the Bible under my bed

I still have that red Bible with the frayed edges.

I still have that red Bible with the frayed edges.

I found it under my bed.  I know, not the best place to keep it.  I have no idea how it got there, but one of the most powerful experiences I’ve ever had with my Bible came the night I found it under my bed.

I was living alone for the first time in my life.  A graduate student in a small apartment with a strange roommate, it was probably the most lonely I’ve ever been.  I missed my girlfriend.  I missed my friends and family.  I had some nice co-workers, but the relationships were still at the very superficial level.  I was about six weeks into a two-year commitment.  When I decided to go to graduate school, I thought two years wouldn’t be too long to try and have a long-distance relationship.  On that night though, sitting on my bed feeling sorry for myself, two years seemed like an eternity.

For reasons which I cannot fully explain, I decided to clean my room.  I started at side of my bed, picking up clothes and books and whatnot.  I looked under my bed and found the red book with gold letters on it surrounded by dust bunnies.  I felt a little guilty that my Bible had been pushed that far back under my bed.  I picked it up, and held it for a moment and decided that cleaning my room could wait.  I crawled back on my bed, and felt compelled to read.  I didn’t know what to read.  I didn’t know where to start, so I started at the beginning.

I had never really read the Old Testament before.  Seminary was still in my distant future, so I knew nothing about JDEP, historical criticism, or a post modern hermeneutic.  I simply read the stories.  They were confusing.  The story of Noah was redundant and seemed to contradict itself.  It was boring.  Seriously, do I really care about the sons of Ham?  It was troubling.  Abraham did what to his son?  Yet I kept reading.  I also found the stories to be direct, and easier to follow then I thought they might be.  It all read like a TV drama.  As I read I found myself eager to read more.  Then I read this line:

“So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.” (Genesis 29:20)

The words stopped me.  I read them again and again.  I drew so much comfort from that little verse.  The truth is, Jacob was a pretty unsavory character.  In my Pulpit Fiction Podcast, we’ve been blasting Jacob as his story has unfolded through the lectionary.  He was pretty much a scoundrel.  The story from which this verse emerges is a sordid affair that wouldn’t do very well in modern romantic comedies.  Yet at the same time, there was something so pure about this notion.  There really isn’t a lot of romantic love in the Bible.  There are a lot of property exchanges.  There are relationships fraught with deceit and unfaithfulness.  There are some strange tails men claiming their wives are their sisters.  This particular story finds Jacob marrying Rachel’s sister and Rachel, nevermind the fact that Rachel and Leah are his first cousins.

The fact of the matter was, in that moment, I didn’t care about any of that.  I didn’t need to know the cultural context of marriage.  I didn’t need to understand the source criticism of Genesis.  All I knew was that I was hurting.  I was lonely.  I missed the woman I loved, and somehow that verse spoke to me.  A pain was lifted.  It wasn’t erased, but I was able to look at my situation from a new perspective.  Call it the Holy Spirit.  Call it the power of the Living Word.  In that moment, the Bible spoke to me, and I was renewed.  Did God move me to clean my room?  Did God direct me to look under my bed?  I don’t know, but a couple of years later, my sister read that verse at our wedding.

That is the power of the Bible.  That isn’t to say that the deeper, more scholarly approaches to the Bible aren’t helpful.  I believe in using all of the tools of scholarship, archeology, sociology to dig deeper into the Bible.  I love looking at Scriptures from different cultural contexts, and I try to be aware of the lens I bring to the Scripture.  I believe that the Word of God is made more fully alive when we bring our own understanding of tradition, reason, and experience into it.

But sometimes, encountering the divine is as simple as opening up the book and reading.  Sometimes we can have an encounter with God through the Bible that is free of trappings.  On that night it was just me and my Bible, and I was made new.  That is an important reminder for me as I surround myself with commentaries and studies.  Sometimes God’s grace comes through a scoundrel, and a simple and eternal message of love.

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There will be people there waiting for you.

I don’t think this was the exact motor we made, but they looked like these.

It was a hot factory in Elgin.  We were building electric motors that would be used in hospital beds.  Every morning at 7 am we would come into the factory and walk by the big thermometer.  It regularly read over 90.  My first job in the morning was to go into the huge walk-in ovens and take out parts that had been baking all night.  All of the jobs in the factory were monotonous.

Take part out of box. Sweat. Place part in machine. Pull handle. Put part in different box. Wipe forehead.  Repeat.

It was my first job out of college.  I found it through a temp agency.  I had a degree, but was going to start in the fall as a graduate assistant in Edwardsville.  The job was basically a filler.  I had left the world of college.  I had known that world well.  In that world I had a loving girlfriend, good friends, a familiar community, respect of my professors, and a good part-time job.  In the fall I would be entering a new world.

It was a strange new world with an unfamiliar city, a new boss and co-workers, and a strange roommate.  I was full of trepidation, and I had plenty of time with my own thoughts and worries.

One day I was sitting at table putting together the little motors, and started talking to one of my co-workers.  She was a tiny African American woman in her late fifties.  She had skinny fingers, with wide knuckles and big round glasses. She was the kind of person that was easy to talk to, easy to share with.  Or maybe I was just in need of an ear other than my own.

“In the fall I’m moving to Edwardsville, a city near Saint Louis,” I told her.

“Oh, there are lots of black people in Saint Louis,” was her bewildering response.  I wasn’t sure what to say, so I just said, “Oh, that’s good.”

Then she said something I’ll never forget.  “God will be with you,” she stopped what she was doing and looked at me.  “There will be people there waiting for you.”

Sarah and my Dad helped me move into my apartment in Edwardsville.  Their leaving was one of the saddest, most lonely moments of my life.  I cried that first night.  On the second night I bought a copy of a comedy to help me keep my mind off my sadness.  I cried that night too.

Eventually, things got better.  I adapted.  I liked my work.  I liked my classes.  I liked my boss and co-workers.  Then I tried to go to church.  I went to a Methodist church near my apartment.  It was my first time going to a church that was not the one I was born and raised in.  I was nervous. I felt out of place. I knew no one.

The hymns were familiar.  The order felt right.  The sermon kept my attention (though I have no idea what the topic was).  The pastor, Rev. Michael Smith, had a warm and gentle spirit, and I liked his humor and insight.  I sat next to a gray-haired woman who smiled at me at the greeting time.  She asked me if I was a student.  She told me there was a lunch downstairs after worship, and invited me.  I was a grad student on a tight budget, so I wasn’t going to pass up a free meal.

From the New Bethel UMC Facebook page

Soon after my first worship experience at New Bethel UMC, another older lady arrived at my apartment and handed me a loaf of bread.  She didn’t ask to come in, and didn’t stay to chat.  I went back.  I learned about an upcoming soup dinner.  So I learned how to make soup, and brought it.  I started going to choir practice and to a weeknight Bible study.  I discovered much about myself and the Bible in that study.  I learned that I had some insight into the Scriptures, and was able to help people gain understanding even while I was searching myself.

There was no one in that congregation that was my age.  There were no student ministries.  There was no praise band.  There were no brochures.  There was bread.  There was soup.  There were earnest people singing, studying, and enjoying each other.  When Sarah came to visit, we would go to church together.  When Sarah left, I would still cry.  That pain never left, but the utter loneliness melted away.

One night, while I was working in a gas station trying to save money for an engagement ring, my pastor came in.  We chatted for a while.  Somehow it came out that I had felt a call to the ministry many years before.  He told me we should have lunch, and he had a book to give me.  That was the official start of my ordination process that culminated 10 years later in a Conference Center in Peoria.

It wasn’t long into my time at Edwardsville that I remembered my friend’s words.  “There will be someone there waiting for you.”

It turned out she was wrong.  There was a whole church waiting for me.

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A journal entry from 12 years ago gave me goosebumps

photoWhile packing up my house last month I came across a notebook I had not seen in many years.  I didn’t recognize it at first.  When I opened it up, a torn page fell out.  On it was an entry into a journal that I started to keep in 2002.  At the time, I was 24 years old.  I was living with my wife of eight months in a two-bedroom apartment in Peoria.  I was working my first full-time job as the head of the Children’s Book section at Barnes and Noble.  It was a great job, but I had felt frustrated.  I first heard the calling into ministry at age 15.  It was my Mom’s idea, and try as I might, it was an idea I couldn’t ignore.

My wife and I had found a church which we kind of liked, but it was difficult to get involved more than an occasional Sunday worship.  Working retail hours made it difficult to plan more than a couple of weeks out.  It was nearly impossible to join a Sunday school class, or the choir, or any of the regular things that help get acclimated into the life of a church.  So I started to pray.  I prayed that God would help me find a new job that would make it easier to get involved in church again.

Shortly thereafter I found a four-line ad in the Peoria Journal.  A small church about 30 minutes away was hiring a part-time Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries.  I applied.  “I have no experience.  No training.  No qualifications,” I told the interview team.  “There is no reason you should hire me, except that I think this is what I’m supposed to be doing.  And I think I’d be pretty good at it.”  They believed me.  They took a chance on me, and hired me.  Here’s the first page of my journal before starting at Mackinaw United Methodist Church.

March 6, 2002

I bought this book because I am about to embark on a remarkable journey.  It is a journey I have been waiting to make for quite some time.  On sunday I will be introduced to the congregation of Mackinaw United Methodist Church as the new Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries.  My sister once told me that she believes I have a story to tell.  I have a feeling this is going to be quite a story.

In a few days I will begin the toughest, most demanding, and most important job I’ve ever had.  Right now I’m excited because I think I can be a very good youth minister.  I have a lot of energy and enthusiasm.  I feel like I can relate well to teenagers because I will respect them as individuals.  I think I have a lot of insights into the Bible and a strong-enough faith to instill it into others.  I feel like I will be able to lead a group of young people to Christ.  I have a lot of good ideas.  Right now I feel as if I’m ready to dive in and start shaping lives.

At the same time I’m terrified.  I’ve never really done anything like this.  I don’t know the Bible that well, and I have no idea how to teach others about it.  I have no idea how I’m going to answer tough questions.  I still have questions myself.  Is homosexuality a sin?  Can you be gay and be saved? Are all Muslims going to hell?  What about the people who have never heard of Jesus, where do they go? Are we near the end times?  What if they see through me and realize I’m just a big impostor?  What if they see I have no idea what I’m doing?

On the job training is one thing, but we’re talking about souls here, not putting a book on the wrong shelf.  This is the most important job I’ve ever had, by a long shot.  I mean, second place isn’t even close.  Since I was 15 years old I’ve known that this was my path.  I’ve always felt it was a part of God’s plan for my life, but it was always somewhere in the future.  Well, it’s still in the future, about four days into the future.

Like I said, I’m about to embark on a journey.  Tomorrow I will meet with Rev. Dan to start figuring out some details of my job.  I have a feeling I’ll be figuring out the details of this job for some time to come.  “The first year as a youth minister for a totally untrained young man.”  It could be an interesting story.  I’m looking forward to writing it.

Those Mackinaw kids will forever hold a special place in my heart.  They’re all grown up now.  College, jobs, marriages, kids.  They were an amazing collection of young people, and Sarah and I have stayed in touch with many of them.  We were in Mackinaw for a year and a half before we decided to go to seminary.  Saying goodbye to those kids and that church was a difficult time.  Yet we left with so much joy at the time we shared, and so much hope for what was to come.  I’m now serving in my fourth church since Mackinaw.  Each goodbye was difficult.  Every hello has been a blessing.

12 years later.  Joy and hope.  Goodbyes and hellos.  A few questions answered. A few lessons learned. I’ve started as the Pastor of Two Rivers Church in Rock Island.  I’m still figuring out the details of this job, but I’m having a blast writing the story…

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Prayer for Illumination

I’ve long said that the motto of the United Methodist Church is best read as a call to action.  It is not a descriptor so much as a call to action.  I take the word “open” to be a verb.  It is a call to action to do all that I can to open hearts, doors, and minds.  Including my own.

A prayer for illumination, to be read responsively in worship before the reading of the Scripture.

One: Open our hearts

All: That the Holy Spirit may move through the reading of the Word.

One: Open our minds.

All: That we may hear again the story of salvation.

One: Open our doors

All: That all may know the love and grace of Christ.

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The Dad Life (2:04 is me, to a T)

It’s the Dad Life, and I wouldn’t trade it for any other.

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I’ve gained 10 pounds, and I’m okay with it.

20140203-095440.jpgAfter spending a year losing 80 pounds, I have spent the last year putting back on 10.  And I’m okay with that.  I was extremely proud of the transformation I experienced in 2012.  From seeing the scale tip 329 to weighing in at 249, I changed more than my body.  In fact, the transformation I experienced was never about my body alone.  It was about how I felt and how I lived.

My joy came from more than a before and after photo.  It came from knowing that my life span had probably been significantly extended.  It came from the energy with which I woke every morning.  It came from being able to run a 5K in under 27 minutes, and dreams of finishing a marathon that suddenly seemed within reach.  It came from living a more disciplined life, one that was full of more healthy choices, and habits that were life-giving. Above all, my joy came from my daughters, one of whom told me, “I’m glad you are healthier and your belly is smaller, but don’t make it go away completely, I like a little softness to snuggle.”

before between after stillMy fitness journey has been well chronicled on this site.  I started this blog in October 2008, when I tipped the scale at 301 pounds.  I said from day one that the journey was about more than weight, but it was that moment staring at a milestone I never wanted to cross that pushed me to start – and name – this blog.

Since losing 80 pounds, I decided to keep calling myself the “Fat Pastor,” because I knew that fitness wasn’t a destination to reach.  It is a life.  The name of this blog reminds me every day to make fit choices.  And that’s why I’m okay with having gained back 10-15 pounds over the last year.  In my mind fitness is not linked directly to my weight.

Some might think I’m just making excuses, but at some point over the last year, I made a conscious decision – not to gain weight back – but to spend less time at the gym, and more time with my youngest daughter.

Without going into too many details, my wife went back to work part-time this September, and I was left with a choice.  I could work out while my daughter was at preschool two times a week, or I could bring her to the gym with me two days a week, and allow the nursery care there to take her.

Another way of putting it, I could have:

  • Two days a week at the gym, two mornings with my daughter.
  • Three days a week at the gym, and zero mornings with my daughter.

It was an easy choice.  For the last year, I’ve spent two mornings a week with my three-year-old.  Sometimes she goes with me to visit shut-ins.  Sometimes she comes with me to the office.  Most of the time, she sits in my lap, on my chair.  She watches cartoons. I read.  She rubs my cheek.  I smell her hair.  At random times we are interrupted by spontaneous tickle fights, or overwhelmed by a sudden need for a bear hug.  We play Uno, or Memory. We put together puzzles or read books.

So yeah, I have put on a few pounds.  My 5K time has gotten a couple minutes slower.  The size 36 pants I got last spring have stayed in the closet.  But every Sunday night I would kiss her goodnight and ask her, “Do you know what tomorrow is?”  And she would smile and shout, “Daddy-Daughter morning!”

I wouldn’t trade those 10 pounds for anything in the world.  I can get back to running more often.  I intend to get refocused this summer, and I hope to run a marathon in September.

Pretty soon she is going to go to school all day, and we won’t have Daddy-Daughter mornings any more.  We’ll have Saturdays, but Saturdays are family days.  For Daddy-Daughter mornings, this was it.  This was the only year I could spend this kind of time with her – probably forever.

For me, fitness is about choices.  It is about making healthy, life-giving choices.  My body has a little more fat on it this April than it did last year, but I’m pretty certain that I’m as fit as I’ve ever been.  

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We are left to finish the story

easter

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April 20, 2014 · 7:44 am

Pastor Robb is going to sing?

Pastor Robb McCoy will be umm, starring? in Godspell on April 18, 2014.

Pastor Robb McCoy will be umm, starring? in Godspell on April 18, 2014.

(With a tip of the hat to this great article from The Onion – vulgarity warning)

The cast of Riverside and the Center For Living Arts expressed their shock when Director Dino Hayz announced the solo list for their April 18 production of Godspell.

“Pastor Robb is singing?” one cast member, who wished to remain anonymous, questioned.  “I mean, he’s a nice guy and all, and knows his Bible.  But singing?”

Reports indicate that while he has a fairly loud preaching voice, and feels comfortable being in front of people, he’s not exactly a song-and-dance kind of guy.  With no shortage of talented veterans to choose from, Dino Hayz inexplicably asked McCoy to sing one of the biggest songs of the show, “We Beseech Thee.”

“It’s the last fun number of the show,” said anonymous.  “Everyone will want to crucify him, not Jesus.”

McCoy showed some potential in the other three shows he’s been in.  The first was a 50’s Follies show he did in eighth grade at his own church.  Most believe that he only joined that cast because he “might get to hold hands with Christina.”  One witness says that they did, in fact, hold hands, but broke up only a few months after the show.  The causes are still unknown, as the note that ended the relationship has been lost.

His two shows as an adult were last year’s presentation of Godspell, where his vocal limitations were apparent in his two-line solo.  His last production was a play called A Bright Room Called Day. 

“He didn’t even memorize his lines,” said one reviewer of the drama about the rise of Nazism in 1930’s Germany.  Ironically, in both Godspell and Bright Room¸ the ordained United Methodist pastor played Satan.

“He’s a damn good Satan, but I’ve never seen a show where Satan has to sing and dance.  We’ll just have to sing back-up extra loud for this one.”

The show is Friday, April 18 at 7:00 p.m. at Riverside United Methodist Church.  There will be a bake sale before the show and at intermission.  There will also be someone taking bets as to whether or not McCoy will “ever show his face in the church again after this debacle.”

2013 Godspell reflection, part 1

2013 Godspell reflection, part 2

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Guest Blogger: Beautiful Child of God #ShapedByGod

Rev. Sarah Renfro, former fashion model. Now preaching the good news of your body.

Rev. Sarah Renfro, former fashion model. Now preaching the good news of your body.

I discovered Rev. Sarah Renfro’s blog after she quoted a part of The Pulpit Fiction Podcast in a post.  I read her post because she quoted me, but was quickly drawn into her story.  Her blog is called Embodying the Divine: Body Image, Media, and Faith.  Sarah is a former fashion model, who is now a pastor preaching the good news of your body.  In her blog, she not only goes to phenomenal resources, but she expresses her struggles and joys as a pastor, woman of faith, Mom, wife, and Beautiful Child of God.  Her website also describes “body image workshops that dispel the myths of media and ‘ideal beauty’ in fashion magazines, and empower participants to claim their diverse and wonderful inner beauty given by God.”  

I love her holistic approach to faith.  As a father of two young girls, I am deeply invested in Sarah’s message.  I want to share it with others, and encourage everyone to check out her blog, schedule her for a workshop, and like her facebook page.  That’s enough of my words about her.  Here’s her story: 

I was born and raised in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  I was active in youth group and worship.  After high school, I left Kentucky to pursue modeling full-time, living in Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles, and Europe for a bit.  I had the opportunity to see the world, but at the same time, the fashion industry is competitive and harsh.  I struggled with disordered eating and depression after constantly being told that I wasn’t good enough just as I was.  I wasn’t thin enough or blond enough or big-busted enough or . . . I was the one of one percent of the population who is in the magazines and catalogs and on billboards and in commercials; yet, I had low self-esteem and a negative body image.

During my travels, I did not maintain a faith community.  Oh sure, I attended on Easter and came home for Christmas, but that was about it.  I was not grounded in a church that reminded me that I was a child of God.  But deep down I knew.  So when I retired at age 21, I moved home, attended the University of Kentucky, and went to church.

I became a youth group sponsor and loved it!  I was invited to share my story from the fashion world for the first time, and I realized that I just might have something to say to young people about body image.

Fast-forward a few years, a failed marriage, and another stint in LA, and I came back home, finished college, and continued to work with the church.  I received my call to ministry soon thereafter.  At no time had I envisioned God calling a former Hollywood-type to the share the Word.  But alas.  Here I am.

So now I am a former model, ordained minister, married-again (to a minister), and mom to Miriam (almost three-years-old).  My passions about body image have only increased as I continue to lead workshops and retreats with youth and women.

Media reinforces over and over and over again that we are not okay just as we are.  That we are to subscribe to some “ideal beauty,” which is impossible to achieve and devalues the diversity of God’s creation.  There are many passages from the Bible on which I base the title of my website and workshops “Beautiful Child of God: Embodying the Divine.”  Perhaps, my favorite is how God created humankind in God’s own image (imago Dei), and called us not just good, but very good.

Most of us, women and men, young and old, of all colors and ethnicities, struggle with the reflection in the mirror.  Media has much to do with our dissatisfaction.  In my talks, I seek to expose the myths that reinforce negativity for capitalist gain, and I attempt to enforce the Truth that we are created beings, body and spirit, incarnated, imprinted with the Divine.

Robb asked how I came to use #ShapedByGod.  That was an idea by a friend and colleague, Rev. Sarah Taylor Peck, who mentioned it as Lenten discipline.  I immediately asked to join in her journey, because I believe we were molded out of the soil of the earth to be exactly who God shaped us to be.  Some tall and thin, most not so.  Some light skinned, most not.

When we look in the mirror, it is God whom we reflect.  It is the Divine spark that shines from our eyes and in our bodily actions and spirit-filled prayers.  We are shaped by God to be God’s hands and feet and ears and voice in the world.  We are not supposed to all have the same shape (tall and thin for women, “manly” and muscly for men), but we are to love the bodies that we were given, take care of them, and use them to bring about the Kin-dom of God.

There’s your sermon for the day, but I realize that this is easier said (or typed) than done.  I still struggle.  Fifteen years removed from modeling full-time, I can still pick my body apart if I let myself, even though I eat well and exercise.  But I try not to.  I try to love my whole self because I lead workshops about this type of thing (duh), I am mom to a daughter whom I desperately wish maintains the love of her belly, the good foods she eats, the exercise she gets, the joy she has in her body and spirit, and I am a child of God.  A beautiful child of God.  And so are you!

Thanks for letting me share a bit of my story.

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The difference between seeing and sight.

visionNeurologist Oliver Sacks tells a fascinating story about Virgil, a man who received sight at age 50 after spending 45 years totally blind.  His book An Anthropologist on Mars tells a tragic tale about a man who struggled to adapt to his new-found sense.  On the surface, it seems like such a story would be a wonderful, heartwarming story of triumph and celebration.  In reality, Virgil’s story is fraught with confusion, loss of identity, and even health.

At first marveling at the light that he was able to perceive, Virgil was quickly overwhelmed by the confusion of so much light, color, shapes, and movement.  What people born with vision take for granted became difficult, even terrifying.  A bird flying by, even at a distance (for distance was meaningless to him), was more than a little startling.  Making connections between flat shapes and 3D objects was almost impossible (a circle and a sphere were totally unrelated).  The story of Virgil is heartbreaking. His tactile world, that was ordered and in which he was thriving, was shattered.  His identity was lost as he realized he was neither blind nor sighted.  After making some improvements, he suffered a setback when an unrelated illness caused him to nearly lose the ability to breathe.  He almost died, and in the process he lost his job, his home, and eventually his sight again.

It is one thing to have physical ability to perceive light hitting your retina.  It is another process to interpret that light in the midst of the world.  Virgil was never able to fully incorporate the light which was in front of him.  He was never able to distinguish the shapes, colors, movements, and flashes into a coherent vision of the world.  He spent fifty years in world of touch.  He was able to spend a few months in a world of vision, and when the two worlds collided, the result was not pretty.  It almost indirectly cost him his life.  Would he have been able to adapt if given more time? Perhaps.  Was the stress of the two worlds colliding too much for him to take? Did it hasten the progress of his sickness? That certainly seems reasonable.

Virgil’s story illustrates that being able to see is different from having sight.  There is a story in the Bible about sight and blindness.  It is told in the ninth chapter of John.

In this story the man born blind has  no such difficulty adapting.  Instead, it is the Pharisees who cannot cope.  They had a very ordered world.  It was their role in society to keep the order.  They used the Biblical Law to understand what was clean and unclean, what was righteous and sinful, what was in order and what was out of order.  A man born blind was clearly out of order.  Sin is punished with curse.  Righteousness is rewarded with prosperity.

This is how the story begins.  Even the disciples understand the world in this way.  Sin is the only explanation for blindness.  The only question is, who’s sin? So they ask Jesus to clear things up.  “Who sinned that he was born blind, this man or his parents?”  Jesus turns the order upside down immediately.  He gives an answer that is completely out of their expected order, “This happened so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him.”

After the healing, there is much confusion.  The people do not know what to make of this healing, so they take him to the ones whose job it is to answer questions about order.  The Pharisees are baffled.  They are split.  They investigate.  In the end, they cannot understand this new order that Jesus is proposing.  Jesus does not fit into their order.  He healed, which must be of God. He worked on the Sabbath, which is a sin.  These two facts are so starkly in contrast, they cannot make sense of them.  The world of Jesus collides with their world, and the result is not pretty.

When you read Virgil’s story, it is easy to feel compassion for him.  In receiving sight, he was changed so drastically that it was difficult to cope.  It wasn’t just laziness, or stubbornness.  There were physical, emotional, and neurological hurdles that were enormous.  That he didn’t “make it” as a sighted person does not make him weak.

Perhaps we can take a similar amount of compassion to the Pharisees.  Their world was being turned upside down.  They knew what they were seeing, but they couldn’t interpret it in the midst of their world.  They were not able to incorporate the light which was in front of them.  They were able to see, but they never possessed the sight needed to understand what they were seeing.  It is easy to condemn the Pharisees, put black hats on them, and call them the bad guys.

Demonizing is tricky business.  Were they at fault? Sure.  It would be wise to remember though, that Jesus cast out the demons, he didn’t cast “demonhood” on others.  Neither should we.

I think we’d do well to remember that there’s a difference between seeing Jesus, and having vision.  When Jesus comes off of the page, out of the two-dimensional world we so often like to keep him, disruptive things can happen.  When we incorporate Jesus into the world, there can be collision that is discomforting.  Catching a vision of the Kingdom of God knocks us out of our daily existence.  It challenges our preconceived notions.  It breaks our routine.  It shatters prejudices.  Suddenly we’re supposed to be loving our neighbor.  Suddenly we’re supposed to forgive as we are forgiven.  Suddenly all of our instincts of survival and self-hood are replaced by Kingdom instincts of abundant life through selflessness.

It’s a struggle, and it’s a process. We may experience a flash of euphoria when the weight of sin and shame is lifted.  Usually there is more to it though.  It is rare for the scales to be removed, and all understanding to come at once.  Even the man in the Biblical story, though he could see, took time to process what had happened to him.  Even he didn’t open his eyes and praise Jesus, the Son of God.

It’s no wonder that for so many, the vision doesn’t stick.  It becomes easier to be blind, to shuffle through life slowly, methodically, unchallenged by the light.  Turn a blind eye on the suffering.  Turn a blind eye on our own sin.  Turn a blind eye on the injustice, on the first remaining first, and the last being pushed farther and farther down the line.  It’s no wonder so many cannot see

Jesus healed the blind man so that God’s mighty acts may be displayed in him. There’s a difference between seeing and having sight. We are called to do more than see.  We are called to have God vision, to catch the vision of Christ, and see the Kingdom of God.  For if we can see it, we can live into it.  There is a difference between seeing Jesus in a Bible, or in stained glass, or in a movie, and catching onto this vision for the world. When see Jesus, I mean really see Jesus, it changes the way we look at the world. It changes how we look at our neighbor. It changes how we look at a stranger. It changes how we look at suffering. It should also change the way we see ourselves. See the world with Christ’s vision so that God’s mighty acts may be displayed in you.

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