The church exists to take care of its own, and all sentient beings everywhere, and the environment that holds it all together. That’s a simple mission statement for any church, anywhere, any time. If you want to do that and tell people about Jesus, that’s fine. But don’t neglect to do that. Taking care of one another, and all others, and the environment that keeps us all going is the essential work, the work that must be done. Anything else is optional.
Now, in calling Jesus “optional,” I don’t mean to imply that he is not the way. He is very much the way. “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but by me.” I’m quite happy to let that statement stand—with a radically different interpretation that that of orthodox Christianity.
Jesus is credited, particularly by the writer of John’s Gospel, with saying “I am the way”; “I am the door”; “I am the vine”; “I am the good shepherd.” We don’t take this to mean that Jesus IS a door, or a vine, or a shepherd, bad or good. Just so, HE, personally, individually, is not The Way either. His way is the way, his path is the path, the way he does it is the way it must be done. But, this doesn’t mean wearing sandals and bathing every second Friday.
WWJD? misses the point. The point is not morality, for instance, the way Jesus might have practiced morality. The point is integrity. Compassion. Justice. Radical equality. THAT is The Way. It has nothing to do with believing Jesus died for your sins so that you can get to heaven when you die. It has everything to do with doing right by yourself and your neighbor; with loving your neighbor as you love yourself; with doing justice, living rightly, and walking with God.
Jesus is the way in the sense that integrity is the way. In the sense that authenticity is the way. In the sense that vulnerability is the way. In the sense that intimacy, and honesty, and justice, and compassion, and hospitality, and grace, and kindness… are the way. You will not advance at all along the spiritual path without advancing in these ways. Advancing in these ways is “the way of Jesus.” And, if you live in these ways, you will pay a nice price. Dying is also “the way of Jesus.” You will die in a thousand ways. And, you will be raised from the dead. Resurrection is also “the way of Jesus.” You will experience resurrection as new birth. Being born again (and again, and again) is also “the way of Jesus.”
You will live out the wonderful old themes of the scriptures. The Garden of Eden and the Garden of Gethsemane; bondage and freedom; the Exodus, the Wilderness, and the Promised Land. The stories of the Bible are the stories of our lives, our stories, us. David Connell says, “We are the lion, and the lambs better watch out for us; and we are the lambs, and had better watch out for the lions; and we always have to gauge how much space we are taking up in the world in light of how much we actually need.” That is the struggle of the church, of the way of Jesus for each of us. How much for me? How much for you? How can we take care of our own, and all sentient beings, and the environment that holds it all together? What is being asked of us? What response shall we make? That’s it. There is nothing more to it than that. Everything else is optional.
I live to redeem having lived. I’m going to die before I get it done, the work of redemption, that is. Making our peace with blown chances and missed opportunities, and being so damn casual with our place in life and in the lives of others, so flip, so cavalier, as if this present moment isn’t the most absolutely precious and irreplaceable moment ever, as though one moment is just like any other moment, and if I sleepwalk through this one, fine, it will cycle back around again tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that. So what if I don’t see the moment, or the person in the moment? So what if I don’t treat the moment and the person in the moment with gentleness and care, with compassion and kindness and grace? They will get over it. The moment and the person can take care of themselves.
We might call that a callous disregard for the fragile nature of time and life. I missed a lot looking out for me. I continue to miss a lot. I am only somewhat more sensitive to the moment than I was when I was twenty-five, say, or forty. I wonder how old I would be before I got it right.
Our world is always changing on us, without warning, without permission. We turn a corner, and BOOM!, as John Madden would say, it’s a new world. The old is always passing away, the new is always coming to stay. We are always at the point of transition.
Transition is hell. Adjustment is not what we do best. But, it’s what we do most. We just get used to having kids and they are having kids. We just get used to being married and our spouse dies, or divorces us. And, the new world comes complete with a new set of rules. New requirements. New restrictions. New limits. New boundaries. New duties. New obligations. We can’t do it like we’ve always done it. We have to do it differently. And, we don’t have to like it. Which is good, because we won’t like it.
What helps with the adjustment? That’s helpful, knowing what helps. Maybe music helps. Maybe the ocean helps. Music is always there. The ocean is always there. That’s some constancy in the midst of upheaval and transformation. Where do we go to be grounded, centered, at-one with ourselves and the universe? Where do we go to heal the fragmentation and to gather the scattered pieces of our lives, and to constellate around the core. Where do we go to relocate the core? To reconnect with the foundation?
When worlds change, what remains the same? What is the thread running through all worlds? What is the good in every world? What is precious and delightful and wonderful about all worlds? What is the source of joy and life? Warm bread, perhaps? Chocolate? Waterfalls and mountain vistas? Wildflowers? Pandas? Coffee?
When the old passes away, everything about the old doesn’t disappear. Something of the old remains. We are not all alone at the points of transition. We have our binki and our teddy. And, we damn sure better hang on to them. It’s real hell without them, there in the darkness, between worlds.