Heretic (at best), Bore (at worst): A Letter to my Friend
For our Homiletics (aka preaching) class, we were asked to share an artistic rendering of a passage of Scripture that we plan to preach on. I took the opportunity to engage in some satire, writing a letter to one of my dearest friends (and fellow seminarian) in the vein of Flannery O'Connor. Eric and I share a deep love for this truly prophetic Southern writer, and so he approved. Now, if you don't know who Flannery O'Connor is, well, I just can't help you other than to tell you to go find out immediately. If you know who she is and just don't understand her, well . . . I'll put you on the prayer list.
Bishop of the South
321 Lace and Incense Avenue
Southern town, Southern State, Glory be to God
Do you mind if I still call you that? Grubb? I still can’t believe they saw fit to make you a bishop. But, then, it had to be someone didn’t it. And, I’ve always admired your devotion to Ritual Notes.
I don’t want to beleaguer this point, but I can’t impress upon you enough how much you and your ilk remind me of peacocks, parading around in all of that lace and pretense. I love you. I do! And, I’m committed to loving you, even though I must disagree with the way y'all do church down there at your cathedral. Too much smoke and not enough substance. Now, I know you’re shaking your head at me and already drafting a witty rejoinder. We will have to agree to disagree, as we’ve done for years.
To the matter at hand, this Gospel passage has me utterly exhausted. How many times have our well meaning friends admonished us to take up our cross and follow Jesus! Well, they don’t know shit from apple butter. I never dropped my cross. And, neither have any of the good people trying desperately to get by up here. It seems to me that this passage is usually read by people who place themselves in the story as Jesus. And, well, you know you can’t trust that. Ain’t none of them Jesus. And, they ain’t ever going to be Jesus.
I just keep thinking about poor Peter. Here he is, following Jesus around. Lord knows, he isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. And, he hears Jesus spouting off about how he (Jesus that is) will suffer, be rejected, be killed and (wait for it) rise again. I mean, what must Peter have thought. He probably never heard of such. So, there Peter is, trying to make sense of something that doesn't make any sense. And, there’s Jesus, “Get behind me Satan!” Now, I quite like that line. I’ve been walking around here lately just randomly trying that out, “Get behind me Satan!” and it really does the trick. Doesn’t it? I have half a mind to write a series of short stories with that title detailing the life of my chickens (which, have I told you, have an uncanny ability to throw a hissy just when company shows up. Some of my citified friends don’t know what to make of my unruly chicken herd. God bless them.)
Back to Peter and Jesus and Satan and the rest of them. I don’t know what to make of it nor do I know how to preach it. I’m not convinced they will actually let me into the pulpit in any event. Supposin’ they do, what will I say? Here’s the thing. You know my wheelhouse is the underside of things, and so naturally I’m attracted to the underside of this Gospel. What happens when following Jesus feels a lot like following a crazy person? What happens when the disciple who gets it right is the disciple who gets it wrong? What does Jesus mean when he says, “For those who want to save their life will lose it?” Better yet, what does it mean that we know exactly what Jesus means when he says this, but it strikes such fear in us that we’d prefer to just call Jesus crazy?
My dear friend. Write back soon. Perhaps you can inspire some result in me that won’t get me labeled a heretic (at best) or a bore (at worst). You know I detest boring. “I am writing every day but I don’t know what, as the brew has not begun to thicken yet. Please pray it will. Sometimes it doesn’t.”*
*Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1979), 480.