It seems pretty cut and dried, black and white then. Follow the lessons of the Good Book, heed the instruction of Jesus, live clean… and you get eternity. Don’t… and face “horror and disgrace”, as is stated in our first reading today. That’s clear. It’s no wonder then that we oftentimes consider this faith, this business of organized religion, this pursuit of salvation through a cut and dried, black and white lens. I for one appreciate the clarity.
Forrest Gump is a film that, throughout the far-fetched tale of its main character who had a knack for being in exactly the right place at the right time, explores the contrast between our lives floating around like a feather on a breeze and destiny. There are moments and characters in that story that represent the random, chaotic nature of our existence where there is little predictability and where we have even less control. But, then there are moments and characters in the story where fate seems to line people and events up precisely and perfectly as necessary.
In a moving scene near the end of the movie, Forrest is standing at the grave of the true love of his life, Jenny, and states simply but movingly: “Maybe both is happening at the same time.”
How can it be both though?
It’s the very same question we ponder here about how a loving, all knowing and all powerful creator God, one who answers our prayers even, can allow for our self determination, our free will. There’s a major contrast there.
You want to talk about contrasts, what about the God of the Old Testament versus the God of the New? One seems mean, controlling, spiteful, punishing. The other is more loving, gentle, a Good Shepherd who will never cease searching for us when we are lost.
Which God do you prefer?
I think our own personal answer to that question will dictate our view on faith. And church. For example, did you come here today for instruction? Are you ok with tough love? Might you occasionally need a good stern reminder of where you’ve gone astray? And if you don’t get that, are you disappointed? Or… did you come here to feel better about life, about yourself? Are you hoping for the liturgical equivalent of a good, warm hug? And if you don’t get that, do you feel let down?
Which Church do you prefer?
The life and mission of Jesus also contained a similar contrast. His merciful, selfless, get-down-on-his-hands-and-knees-and-wash-feet love for us abounds. But then, he could be stern too. When many of his disciples heard what is referred to as the Bread of Life Discourse, and questioned how strange that all sounded and said: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (John 6:52), Jesus watched them depart and did not go after them. He let them go.
Which Jesus do you prefer?
I’d like to suggest that God, Church and Jesus are all both of these things.
As Forest said, maybe both is happening at the same time?
I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately as I have considered the world in which we live. And our country. And our Church. It seems that everyone is debating the merits of their position, their vision, their values, their solutions… by stating the rightness of their group and the wrongness of another. This “group-ism” is rampant as stakes are now stated in terms of winning and losing. Discourse has given way to warfare. And we don’t seek to persuade, but rather to defeat. There’s a lot of this in the air.
And it’s not all that difficult to understand where it’s coming from. We lean toward the extremes, take some large measure of comfort in the black or white corners of the boxing ring we’re in, because out there in the middle can feel unpredictable and dangerous. And I’ll feel a lot better about the corner I’m in if I’m personally convinced just how horrible yours is.
So much these days is viewed as a clear either/or proposition. But the idea of both-ness allows for there being something other than only either/or.
As Catholics, we are called to fix our world. To fix our country. To fix our Church. As long as we’re standing affixed to our corners and view everyone else as dangerous, as enemy, then we have no shot at making things better. None.
Maybe the best way forward… no, maybe the only way forward, is for us to leave the seeming safety of our corners and to venture out into the middle.
Maybe the middle is where the healing begins.
And where we can save our world, our country… our Church.