Sunday, April 26, 2009
The Necessity of Yes
In our Affirmation group meeting this Sunday we were discussing a couple of the chapters in The Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell's book that I'm having the Affirmands read as a key part of the program. I like this book because Bell uses fresh language to talk about some of the basics of faith. And he talks a lot about Jesus as a Jew and places him firmly within that tradition, which provides a lot of clarity and new insight into things Jesus said and did.
We were discussing how Jesus chose his disciples, and talking about the fact that we are all loved and chosen too. I was really hit with that fact when I was reading this chapter and preparing to discuss it with the kids. And I said that to them. I said, "God chose me and chose each of you in this room, just as surely as he chose Peter, James and John. You were chosen." I said this with passion, I think, with a little fervor even. It just seemed so important and momentous.
And they all just stared back at me. Blankly. Or perhaps slightly quizzically as if the old lady had finally lost it. A couple of them kind of cocked their heads like a dog will do when you're speaking at length to him but he doesn't really get what you're saying, and it doesn't really matter to him much anyway, unless he missed something...did he miss something, did you say bone or walkies or treat?
I plunged ahead. Talked about how we are chosen but we also then need to decide how we're going to respond to that. Like getting chosen for the team. Just because you're chosen doesn't mean you have to play. You have to decide that.
More relatively blank stares.
These kids have pretty much grown up going to church and their parents bring them even when they don't want to come at times, and though they didn't have to do this Affirmation program, and maybe no parents "forced them," per se, there was probably some sense of expectation that they would. And maybe a little pressure. Or a lot, who knows? So I worry sometimes that they may not feel like they have a choice they can make or that they're really allowed to make an honest choice, so they're just biding their time, until they get out on their own, out from under their parents' rule, out from under this lovely little all-eyes-are-on-me-so-I-have-to-look-good churchy wing. And then I also worry sometimes, with some of them, that they may feel like they have made a choice just because they are here every Sunday, and their parents are here and their friends are here. And they really haven't. They're like a flea, going along for the ride, until they fall off, and then they'll find a new ride. A different ride.
This whole "you need to make a choice" thing feels very Baptist of me. It seems like this is a way in which my Baptist roots are showing and I feel a little embarrassed by myself. It's like I heard "I have decided to follow Jesus," sung a few too many times when I was growing up and I can't shake it, I can't get that song, or that idea out of my head. The idea that you need to make a choice, a real choice to follow or not, and you've got to know it on some deep level. And I certainly don't think it's a matter of saying the "right" words and asking Jesus to come into your heart and be your personal Savior...or that saying those words is some magic formula. I just believe at some point you need to get that you have been called or invited or loved and chosen and some sort of response is required. That you need to say Yes, somehow, someway. And it may not be a one big Yes, it may be a series of many small yes's, but it needs to be said, one way or another. And we say it for ourselves I think. Like we say, "I do," or "I will," when we're getting married. So on those days when none of it makes sense or when everything looks as good as everything else...we can look back and remember there was a choice made one day. A decision. And that decision set you on a path, not always clear, definitely not smooth, but a path nonetheless.
And on those days when faith is far away, you have a marker, you remember there was a day when you joined this team, trusting there was something here for you, hoping against hope that more would be revealed but knowing that one day you heard a Voice that said "You are loved. You are chosen," and you said "Great. Hurray. Ok. Let's play. Yes."