Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Pull of Spectatorship

This is the last in a set of post reflecting on Mark 1:14-2:17.  If you haven't already, you may benefit from reading the previous two entries, Navigator In Focus and Entertaining a Contrast.

In my last two posts, I have laid out a contrast in Mark 1:14 – 2:17 between those who are called to follow and those who stand by as spectators.  The section begins and ends with individuals,  each named, who accept an invitation to follow Christ.  Despite the uncertainty of the path, they put their faith in the one who will lead them.  The landscape is blurry, but the navigator is in sharp focus - and that is enough.  Between these stories are episodes of spectatorship, crowds, all unnamed, amazed at Jesus teaching and actions.  They're rubbernecking for a look at the spectacle.  But only for a moment.

I’d like to think of myself as squarely planted in the company of those who follow but I see the influence of spectatorship on my life in a number of ways.  It’s a pull that I resist, but not perfectly.  I’ll mention three ways I feel it - not to be exhaustive, but as a starting point.  Maybe you can relate.  

1.  When I Compartmentalize My Life
One of the differences between these two group, followers and spectators, is that for the former this is a process and for the latter it’s an event.  Once these followers set off, it changes the course of their whole lives.  Every aspect is influenced by their decision to follow – family, friendships, ambitions, priorities, values, possessions, and goals are all redefined once they set out.  They are uprooting.

But for spectators it’s just a brief interruption. They will go back to their familiar routine once the stir is settled. They're not relocating; they're commuting. Punch in, get their dose of Jesus, and then punch out. 

If I am to be a follower of Christ, then this is something that can not be tacked onto the rest of life, compartmentalized into a tidy block, squeezed between career and recreation.  It cannot be confined.  It is a new direction - one that should influence my life Monday evening in the way I relate to my wife and children and Tuesday afternoon in dealing with customers, cashiers, and other managers at work.  These are not separate spheres; they are stations on the journey.  And while I think my faith does infuse my life, it is often subtle and less obvious than it ought be.

2. When I Critique the Church
Spectators can be critics.  They watch as outsiders, evaluating merit. They are consumer and can judge their satisfaction with the product.
So can I.   I evaluate the church like I’m reviewing a performance.  The music was too loud, the transitions were sloppy, the harmony was flat, the sermon was dull, the outline was forced, the intro was rambling, the greeter looked grumpy, the thermostat was too high,  the slide changes were too late, the prayer was cliché, the crowd was quite small, the bathrooms were congested, and the tea was atrocious (N.B.  For the sake of all my fellow tea drinkers, never, ever, ever put hot water for tea in a carafe that was previously used for coffee.  No matter how many times you rinse it, it still smells of coffee, which makes for a really bad cup of tea). 

When I act as a critic I am treating the church as something outside of myself.   I'm going as a spectator, not as a teammate.  There is a place for evaluation, but more often than not, my criticism is not a stirring to be part of the solution;  it's a simmering discontent.

3.  When I Clench My Possessions
In each case those who follow Jesus leave something behind.  Simon and Andrew leave their nets (1:18); James and John leave their father (1:20); Levi (implicitly) leaves his tax collector’s booth.  They are leaving behind the familiar, the secure, the financially profitable, the status quo. 

Michael Card suggests that a possession is not so much something I own, as something that owns a little bit of me.  I own little of value.  I drive a used Chevy Lumina, I buy clothes on the clearance rack,  I have a "pay as you go" cell phone that functions admirably on the 1G network.  Until this year, we tuned our television with rabbit ears.  I live a simple life.  With one exception.  Five years ago we moved into a home that we absolutely adore.  It's in a wooded neighborhood on a picturesque pond.  It's decor is like an Adirondack cabin with wood stove, vaulted wood-paneled ceiling, loft space, and glorious views out our back windows and deck.  It's like a slice of wilderness plodded into a suburb just north of Syracuse, NY.  It fits us perfectly.  I love spring dinners on the deck, summer afternoons in the hammock, fall mornings as mist rises off the pond, and winter evening around the fire.  It's a gift from God.  One that I have a hard keeping a loose grip on.

I've share in an earlier post ("Welcome to My Blog") how I have a sense of God nudging me in a new direction as I pursue my calling.  So far he hasn't called me to uproot.  If he does, I hope I'll be willing to obey.  I suspect there will be resistance.  My fingers are squeezing tighter at the thought.

So there's my three to get you started.  Maybe that primes the pump as you think about the pull of spectatorship in your own life.  If you have any of your own to add, I'd be glad to hear them.  I am a pretty good critic, you know. 

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Entertaining a Contrast

This post builds on my previous post Navigator in Focus in which I suggested that discipleship is summed up with the concept of “landscape a blur, relationship in focus.”  We trust Christ as our navigator to steer our lives despite the uncertainty of the path.

Entertain – From the Latin entre (among) and tenir (to hold) conveying a sense of capturing one’s attention, mesmerizing one’s focus. 

Columbus Day weekend was one of those rare glorious autumn weekends in Central New York.  Sunny skies, mild temperature, and autumn leaves near peak splendor all converged at the perfect time.  So my kids made plans for the perfect way to spend this long weekend.  They would bask in the glorious hues of…television.  They had hours upon hours of the whole Disney Channel lineup on DVR ready to hypnotize them with an endless loop of laugh tracks.  As exceedingly cruel parents, we set limits on how much they could watch.  Minutes after the television was turned off, a consensus was reached.  The kids were bored.  There was nothing to do.  Nothing.  Ride bikes, fish in our pond, walk the trails around our house, draw with sidewalk chalk, jump rope, lay in their hammocks, play hide and seek, catch bugs, collect leaves, and a litany of other suggestions all amounted  to “nothing to do.”  Their hearts were set on “I’m In the Band” and “I Carly.”  They wanted to be entertained.  They’re not alone.

There is a chunk of material in Mark 1-2 that lands between the calling of the four fishermen, Simon, Andrew, James and John (Mark 1:16-20) and the calling of the tax collector, Levi (Mark 2:13-14).  In part, this interruption serves as a contrast to the calling of the disciples, a foil to the principle of “landscape a blur, relationship in focus.”  Sandwiched between these episodes of Jesus calling individuals to follow him is this highly concentrated dose of miracle stories.  Jesus

-        drives out an evil spirit (1:21-28),
-        heals Simon’s mother-in-law from a fever (1:29-31)
-        heals many who gather at her house ((1:32-34)
-        heals a man with leprosy (1:40-45)
-        heals a paralytic, (the one who is lowered through the roof into the house due to the large crowds)

He’s putting on quite a show.  A show that elicits great enthusiasm.  Three times the text mentions the people’s amazement (1:22, 27, 2:12).  Four times it mentions the swelling crowds (1:33, 37,45, 2:2).  There is a growing excitement surrounding Jesus’ ministry.  He is creating a stir.  People are clambering for a piece of him.  His fame is on the rise. The circus has come to town.

And yet, Jesus is attempting to quiet the buzz.  He withdraws to an isolated place (1:35), he tells the demons not to speak because they know who he is (1:33), he instructs the man with leprosy not to tell anyone after he is healed (1:44).  This all seems counterintuitive. He’s snubbing the reporters, avoiding the paparazzi, squandering this opportunity for exposure by riding the brakes.  As if this is not his intent. 

He recognizes that the burgeoning swarm is full of observers, spectators, crowd sitters. They crane their necks to get a better view.  They come for the spectacle.   They will go back to their routines in a moment.   This is built on curiosity, not allegiance.  For them, this has nothing to do with a journey, it is an event.  This is not about a navigator, it is about a showman.  This is not what Jesus is interested in. 

For all the enthusiasm in these episodes, there is a decided lack of intimacy.  In contrast to the calling of named individuals surrounding this text, none in these hordes of people are mentioned by name.  The only names that crop up are the four that have already responded to Jesus call, James, John, Simon, and Andrew (1:29).  Everyone else is nameless.  These crowds are not interested in relationship – they want to be entertained. 

There is contrast between the calling of the disciples, invitations to intimacy, and these episodes of box office success with people who are entertained, but never follow. 

And this is where I am convicted.  For all my finger pointing, I’m no different.  My kids learned it from someone and I would be hard pressed to build a case against the charge.  I tend toward inertia, preferring to watch rather than participate, taking my cues from those around me rather than taking initiative. 

I see it in countless ways.  Ways that I’d like to develop in my next post. But not now.  I need to catch up on the programs I've DVRed.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Navigator In Focus

I like this picture.  It was taken in our backyard last fall.  It’s a beautiful landscape, a pond surrounded by trees in the late hues of autumn.  It’s a scene I fell in love with the first time we saw this house.  But it’s not a picture of that landscape.  No one would mistake it for such.  In the picture, that landscape is all a blur.  Instead, it is a picture of relationship, of contoured intimacy, my wife affectionately nuzzled into the nape of my neck.  It is a celebration of well-worn love.  We fit together, a metaphor running beneath the image.  Landscape blurred, relationship in focus. 
Early in the gospel of Mark there are three episodes of Jesus calling men to follow him.  The first two are back to back.  He calls Simon (Peter) and Andrew (Mark 1:16-17).  Immediately following he calls James and John (Mark 1:19-20).  The third is separated by a chapter, when he calls Levi (Mark 2:13-14).  In all three episodes, these men are invited to join Jesus on a journey.  He calls them to follow and they accept the invitation. For the next few years they will spend their lives traveling with Jesus, sharing meals, listening to him teach, watching him perform miracles, asking him to explain parables, walking from village to village.  The decision to follow will change the course of their lives.  Each step takes them further from the familiar fishing boats and tax collectors booth. 
But what surprises me most is how little they know at the outset of this journey.  Jesus offers no details of the course they will take.  And he is frustratingly vague about the destination they will arrive at.  To Simon and Andrew, fishermen by trade, he offers the obtuse destination (or goal) of making them fishers of men, whatever that may mean.  James, John, and Matthew don’t even get that.  They get the invite with no mention of where they are going or how they will get there.  But they follow, stepping into a landscape that is blurry. 
There is a focal point.  The blurry landscape is the result a sharp focus elsewhere. That focus is on whom they will follow.  He offers a navigator.  “Follow me.” He will guide them on this journey. First and foremost, they are invited into relationship. They follow a person, not a path. The path is laid out as they follow him.   This is the beginning of discipleship, the conviction that I can trust Christ to be a reliable navigator in spite of the blurry landscape ahead. 
Recently I had a conversation with a friend about the new direction my life is taking. I told him I wasn’t sure what this will look like in 5-10 years, but I do have a pretty good idea of the next two or three steps I need to take.  Seems this is how Jesus navigates.  He tells me what I need to know for the next step or two.  He beckons me into the blur.  He asks me to trust him, to lean into him, to find rest in his well-worn love.  He won’t force me to follow.  But if I do, I’ll find that blurry landscape to be magnificent indeed.