Day 15: You Spin Me Right Round
Word for Voice Day: "Compunction": n. A feeling of uneasiness caused by remorse.
"Levi gave a large dinner at his home for Jesus. Everybody was there, tax men and other disreputable characters as guests at the dinner. The Pharisees and their religion scholars came to his disciples greatly offended. “What is he doing eating and drinking with crooks and ‘sinners’?”
Jesus heard about it and spoke up, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? I’m here inviting outsiders, not insiders—an invitation to a changed life, changed inside and out.” - Luke 5:29-32
This week I want to talk about what it means to change direction, to turn around or choose a different course. Traditionally, we call this "repentance". It's a good word, but it's also pretty loaded. It's a heavy word, and for me, a word that carries some encumbrance from misuse. We've all heard "turn or burn" kinds of preachers trying to play town sheriff, pointing out the sins of others to condemn. They use the word "repent" like it is a threat. But real "repentance" is an organic thing that we all do. We change our minds. We are persuaded. We decide that something we are doing isn't the best way to do it, so we try something else.
Both John the Baptist and Jesus said "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near". If you can, try to flush that of all the fiery arrogance that's been attached to it in our modern church cultures. What does this mean if it isn't a bludgeon for the moral order? Jesus picked up this campaign slogan from John after John was arrested. Matthew 4 contextualizes this by prefacing it with a reference to Isaiah's prophecy that "People sitting out their lives in the dark saw a huge light; Sitting in that dark, dark country of death, they watched the sun come up." As soon as Jesus begins to call for repentance, the first stories we get are of the quick manner in which he convinced Simon, Andrew, James and John to change their vocations from fishing to human engagement. These are followed by stories of people hearing that God was establishing a new government, and subsequently being healed of physical, mental, and emotional problems. This repentance is looking like the kind of change we all want, a turn from pointlessness, difficulty, the rat race, suffering, and problems to a life of purpose and wholeness. Sign me up for that kind of "repentance".
Turning from the "dark country of death" towards the rising sun is not some solemn exercise of self-lashing asceticism. It's not even primarily a turning from, so much as a turning towards. While guilt might turn your head, it won't turn your body. Fear or duty might get you to run out of some ominous door, but they won't get you home. The kind of repentance we see in the Galillee fishing crew wasn't them leaving something bad, it was them walking towards something greater. I'm calling it a "pirouette". There's a bit of joy and pep in this thing! There's a twirl towards a beautiful dance partner.
Remorse is real. Don't get me wrong. There's stuff to regret. I have plenty of regrets. I can stand in front of a mirror and look at just about every part of my body and think of particular regrets to associate with each portion of my anatomy. This mouth spoke those hateful words, stayed shut when it should have spoke, it ate and ate and ate after this belly was already full. These eyes feasted on the exploitation of another person, they judged, they closed to this or that injustice, they stared. These ears didn't contain the secret they heard, they invited the lie for too long, they didn't listen or pay attention. This finger pointed, it touched without permission, it picked the scab. This nose was in the air. These hands that hit and gestured and took and clicked and touched and hid and built and destroyed and set ablaze and so much more. But what good is that mirror?
Jesus is the window into another way. He was that window for his disciples, for Paul, for the Early Fathers and sons and daughters. He was that for Ghandi and MLK Jr. He was that for me. God damn the mirror. It is the law. It produces nothing but death. God built it to show us the death that was in us, but he came to take it down too, because it goes beyond showing us and produces more death. He gave us a window instead. And a voice and a call. Come follow ME. Do you hear him? Do you hear him calling you to turn in a new, different direction? Don't be fooled by the enemy who will make you think that looking in the mirror is somehow turning away from yourself towards something new. But if you are looking in the mirror, use it to grow your hunger to look out the window. It's all it's good for.