Thursday, April 07, 2016

To Hell With That

Last Sunday night I took what might have been my greatest-ever leap of a public confession:  I have been watching the television show, “The Walking Dead.”  Not just binge-watching as a secret way of addiction, but year after year, season after season—6 years.  Scandalous.  How could I do such a thing?  How could I watch an awful, hellish show like that?

Because I care about people. 

An important part of story telling is putting people into situations in which they must adapt, change and grow in order to move forward.  If it’s well written, many of us are drawn into the lives of the characters because we want to see what they will do and how they will do, as well as what relationships might look like for them in that story’s situation.  It’s about people.  In this show, we don’t care about the fictitious zombies—they’re a hazard, to be sure—we care about the people; their struggles, their failings and successes, their attempts at creating a community of trust and support, and what difficulties they must overcome in a pretend situation.  It’s the same old story of what happens to people re-told in a different package.  I know—a very different package, but that’s why we care, that’s why we watch.  The show is not about “a big lie of hell,” as some have said, it’s about a good, godly caring. 

I have watched or read hundreds of stories that are really the same thing.  An adolescent is magically endued with super-athleticism for a season, and leads a professional team (baseball, soccer, basketball, and more) to the championship.  A young woman is magically gifted a single evening as a princess at a ball, and still wins the affection of the prince after the magic disappears—the glass slipper fits.  A group of disparate teens must bond together in order to vanquish an awful alien/force/army/tyrant that could never actually happen, but we want to know what they do, how they do, and how their relationships look in that story. 

I believe that most of us deeply care about people and how we interact.  Reading or watching stories about that stimulates a goodness in us.  When I consider the many friends I have whose opinions about politics, religion, economics and sports are waaaaay different from mine, with a few exceptions, we’ve learned pretty well how to remain friends and remain genuinely caring, even while communicating our differences—sometimes with heat.  I often drink a beer on Tuesday nights with some of my “different opinion friends,” and we care deeply for each other.  It’s an invaluable time for us, and few things get in the way of it.  There are some who, learning this, would condemn me for drinking a beer.  I occasionally target shoot with a friend, and we have a blast together, all the while talking about the craziness of life, our terrible flesh and its lusts, and more.  There are some who would condemn me for shooting guns.  Over the years, I’ve gone with my wife and daughters to the movies many times and watched films that provided a way for us to talk and discuss true issues of the heart.  Some would condemn me for the movies, some for the Diet Coke, some for the GMO popcorn. 

All of that to say that most of us highly value the biblical story and our experience of “God with us.”  We’re crazy in love with Him because He made that happen through the reconciling cross and resurrection of Jesus.  If our being reconciled to Him, our being put into harmony with Him, means anything, it means we are safe to be with Him exactly as we are . . . and exactly as we are not.  We are safe.  Loved.  Open hearted.  Genuine.  Free.   And in the love of “God with us,” free of fear.  Frankly, most of us want that same reconciliation to extend into as many relationships as we can find, where we’re safe and open with each other.  In my experience, that’s where God—and God in me—does His best, most evident work.  That’s where the good news of His life and love and grace for us is best given and received. 

However, relationship with you through text or video on a computer screen is not easily managed.  I haven’t had coffee with you, I haven’t been with you when you were sick or discouraged or happy or stupid or brilliant or loving or angry.  I don’t know your story, but I know you’ve got one.  It’s important to you.  It’s important to God, who wants you to know how good and capable and perfect He is with you in your story—all of it.  God with you.  Yes, He might well change your opinion about a thing or two; wouldn’t you expect that?  Wouldn’t you want that?  That’s what can happen in friendship, and that’s particularly good when you’re safe with God, Mr. Know-It-All Friend. 

His opinion of you is better and more accurate than the one you’ve got rattling around in your brain, influencing your relationships.  He’s not mad at you because you like stout beer over pilsner, “Kill Bill” over “The Sound of Music”, plastic grocery bags over hemp, or Bernie over Donald.  None of that is actually YOU—it’s not the heart of your story.  So if you and I major on the minors, if we get most passionate, most heated about the minors, we’ll raise invisible shields around our hearts and come to believe that’s the way of relationships.  Shields up.  People around us, but not people with us.  Not really.  Worst of all, we’ll come to think of God around us, but not God with us.  Reconciled in The Book, but not in experience.  What a killer that is.  I say, “To Hell with that.”  I want to walk with you as best I can—even through a computer screen—whether you’re sick or well, sad or happy, stupid just now or smart, “dead” or “alive.”

So is anyone besides me looking forward to next Sunday’s first episode of season 2, “Fear The Walking Dead”?

(This is a transcript of day-before-yesterday’s video, “To Hell With That,” and is for those who might rather read than watch.  To see the video, click, or scroll down this blog page.)

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