Jared Witt l July 21, 2016
There is a fairly amateurish painting of an owl that now hangs in the hallway of my house. It’s not terrible, I guess. Better than I could do. It’s just not the kind of thing I would normally put on display.
I put my foot in my mouth one day when I gently suggested to my wife that maybe it would look better in a box, tucked safely away in a closet. She went on to tell me how this painting was a particular favorite of her late brother, Shane, who had recently lost a 10 year battle with bi-polar disorder. He had found it at some flea market, declared it “beautiful,” and decided it deserved a good home. Giving a home to forgotten things was something of a recurring theme in his life.
Maybe it’s because he spent so long hurting on the inside that my brother-in-law had a particular tenderness toward the unsightly and the discarded. Maybe that’s why God prefers to work through our wounds, because they give us some special sensitivity to the woundedness of others.
Maybe this is why so many of our most profound songwriters, novelists, filmmakers and other artists are, themselves, deeply wounded people. They’re the ones who have never learned how to cover up their compassion antennas, and protect them from the weather. I’ve often wondered if Jesus suffered from some form of depression. He didn’t have so much a compassion antenna as a 1000 kilowatt compassion satellite.
I think this kind of deep compassion for lost things is what Jesus was talking about when he said he was the way, and the truth, and the life in John 14:6. "I am the way of finding beauty in every living person, regardless of how pretty and well put together they are. I am the truth that is not spoken but is enacted every time we reconcile with people who are not like ourselves. I am the life of fullness and joy that comes when we start to respond to the world with love rather than fear."
So it’s really impossible to overstate how backward it is when this verse is interpreted as if Jesus had said, “I am the religious tribe you claim so that you know which ones are your own. I am the arbitrary dogmas you check off the list regardless of contradicting information. I am the secret word that gets you into the heaven club, as long as you are the right race, nationality, sexuality, and generally, our kind of people.”
If this doesn’t seem upside down to people, I just don’t know how else to say it. Tribalism is the oldest human story there is. Jesus was killed by the tribal authorities because he was constantly trying to blur boundaries and love people from the wrong tribes. We honor him today by making new religious tribes.
But if you’re someone who yearns for a more interesting story about the world than the tired, old one about human tribalism, then Castle Church might be for you.
If you’ve made friends with all the wrong people and simply have no time for religious narratives, which divide the world into us and them, salvageable and unsalvageable, then Castle Church might be for you.
If you’re searching for a community that will affirm that deep sense you have that this world is not one we should escape but one we should embrace, then Castle Church might be for you.
If you are like my brother-in-law, and you keep seeing beauty and truth in places where you’re not supposed to see it, then Castle Church might be for you.
You may want to check with your doctor, though, to be sure that your heart is healthy enough for Jesus activity. Indiscriminate compassion for the world has proven harmful to at least one guy that we know of in the first century, and there have probably been others. But if you’ve been cleared for that way and truth and life, we’re eager to meet you.
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Grace and Peace,
Jared Witt (twitter: @realjaredwitt) is a pastor in the ELCA and, along with Aaron Schmalzle, is a Founding Director of Castle Church Brewing Community and Castle Church Faith Community.
How Castle Church is stirring up a new spirit in the church from a brewery in Orlando, FL.