughts.

In Julia Keay’s new book, Alexander the Corrector, we are introduced not only to a long-standing controversy — was Alexander Cruden mentally unstable or not? — but also to the power of labeling. In this book, which reads like a detective novel, Keay seeks to rehabilitate Cruden from a host of labels and mistakes.

Who was Cruden? If you have ever used a concordance to the Bible, and the one you used was a real book (compared to the electronic sorts), you probably used either Strong’s or Young’s. Before Strong or Young, there was Cruden. As a solitary individual, working tirelessly in the evenings after he was done as a page-proofer and corrector, Alexander Cruden compiled page after page of detailed notes and catalogued where each word in the Bible appeared. It was a work of love that gave to pastors and Christians something they needed: quick access to where words appear in the Bible. Cruden was the first complete English-language concordance to the Bible.

The question Keay asks is Cruden, who was committed to institutions four times, was he “mad.” She thinks no, and in so detailing her case, she shows just how corrupt and unjust the system of “private madhouses” were. She thinks Cruden’s true calling to be a pastor was ruined by an early injustice. She asks many questions of his life.

But the real question we are confronted with is this one: “How powerful are the labels we use for others?” Her suggestion is that the completely unjust accusation of Cruden by a powerful, pastoral, and theological family in Aberdeen that led to his first institutionalization, and the day he was given the label of “lunatic,” led Cruden himself to live out that label. Cruden’s problem was not his mind but his environment’s stereotyping. We are led to think of all those we have labeled and all those who have labeled us.

A powerful read; full of stories that are too crazy to be true. For those who think non-fiction is stranger than truth and more capacious than fiction, this book will fit the bill. On top of this, sometimes this book will make you laugh aloud.