Saturday, February 07, 2009

Modern Inconveniences

Love can be terribly inconvenient.

Of course, I don’t mean those kinds of love that we all are so fond of, like the love between a husband and a wife, a child and his dog, or a man and anything requiring internal combustion. No, those types of love come quite naturally.

But there is another type of love however that requires some real effort, some intentionality, sort of like that which you would need in order to actually eat Spam, or read a Danielle Steele novel (both of which, by the way, are nearly equal in nutritional value and I am certain one would benefit far more by eating the Danielle Steele novel and reading the Spam).

This week was my first week of teaching the Gospel of John, which many scholars believe to have been written by “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” which is not a matter of the writer bragging about being Jesus’ favorite, but rather a humble way of the disciple John saying, “me,” since in the first century the concept of American Idol (and its attenuating notion that the winner becomes the center of the universe) were only beginning to take shape due to the fact that Paula Abdul was still undergoing Botox treatment. Had American Idol fully evolved by that time, the writer would have identified himself, of course, by wearing a bikini.

The class has been a wonderful experience. And by that, I mean that I made it to class on time every day and hardly anyone fell asleep during the entire four hour session, which I attribute, primarily to the fact that the Bible is endlessly fascinating and relevant, and secondarily, to my wearing a bikini.

Plus, I discovered that when you’re the teacher and you don’t know the answer to a question, you can always say, “Well class, we have a lot to cover today, so let’s keep moving.” And everyone will just think you’re a neurotic workaholic. Which is much better than being thought a normal human being.

On Wednesday though, (on a far more serious and somber note) one of the students in class reported that a lady in her church had died after giving birth. She was “an older” lady, which by Zambian standards might mean 40. Paula graciously offered that after class we would take her to the funeral house (which would be the home of the lady who had died and where all the family, friends and relatives are gathered).

I have to admit, I wasn’t immediately thrilled by the idea, knowing that we could be there a long time. In Zambia, when you go the funeral house, you traditionally go and just sit with those that are grieving. You don’t talk much but just sit and be there. And I knew that in going we would cross from our reality into another, a reality characterized not by modern conveniences, but by the ancient inconveniences of poverty and despair.

In Zambia, we who have the comfort of good health care and nice homes live in sort of a constant awareness that the “other Zambia” is not so far away and will one day soon, often when we least expect it, intrude upon our lives and give us a healthy dose of a reality very different from the one in which we normally move.

I suppose my unstated personal philosophy has been to not go looking for this intrusion of the other reality, but to just know that eventually it will find me, upset me, and, of course, inconvenience me.

And I suppose a little inconvenience is a healthy thing. I mean, if we lived our lives entirely according to what was expedient, then we would have the depth of a turnip and former senators would get appointed to cabinet posts without having had to pay their taxes (as qualified as he may or may not have been, said Jerry in his most apolitical voice, ironically aware that I am using this story because of its convenience).

But if Jesus had only ever done that which was convenient (as I am sometimes inclined to do), He would have never entered human history and “pitched his tent among us,” (John 1:14). And one is left to wonder if convenience has any place in love at all. I mean, is it not the nature of love to sacrifice, to endure, to give?

So, while yes, love can at times be terribly inconvenient, it can also be uniquely, and wonderfully transformational and our job then is not to weigh the cost of love (as I seem so innately inclined to do), but to simply live it out.

And in doing that we enter, in a remarkable way, into the most universal and rarest of languages, a language in which Jesus spoke with perfect clarity in dying on the cross (John 3:16). And surely, there was nothing convenient about that.

It is that message more than any other that is capable of transforming the broken lives of this world.

And, more importantly, its a message that can be proclaimed without anyone ever having to don a bikini.

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