But that’s not the conclusion I came to. Leaving the movie, I realized that Mr. Roger’s neighborhood is still around. You can find it in lots of cities and towns and even out in the country. You can find it at Willow Glen United Methodist Church. I heaved a great sigh of relief when I realized that church is one of the last places where it’s still OK to be a nerd, where you don’t have to be hip, where you can wear your old sweaters and the same sneakers every Sunday. Church is where you don’t have to move fast or be on the cutting edge of anything. Church is where being a little slow and behind the times doesn’t get your show cancelled. And church is where we still think we can make the world a better place by loving children and making them feel loved.
You may remember that in several places in the Bible, God says, “Vengeance is mine” [Deut 32:35; Rom 12:19; Heb 10:30] not because God likes to get angry at us and punish us, but because God wants to take that hate away from us and turn it into something that can actually help us. That’s what God did last week in Texas. And when you think about it, isn’t that what Jesus did for us on the cross? Didn’t he take our anger and turn it into love? Didn’t he take the vengeance directed at him and turn it into forgiveness? Didn’t he take all that energy that we have put into destroying the world and convert it into a power strong enough to save the world?
So for your spiritual wilderness survival, I suggest that you get yourself a sturdy, water-proof copy of this book and stash it in your backpack, so you can read the psalms on a regular basis. As you read about all the good things God did for Israel, you’ll start thinking about all the good things God has done for you. Then you can say: “With God’s help, I met that challenge. I triumphed over that trial. That crisis didn’t kill me. That trouble taught me a very valuable lesson. I can readily see that God was with me then, and I’m going to trust that God won’t abandon me now. So, I’m not going to focus on all the horrible things that have happened to me, some of which happened because of me. Instead, I’m going to give thanks to my God who has wondrously loved and cared for me.”
Long before the fields of psychology and psychiatry were established we had the psalms to tell us what was wrong with us, to help us to analyze our feelings and seek help for our life problems. For example, Psalm 42 captures many of the symptoms of major depression:
This is the real gift of the psalms. All the rest of the Bible is full of what God wants to say to us. But this one book contains everything we always wanted to say to God, whether we knew it or not. The psalms give us permission to think and to feel and then help us put those thoughts and feelings into words that can heal. So I wrote down some of what I prayed yesterday.
Parker has a better option. Pull apart that circle you are holding and give one end of the strip a half-twist. Now rejoin the ends. What you have in your hands is a Möbius strip, named after the German mathematician who described it. If you trace with one finger around the strip, you’ll discover that the inside becomes the outside and the outside the inside. Now we are holding a powerful metaphor, a picture of life in the Spirit. This is a good model for what happens to us when we encounter the true God.
We’re so afraid to send them out into a world that is so messed up. As we are reminded every day, the world does not live by God’s rules. The system does not conform to God’s justice. Life here in Silicon Valley does not cultivate Christian virtues nor does it instill Christian values. It wasn’t so very different long ago in the Jordan River Valley. Jesus said, “I do not belong to this world.” And he wasn’t kidding. His ethic of loving and giving was out of this world. So what can we parents do who are worried that our kids are going to get corrupted by the world we are preparing them for? We can prepare them to demand a different world.
The reason that Peter’s testimony was so powerful was not because he was so eloquent, not because he was so persuasive. Peter’s sermon was successful because Cornelius was so receptive. I can attest to the fact that when you have a willing audience, witnessing is easy. When a person comes to you with an open heart it’s a whole lot easier to pour God’s love into it.
After we have pruned away all that is dead and damaged and diseased, after we have thinned out all that we don’t need so that we can breathe, we can finally head back to Jesus. Because what is left after all that pruning is done is nothing but our true and truly beloved selves. And what is our true self but Christ who lives in us? That’s what it means to get to know Jesus. We don’t go out to meet a stranger. We go in to meet someone we’ve always known. When we find ourselves, we will find him. That’s what it means to abide in him as he abides in us.
As I pondered these questions, I looked out at the still water in the percolation pond just a few feet away from the labyrinth. It’s part of a system of ponds that was built decades ago to recharge the groundwater and keep the valley from sinking. It struck me that what the valley needs, our spirits also need right now. In order to be good shepherds of the Creation, we need to let Jesus be the Good Shepherd of our souls. We need to let the living water of his love percolate deep down into our dried up aquifers. You know what happens when you drain an aquifer? It collapses on itself and can no longer hold water. The same thing will happen to our spirits. So we need to let Jesus recharge our groundwater, refresh our commitment to life in all of its amazing forms and variety so that we can obey his command to love, not just in word and speech, but in truth and action, and by the grace of God restore the Creation.