My stepson Chris (pictured below here) turned 50 yesterday, though we couldn't spend the day together celebrating because of this damn pandemic. We did, however, arrange a socially distant gathering to celebrate in the driveway of his group home, as you can see in the top photo. Chris' mother, my wife, Marcia, is to the right, while staff members who work at the house are on the left.
It's a crisis Chris, a special-needs adult, simply doesn't understand. All he knows is that he's stuck in his home and that he can't go to work at the sheltered workshop that employs him.
But instead of complaining about the limits to our contact with him right now, I want to tell you that if you ever need a model for what love and faithfulness look like -- you know, those qualities that institutional religion tries to promote -- you couldn't do better than Chris.
Chris simply loves people. He wants to hug pretty much everybody. He wants to joke with pretty much everybody and cheer up people who need it.
In Matthew 18:3 in the New Testament, Jesus is quoted as saying this: "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."
As I understand that, Jesus didn't mean you have to be immature or ignorant or naive. He meant, I think, that you have to be trusting, be open to receiving love. And giving it, too. The way kids are. The way Chris is.
And when Jesus spoke of the "kingdom of heaven," he made clear at the start of his ministry that he wasn't talking about some distant heaven but, rather, right here on Earth and right now. Oh, it's not that he dismissed the idea of an eventual heaven. Not at all. But his primary concern was the in-breaking of God's kingdom in our presence today. He said we could get a good taste of what that kingdom would look like when it eventually comes in full flower if we begin to live by such kingdom values as love, mercy, justice and compassion.
So Jesus wasn't saying that unless you become an ignorant child you'll never get to the an eternal heaven.
Rather, he was saying something like this: Be like Chris. Here. Today.
What a good idea. Well, the only way in which you don't need to be like Chris is to call me, sometimes, a duckhead. That's Chris's job, not yours.
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RESOURCEFUL RELIGIOUS LEADERS MAKE CHANGES
Here on the blog yesterday I had an example of how one clergyman is reacting to the coronavirus pandemic with ingenuity. But this RNS story offers a wider vision of what's happening around the country, at least based on a survey of Protestant congregations.
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P.S.: If you missed my latest Flatland column when it posted this past Sunday -- it's about funerals in this time of coronavirus -- you can read it here.