I didn't grow up on bible stories. I'm not whining about it, I loved my home and my family growing up, but that is just the reality. We weren't a family that had its beginning as a people of faith. So, bible stories weren't what we talked about much, if at all.
One story I do remember reading with my family is The Three Little Pigs. Even today when I think of that story, I have a built-in angst for the two pigs who build houses out of substances "other than brick". You can just see problems on the horizon. Those little pigs slapping together their shacks with the big, bad wolf hiding in waiting. The anticipation of pending disaster made my stomach churn a bit when I read the story as a child.
So, today I am a pastor. In fact, one way or another I have worked in the church now for 30 years. That thought is staggering to me. I remember coming home to tell my parents that I was changing my major in college to pursue the vocation of Youth Minister, and my father asked me, "Do they pay you to do that?" and I said, "I don't know....but I guess we're gonna find out."
I have read through the bible at least a few times now, and despite not growing up on its stories, a lot of the truths in it have shaped my life....my hopes as a Dad and as a husband.....as a man of God. Yet, there are moments when I don't feel equipped to appropriately respond to the conflict before me. Whether it has to do with the conflict being played out between my grand-daughters in turmoil on the living room carpet or the conflict being played out between two warring nations being reported by one of the various news agencies on television.
If I think about it for a bit, I will usually find a place to stand on, but it's not as easy as I'd wish most of the time. It usually requires a bit more research into the situation than is in my nature to invest. I guess that what I am saying is that learning the "mind of Christ" on things doesn't come with the immediacy that I thought I might attain by the time I was 50-something years of age.
I knew a long time ago that houses of brick were better than houses of straw. I probably had that idea firmly set in my mind when I was 4 or 5 years old. But, since then, I have discovered that all things don't have such easy understandings.....I.e. Were there any socio-economic factors that were involved when the one little pig chose to build with straw? I have lived in a place where unemployment ran 70 percent. Many of the houses there were built with straw, mud, and tin.
The point? I am finding that more often than not I do not have the absolute answer as quickly on my tongue as I wish it were. In fact, as I get older, answers seem to take longer to come to me than in the past; a trend I had expected would be the reverse. So, instead of tossing out "my truths" as quick solutions to the dilemmas that surround me I tend to listen more and talk less....then pray that the Spirit of Christ will lean into those conflicts and that those involved will hear what they need to find resolution. Otherwise, when I throw my quick opinions into discussions of significance, I feel like I'm tossing band-aids out a car window to people who need surgery. Ultimately, I believe that the message of Jesus has solutions for all that ails us. However, that message isn't always found with "google-like" immediacy. In John's gospel, Peter voices his mixed confusion and commitment to Christ, after an issue had come up that led many to walk away.
The Message (MSG)
66-67 After this a lot of his disciples left. They no longer wanted to be associated with him. Then Jesus gave the Twelve their chance: “Do you also want to leave?”
68-69 Peter replied, “Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. We’ve already committed ourselves, confident that you are the Holy One of God.”
I think that today I understand Peter's words more than ever before. What I see him saying as he watches others leave the group of followers is this, "I don't know the answer to this situation. In fact I don't know the answer to lots of things, but Jesus, I trust you and I believe you know the answers, and that as I travel with you and try to learn from you, you will explain things to me, and absolutely I know this.....No one else understands what life is meant to be about like you do. So, I have no interest in following anyone or anything else."
Life's questions are tough. Answers are hard. Rarely does anything boil down to something as easy as, "Brick is good; straw is bad."
Still, there is one who can draw us forward, keep us steady, bring us toward a solution that will last, a solution that has compassion, mercy, love, truth, justice and grace as it's foundation. This is the one simple part of the process for me, if I can just pull myself away from the fracas long enough to find focus... and listen to him. :)