The Irvine Tartan • My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican
“No” might seem the more pervasive. We all are familiar with it. From an early age, we learn what not to do.
“No” held the floor until we learned to stand. Standing allowed us a higher ground and brought us closer to matches and figurines and other prohibited things. “No” still made its presence known, and generally held sway. A conflict emerged. Closeness to forbidden objects of allure introduced a new word and expanded our vocabulary.
“But” had arrived.
A defence had come to our rescue. “But” became the response to the parental versicle “No”. Allow me to explain by setting a scene…
The kitchen, filled with the wonderful aroma of baked cookies, has the allure a youngster can’t possibly resist. On the sideboard is a rack with cooling cookies fresh out of the oven. “Can I have a cookie?” A familiar voice is heard from the next room and a word of caution ignites my young conscience. “No. Not now.” The cookies however are irresistible.
Parents have the ability to maintain a cookie inventory with incredible accuracy! Silence in the kitchen can never go ignored. “Did you take a cookie?” Avoidance fails me as a defence under the persistent examination. Silence needs breaking. Finally I confess, “Yes… but…”
I appealed to “But” in the conviction that it would come to my rescue and recover my place of honour and affection. I learned to justify my inappropriate actions very early. We all have. And it has shaped us. All of us. Our reliance on “But” as an adequate defence is legendary.
My illustration is perhaps elementary. Let me give you another…
When I was a teen, my parish priest was invited to sit in on a class discussion one Sunday morning. Five or six of us had questions we wanted to ask him. In our adolescent curiosity, we sought to integrate Jesus’ teaching. Our conversation turned to war and death – and we wrestled with the idea of killing against the back drop of the Gospel. We were conscious of the tablets in the church that memorialized fallen soldiers. We were aware of Jesus’ example. We sensed a conflict.
Now our priest took the defence – with the onslaught of questions we asked. Characteristic of the justification plea, he argued, “Yes… but…” He talked of freedom. He spoke of democracy. He pointed out the evil of the Nazi war machine. And don’t forget Communism. He was eloquent and convincing.
For me visions of fresh baked cookies came to mind. And I began to feel uneasy. I didn’t want to lose my freedom, and I didn’t want democracy to vanish. And most of all I didn’t want to appear weak.
The argument haunted me. And the argument swung on the fulcrum of a “Yes… but…”
It continues to bother me today.
On the threshold of the invasion of Iraq, I find that I still wrestle with the questions of my adolescence. While the “Buts” have changed; the argument remains the same. I remain unconvinced today as I was as a teenager. We justify our pre-emptive activity in an effort to diminish the tension between our faith and the lives we lead. I know the argument, and when it is made to convince me I behold a mirror image of my appeal. I see weakness.
Now, with war considered inevitable, questions continue to emerge. The answers appeal to my conscience and rest on the foundation of economics, history, political science and philosophy. Authorities unknown and unfamiliar to me are paraded in an effort to convince me. Gospel precedent is missing. I remain unconvinced. My conscience is restless.
The appeal is made to my baser nature and my fear. You’ve heard the appeal as well as I.
Another, different voice can be heard. It allows a choice.
Jesus’ invitation to discipleship, transparent from the beginning of his ministry, was heard by Andrew and Peter and later by James and John. They accepted his invitation and followed him. They listened to his teaching. They watched as he healed broken lives and spirits. They walked the length of Palestine in his company. They met faithful men and women, and they met men and women whose faith was questionable. They observed Jesus’ capacity for acceptance and forgiveness – forgiveness! The audacity of Jesus to do that which could only be attributed to God was modeled for not only the four but the Twelve and by the Evangelists for succeeding generations. Our audacity not to take him seriously, and follow, by example.
They began to see that Jesus was serious about what he was about; and they began to take him seriously.
The season of Lent helps me to focus the questions. The Cross Jesus approached once we approach annually. And what Jesus effectively accomplished on the Cross has freed captives, healed diseased, encouraged disheartened, and ushered in a Year of the Lord. Jesus read about it as he opened Isaiah’s scroll. He told congregants in synagogue that what they heard had become operative in their hearing.
Jesus has not been taken seriously by a lot of folks; perhaps less today than in past generations. Recent events attest to this and test us all. Those who see and weigh the consequences of his teaching find him difficult to follow. Few accept either his actions or his claims. He continues to be driven out of Capernaum and to be led to a Cross.
Copyright © 2003 James T. Irvine