Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Flies in the Ointment and Plumb Lines for Israel

I've developed a new practice recently. I've been thinking a lot about the meaning of "evangelism" -- "good news-telling" -- and I've decided that for Christian evangelism to make any sense the "good news" has to be audible to people who haven't already formed ideas about what the Christian idea of "good news" is.

So the question I've put myself is: what am I hearing on Sunday that helps me understand how to be with the people that I meet on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday? How can it help me be a bearer of something that sounds like "good news" to them?

In other words, I look at the texts for the day and listen to what's being said about them, with the attitude that "there's gotta be some fairly direct pointer to a better reality in here -- focus on that and carry it forward this week!"

With this new attitude, I start to notice things that I don't think I would have paid attention to in the past.


Good News for Modern Man
The New Testament in the Good News Translation


I even listen to the Old Testament lessons now and think about them! I used to be a gospel snob -- thinking that the only stuff that mattered in the Bible was the part about Christ's life and passion. (Hey -- I'm a child of the '60s and Good News for Modern Man -- I came by it honestly!) Now, I pay more attention to a lot of materials, and not just those in the Bible . . .

Anyway, this past week I saw a passage in the story of the Old Testament prophet Amos that grabbed my attention:
Then the LORD said,
"See, I am setting a plumb line
in the midst of my people Israel;
I will never again pass them by; (Amos 7:8)
This was interesting to me for two reasons. First, the idea of a "plumb line" being put used to wake people up and make obvious to them where they had gone off kilter is very vivid. It reminded me of my friend, Ron, whose favorite protest sign is one that talks about being "the fly in the ointment."


Have the courage to become 
"the fly in the ointment"!
OCCUPY!


Like a full-service prophet, Ron often has to be his own interpreter and explain to people what the expression "fly in the ointment" means! However, when he shows them his sign, with the big gross fly on it, they intuitively understand the role of social critic in making people uncomfortable and pointing up the need for change. And they understand that the role is not always welcomed.

The picture above shows Ron at the corner of LaSalle and Jackson in Chicago, the locus of the Occupy Chicago movement and protests.  The entire Occupy movement has been a "fly in the ointment" and a "plumb line for Israel" -- creating an un-ignorable presence in the midst of our all-too-busy lives and reminding a lot of people that some things have gotten badly out of whack.

An important part of spreading the good news, I believe, lies in suggesting how it might be possible that this universal, un-grasp-able power that we call "God" may actually find its expression in the midst of our lives through plumb lines, flies, and prophets like Ron and Occupy Chicago.


(I'm watching you)


That idea is further suggested by the promise, "I will never again pass them by." Some people may hear that as, "I'm done with you," but I've read it over and over again, and I feel pretty sure it means, instead, "Clearly, I haven't been watching you closely enough." Or perhaps, "You're not getting a pass from me on this."

To be sure, we need to wonder if that is a threat or a promise.  It's sort of like when your father says, "I've got my eye on you." Outwardly, we may say, "Leave me alone!" But inwardly, don't we say, "At last!" ?

The ultimate good news in this, then, is that someone cares too much to "just let it go . . . " !

It may not be immediately apparent that Ron (the fly in the ointment) has anything to do with God, and God's relationship to humanity; to be sure, some people may find the notion unreasonable. (Even annoying!) Ultimately, there is room for all kinds of opinions about the significance of that fly and how it came to be there -- and perhaps that's the greatest good news of all . . . .


P.S. - The great thing about thinking about how these words apply to our lives is that it leads to more and more exploration, and more and more insight. For instance, writing this has led me to look up the expression "fly in the ointment," and that has led me to realize that Ron has exposed a whole new side to it. The evangelism continues . . . .


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