This summer, EpiC students are blogging, chapter by chapter, about the book A New Kind of Christian by Brian McLaren.
Sometimes, everything changes.
In the fifteenth chapter, Neo’s mother dies about a month after his father has died. Such shocks of the death of family members are among the most life-changing – as I know from personal experience. The grief can be overpowering and move one to despair, but ultimately, these are the moments of insight which can shape our lives for the better, even make our lives. When that happens, new avenues open up that you were blind to before, and improbable paths become necessary.
Neo, a science teacher for the last ten years, confides in Dan that his passion for teaching has suddenly evaporated and he now is compelled to rejoin the pastorate. For him, this involves embarking toward a new world, a new life in which he will visit those charities which he has supported monetarily by mail for decades. Neo knows that everything has changed in his life, and likens the exposed therapeutic grief to a Seattle rain without an umbrella. Rains can be unwelcome, but a cold rain gives new life to the Earth.
Tradition is nothing if not versatile. True, many of the vessels by which the traditions reach us – books, songs, and art – are in fact stagnant. True, our rituals in the Episcopal Church are based on and should remain based on the Book of Common Prayer; and, since words written in a book are stagnant, it is a stagnant vessel at best. But would the traditionalist who advocates a reverence for these vessels ever say that the lessons they impute are linear, that they can inspire us in only a limited set of circumstances? Certainly not! The wisdom passed to us from the past was not derived while those in the past were dead, but while they were alive. The story of the past was not written when the past was in the past, but while it was the present, and always when change was afoot. Likewise, the present that we see daily is nothing less than the fertile soil for stories and lessons which may in some future be revered – yes, even fertile soil for new traditions.
So as Neo decides to become a traveling pastor on a pilgrimage, Dan, reflecting on their friendship and time together, decides it is his duty to take his church in a different direction. His theological perspectives have evolved and he feels he can be truer and please God more if he espouses the ideas which Neo has shared with him. This is probably a good idea for him since, despite being head of a church, he did not seem very learned before Neo came along and probably hadn’t thought his direction out too critically in the first place. Anyway, God calls us to make time for these evolutions, to open our ears and hearts so we can better hear Him. After all, you can’t spell “heart” without “ear,” so how can you have an open heart and a closed ear?
If Neo had been too tied to being a science teacher, he wouldn’t have heeded the call. If Dan hadn’t listened to Neo and given ideas time to seep into him, he’d probably have remained feeling stressed out about his job, and nobody likes it when church leaders are stressed out! The lesson here is simple, I think. “What you do is not what you are.” What if Dan or Neo had not heard the call because he thought that it was his identity to do what he was currently doing? Well, I’d dare to say that this book would not be so remarkable! In the words of Gary Cooper in the 1952 movie High Noon, after his wife, played by Grace Kelly, says, “Then don’t go back…” Cooper replies, “I’ve got to. That’s the whole thing.”