Wide Open Spaces - by Jim Palmer
Wide Open Spaces
by Jim Palmer (divinenobodies.com)
(Authorized, edited excerpt from the book Wide Open Spaces: Beyond Paint-by-Number Christianity by Jim Palmer, Thomas Nelson Publishers Inc....All Rights reserved.)
Anticipated Publication Date: November/December 2007
Where Have All the Little Christs Gone?
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing.
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago.
These lyrics written in the early 1960s entered into my world fifty years later via e-mail. The author of the e-mail intentionally altered the lyrics to form a different question, which may end up as one of the most important queries of our day.
Pete Seeger’s folk song takes you through a cycle of loss from beginning to end, to beginning again. In the first verse the flowers are gone because little girls picked them all. The little girls grow up, get married, and move on with life and they are gone. Their husbands become soldiers, go off to war, are killed and buried in graveyards, gone once again. Eventually the graveyards disappear, overtaken by flowers. The little girls return picking the flowers, repeating the tragic tale yet again. Finishing as it starts the song asks, “Where have all the flowers gone?”
The e-mail arrived early one morning from my neighbor friend Judie. Part of getting to know Judie involved sharing our respective spiritual journeys. I shared how discovering God’s unconditional love and acceptance in Christ was changing me. We both experienced Jesus as love and peace, and we were encouraged by Jesus identifying these as distinguishing characteristics of his disciples. Judie is someone who holds the highest regard for Jesus Christ and considers him her role model, yet she never dug into the world of religion, nor its accompanying teachings and specifics about the life of Christ. Let’s just say her interactions with Christians didn’t spark a motivation to engage whatever it was they were focusing on. In one conversation, I mentioned that Jesus’ first followers lived out his example and teachings with such devotion they became known as “little Christs.”
Judie had been mulling over my “little Christs” comment and came to a disturbing conclusion, which she expressed in her e-mail. Jesus’ message, displayed in his life, was love and peace. His first followers accepted that reality and lived it. But pondering the present world and her own life experiences, she was left to wonder, “I kept hearing the song ‘Where have all the flowers gone?’ in my head, except I was hearing it with the words ‘little Christs’ . . . ‘Where have all the little Christs gone?’” It was more than a clever rhetorical question. Even though her personal goal in life is being the same love Jesus is, Judie didn’t seem to cross paths with many choosing to live this way, though many people call themselves Christians.
She has a point. Many people choose to fill their world with hate, hurt, division, fear, and despair even though we are all desperate for love and peace. Statistically, the world is chock full of “Christians”—intelligent Christians, artistic Christians, successful Christians, church-going Christians, politically active Christians—but what about “little Christ” Christians? Christians who risk everything for love? What about Christians who love indiscriminately, unconditionally, and sacrificially? Apparently, these kinds of Christ-followers are MIA. Every now and then, one like Mother Teresa pops up and we practically create a cult around them because they live an existence so decisively beyond our normal way of living.
I worried a bit that perhaps I talked too much about love in this book. What I’m finding myself is that virtually every aspect of knowing God is related to love. Here are several examples of how love altered my understanding of God and my relationship with him and others.
Before: God is synonymous with religion.
Now: God is synonymous with love.
Before: Christianity is a belief system.
Now: Christianity is a school of love carried out in apprenticeship to Christ.
Before: God hates sin because it disgusts him.
Now: God’s motive for hating sin is love. Sin causes hurt and suffering for me and others.
Before: I primarily experience God through religious rituals and acts of obedience.
Now: When I am experiencing love, I am experiencing God.
Before: Christian living is trying harder to be more and do more.
Now: Christian living is an overflow of God’s love in me.
Before: My source of love is outside myself and I’m dependent on others to supply it.
Now: My source of love is within me and while I enjoy the love of others, I’m not dependent on it and can freely love others without the expectation of receiving love in return.
Before: I am created in God’s image, which means I have the capacity to make rational choices and exercise my free will.
Now: I am created in the image of perfect love, which means love is the core of my identity and I can choose love.
Before: The main thing is getting people to adopt my beliefs about God.
Now: Loving people creates desire within them to know God.
Before: Somewhere out there is God’s purpose for my life and I must find it.
Now: At every moment, God’s purpose for me is to be love.
Before: Being “in love” is some temporary euphoric guy-meets-girl experience.
Now: Being “in love” is walking in the conscious awareness of and dependent on God’s love in me and as me.
Before: Tough love is withholding love from others as a means of disapproval or attempt to bring change.
Now: Tough love is loving others without condition, regardless of the result.
Before: The most powerful force on earth is hate.
Now: The most powerful force on earth is love.
|Wide Open Spaces: Beyond Paint by Number Christianity|
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