In Light of John 14: Do not let your hearts be troubled
Many things both sober and scare me about the character of private and public dialogue in our culture. On the sober side is the feeling of loss of margin around topics of clear significance, little room for nuance which could possibly open up a range of territory and where conflict could turn into meeting ground.
When I was taking my voice lessons sixty years ago, my vocal coaches were clear about certain non-negotiables in producing tone, pitch and range. These things laid the foundations. They encompassed both practice and technique and they took time. Whatever happened thereafter would be in direct relation to how, by talent, energy, and the grace of God I would actually begin to make music. These intangibles I could add when I dared give room for something larger than embellished right notes. As I grew older the more I realized that mostly it was the Spirit that gave me liberty that would move me to be inclusive of many voices and nudges of perceptive enlargement, even revelations inspiring.
What scares me is that our frenetic times have hatched a broad culture of political, social, and spiritual entities , each bound in rigidity and exclusivity, each systematically entrenched in their tightly rehearsed “right notes” more often than not ignorant or at least oblivious to the “music” they are keeping off stage. Sadly, I see it a lot in church. I keep asking if there is no minimal common longing for something as universal as moral compass where nuance might make us more inclusive, helpful and even friendly.
My heart sings today because John 14, rich in gospel “music,” where often metaphor and inspired word nuance enrich the wonder of great truths. John’s style offers the possibility that God’s mercy in redeemer Jesus opens all kinds of wonder about the great song of rescue, deliverance, and eternal assurance by the sheer magnitude of his giving us an imaginative world of bright colors and fascinating tongues finding redemption in the ways and means appropriate to all the corners of his realm. God has not been paralyzed by offering our own culture, our Savior Jesus.
I love the way Brennan Manning has expressed it often. He asks us not to apply to the heart of Jesus (who said, “he who has seen me has seen the Father” or “I am the way, the truth, and the life”) the measure of our own stingy hearts, narrow, mean and hard–making him and God fussy, sort of like us at our worst moments. At one point, Manning says, “. . . in God we find welcoming love, unconditional acceptance, a relentless eternal affection that so far exceeds our human experience that even the passion and death of Jesus is only a hint of the Father’s love. The very substance of our faith is the unwavering confidence that beyond this hint lies love beyond measure.”
My observation is that smallness and rigidity in faith posture is a response to human fear, attractive to some, sometimes, because it meets a tight security need found in “right notes” only. This kind of exclusion of ideas and persons makes absolute something that is humanly manufactured, seemingly solid, putting God is a box, one who cannot surprise us anymore.
I am singing today a song of “the way of Jesus,” whose way of unconditional love, eternal kindness, care of the broken, and love of the other, even the enemy, is “the way to the Father.”
Don’t you love it, too?
Rev. Dr. A. R. Arthur Nelson