Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Singing Our Circumstances Better

Jesus can confuse people sometimes. In one place he seems to be telling people to "Lighten up!" and in another place he tells people, "I didn't come so you could behave any way you want." He appears to lower the bar sometimes, and then he turns around and raises the bar to impossible heights. He says the whole Law is summed up in the word love, but then he uses command language when he tells us to be perfect -- as perfect as God is!

It's interesting which parts of the Bible we concentrate on. My pal Jon Owen brought this up in the comments to yesterday's post. He pointed out how we tend to gravitate towards imitating Jesus in those areas that relate to what we're already doing or are interested in doing. If we are predisposed towards pursuing social justice, then those are the actions of Jesus we imitate. If we are more inclined towards ministries of compassion, we say it's because that's what Jesus called us to do. If we want to teach people about the Kingdom of God, it's because we're imitating Jesus' ministry.

We tend to pick and choose the parts of Jesus' teaching and ministry -- the parts of the Bible -- that we resonate with.

Conrad points this out in his book and offers a great suggestion: "you shouldn't focus on those passages in the Bible that contain answers you resonate with. Instead, focus on passages that address situations that resonate with your situation" (p. 34). In other words, stop rooting around in the Bible looking for something you want to read and start looking for characters in the Bible who are in similar circumstances as you. Read what the Bible has to say to them.

For example, we love to hear Jesus tell us to lighten up and relax a little. But few among us are as uptight as the Pharisees to begin with. As Conrad says, "Loosen up is already our motto."

All of this got me to thinking...I grew up religiously as part of the American Restoration Movement -- specifically the non-instrumental wing. We were born in the south and flourished during the era of post-Civil War reconstruction. All that to say, our forefathers were poor. And they wrote songs about it -- songs that told of a home far beyond the sky where the streets were made of gold and we all lived in mansions. They sang about how wonderful it would be over there and how miserable it was here where we were poor while others prospered even though they were clearly doing wrong.

It may have been appropriate for them to look to those places in the Bible that spoke of the demise of poverty and the promise of rewards beyond our wildest imaginations.

But when I go visit a church with BMWs and SUVs in the parking lot, a church made up of people who live in 3,000 square foot homes, and they're still singing those songs? Maybe we ought to write new songs -- songs based on the parts of the Bible that fit our circumstances better.

What might those songs be?