Saturday, February 4, 2017

“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, They have to take you in.” — Robert Frost (from “The Death of the Hired Man”)

I hope you took the time to read the poem I posted yesterday.  It got me to remembering another of Frost’s powerful poems.  I call them powerful because like the parables of Christ they almost insist that you find yourself in them.  In “The Death of the Hired Man” (which is too long to include in the blog but there is a link at the bottom that will take you right to it if you click on it, and I hope you do), I find myself in all three of the main characters.  I can recognize all too easily the me that wants justice with no compassion like the farmer.  The wife’s compassion is also easy for me to understand because I have been just like her, too, just not often enough.  Perhaps the easiest character in which to find myself is the hired man himself as I have been all too guilty of doing wrong, hurting people, and wanting to have a second chance to prove that I’m a better man, now.  Sadly, it is almost impossible for us to respond to the parables of Christ as easily as we can find ourselves in this poem by Frost.  We simply didn’t live or experience the customs, culture, and feelings of those who lived in Jesus’s time.  We will never be able to respond viscerally to The Good Samaritan because we weren’t those Jews at that time.  Perhaps a poor but more appropriate modern interpretation would be to have the man who had been beaten and left beside the road to be a skin-head Nazi sympathizer with swastika tattoos covering his body.  A white, well-known evangelical, conservative pastor walks by on the other side of the road, as does a female liberal talk show host.  Both avert their eyes.  The one who stops to help this skin-head thug is a Jew, a holocaust survivor.  This is a better example for us today but it still does not do the original justice.  Jesus knew His audience and used examples that would strike resonant chords deep in their souls.  Another example is the Prodigal Son.  I can so very easily find myself as that son that went to live a dissolute life in the far country.  By the way, if you translate the original Greek, you will find that “far country” really means “Los Angeles,” at least it was that way for me.  I can feel every fiber of that man’s soul, and I know his surprise at the reaction of his father.  Sadly, I have also been (and still am at times) the elder brother who wanted justice without compassion like the farmer in Frost’s poem.  I always feel guilty later but find it is easy to demand justice without compassion because compassion is not something that comes naturally to most of us.  I am grateful to God that I have also, on a few occasions, been the father in that parable dispensing forgiveness and compassion and rewards.  As I was writing this, a man I know well who has not always been a friend came by needing 100,000 Tsh (about $50) to pay for some surgery he needs.  Considering what I am writing, I didn’t hesitate to give him the money even though he has not treated me kindly with his words and actions.  I really hope you click on the link below and read the poem (it’s not that long) and see if you find yourself in any or all of the main characters.  Christ knew us so well, and, even though the parables were for a different audience, we can still find ourselves in them—if we will work at it a bit.  I have felt the resentment of many “elder brothers” from the Prodigal Son parable in the form of other clergy who thought I should never have been ordained as my past was too sinful.  I have a friend, now retired as a pastor, who was told he wasn’t wanted to do a funeral because the family remembered how he was before he became a Christian.  It made me mad, but I understood.  A pastor with whom I worked even told me he thought it was wrong for me to have had my cake and now to get to eat it, too.  He wanted justice without compassion—at least for me.  Well, all those clergy who resented me can rest easy now that the Bishop of Arkansas has stripped me of my credentials as a pastor and even as a member of the United Methodist Church (illegally, but as he has no boss, nothing can be done, nor should it).  I’ve forgiven them all, especially as it has zero effect on what I’m doing here or how I am answering God’s call and not the call of some human bishop.  In the end, we all have to stand in our own shoes before God when the sheep and the goats are separated as Christ outlined in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew.  It’s not enough to find yourself in a poem or a parable, it’s what you do when you realize which character you are that will make all the difference.  I can only hope that heaven is that place that when I go there, they have to take me in.  Read the poem, read the parables—if you find yourself but are not the one you need to be, Christ will change you and you will become the one He wants you to be if you will but put yourself in His hands.  And that’s the truth.

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