Monday, September 25, 2017

Man Overboard

Ah, Jonah. Because clearly, if we're talking about a man overboard in a theological blog, it's got to be Jonah. 

Jonah, I think, is one of those stories where we know so well the big themes that we often miss the small details. We read it like we know it, like it's old hat, but if we actually sit down to read this story, it's rife with the kinds of quiet, convicting truths that ought to make us stop and think. Yes, I said "convicting." 

And I'm not talking about Nineveh.

For example, look at the first chapter of Jonah. He's bought passage on this ship to Tarshish, running away from God as far and as fast as he can get, and this raging storm starts tossing the sea. The sea starts rocking the ship. All the sailors on board, skilled sailors who make this passage all the time, get nervous. Then, they get scared. They try to figure out what in the world is going on with this giant storm like they've never seen on this sea that they sail all the time. They cast lots and figure out it's Jonah, and the prophet immediately confesses to it.

It's me, it's me. I'm the cause of this storm. Your only option is to throw me overboard; then the raging seas will calm.

But nobody throws him overboard. Instead, they try rowing a little bit harder. They put more of their sailor skills and sea muscles into it, trying to figure out a way to get through the storm. 

Here's what's interesting, though: Jonah doesn't even throw himself overboard. 

He knows he's the cause of the storm. He knows that if he gets off the ship, the storm will stop. He sees how much trouble everybody else is in because of his disobedience. He's watching them struggle and strive and lose their cargo and risk their lives and panic and pray, and he knows that if he's not on the ship, none of them would be having these problems. Not a one. But he doesn't throw himself overboard.

He doesn't even climb into a life raft and try to drift away. 

There are a lot of ways that the church has wounded persons. There is a lot of trouble that we've caused in this world. We're still causing it. There are things that, we have to confess, we're just getting wrong (and one of these things is loving others the way that Jesus called us to....another one is loving each other the way that Jesus called us to). And we're watching the world tossed about by its own waves because we're trying so hard to steer them in error.

And we know. Let's just be honest - we know. We know there are things we've gotten wrong. We know there are things we've done that are atrocious. We know that there are things we're still doing wrong and things we're still doing that are atrocious. There's a part of us that says if this world could just throw off all the sinful, egregious things that the church has done to get us here, the seas would calm. The storms would settle. 

But we're not willing to do it. 

We're not willing to do it because it means too much to us. Jonah was dead set on going to Tarshish; we're dead set on our traditions, the choices we've made to do things the way we've always done them. Even when we realize it's not working for us. And it's certainly not working for them. We're watching the world struggle against the waves we've made, and know what it takes to stop them - but we're not willing to abandon ship. We're not even willing to climb into a life raft and try to drift away. We're not willing to retreat into a solitary place and pray earnestly and invest the time in figuring out how to do it better. 

They're going to have to throw us overboard.

And I think that's where we're at. I think what we're seeing in our time is a world that's finally weary of the storm. It's done all it can do to make a place for us, but we have been in error. We're in a place where we can admit that we're the problem, that the way that we've been "doing" church for so long has created the waves that are crashing against the ship. But we're not willing to remove ourselves. We're not willing to step back and make a correction. We're not willing to jump ship even to save it. And that's a problem. 

Because if we aren't willing to reconsider some of the things we're doing that are wounding our world, we leave them no choice: they'll have to throw us overboard, sooner rather than later. And they will. 

They already are. 

The question is this: what happens to sailors who make it to Tarshish on calm seas only after they've discarded the prophet of the Lord? 

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