Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Nicodemus goes to Florida

George Street church has been searching for Jesus for some years now. An annual lecture series has hosted Jesus-seminar speakers and some Canadian “progressive” thinkers. So, it’s not too shocking to have Jesus stripped of his royal, heavenly, robes in this church.

This biblical scholarship has attracted an interesting mix of Jesus searchers that I’m just starting to get to know. In our book study group we’ve had some great discussions that spill out into the week. Trying to find Jesus not only somewhere in between the four gospels but also between the lines – dissecting  the political and social motivations of each writer – is good work.

But on a Sunday morning I still have to find some soul food to serve. There ain’t enough time to unravel a literary critique lecture. That would feed the mind but would it feed the soul?

So, I served up the story of Nicodemus sneaking through the night to visit this faith healer Jesus. He wants to know what’s behind the miracles. He wants to fit them into his scholarship and tradition. Jesus gives Nicodemus a bunch of metaphors. You must be born again – born of water and wind – a wind that blows where it will…

I could have talked about how this passage is John’s effort to set the ritual of Christian baptism in Jesus’ hands. I could have critiqued the story as a purely fictional account. John’s effort to pose the early church’s emerging spirituality – and their dialogue with the Jewish tradition – back into a dramatic dialogue featuring two great characters.

Instead, I got inside the story. And told a story from my own life. Because I am Nicodemus.

Three years ago last June I snuck off to go visit a faith healer. Like Nicodemus I was in search of something more than my tradition could offer.

I was looking for GOD to do something special with my twelve year old son David. Born with Downs Syndrome, David developed Autism at the age of three. It bottled up his bright mind and crippled his ability to express. He spent much of his energy just coping with the sensory overload caused by the condition.

We’d been watching live webcasts of a crazy tattooed Canadian faith healer on a marathon of wonders in a tent down in Lakeland Florida. I took time off work and we packed up the Subaru and headed for the land of Disney. 

There were cues. There were intuitions. There were dreams. There was a timely gift of funds. There was no reason – except reason – to not go and see if there might a healing for our son David.

Looking back I realize this was the last trip we took as a family of four. Now that Carol and I have split up, it’s an especially poignant memory.

You see, this Nicodemus search was something that began before David was born. As young parents of David’s older sister Alana, we went looking for a church home in the east end of Toronto. Full of piss and passion for Social Justice, none of the United Churches we visited scratched what we were itching for.

I gave up, but Carol went looking outside the box and came up with a bunch of church drop outs and new converts singing God’s praises in an old Baptist church on the Danforth.

At this point in the story, I always blame Carol’s evangelical roots for me stepping into this church. I should admit though, that I was fascinated by what I found.

It was a bunch of people looking hard to follow Jesus. Sure, the luggage they packed were mostly theological and biblically conservative bags. If i label them conservative - you need to understand that they were far from Fundamentalists. And, most impressively, they were not afraid to step outside their comfort zones and see where Jesus might lead them.

In whatever other way I might try to describe this congregation, they were an authentic community to us. Over the years we experienced Christ’s love time and again in the messy mix of being church with one another.

It was only after we’d put roots into this church, become members of a house group with other young families, that the Holy Spirit showed up. It blew in on the same wind that set fire to “The Toronto Blessing”. This wave of miracles, wonders, and healings that swept people from all over the world into an auditorium in Toronto – spilled over into our Sunday morning worship.

It was controversial. It caused all kinds of trouble. And I was both disturbed and fascinated by it. It took me, and us as a family, on a trip deep into the bowels of our faith.

My day to day ministry was working in the community at the ever uphill work of community economic development. And while that work put my brains and creativity to the test, on Sundays the Spirit kept opening my heart wider and wider to the wonders of what humans can do to mess with mystery.

I still hadn’t lost my Nicodemus status. My liberal theological training was still intact. My nature as a thinker, philosopher, and organizational control freak was untouched by my observations of the Spirit at work. As many times as I went forward to receive what the Spirit had to give – always thankful for what I did get - my rational Nicodemus rug never got pulled out from under me…

Fast forward ten years. We’re living in Fenelon Falls. I’m working in a United Church congregation. There is a growing divide in our home. While Carol is still fed by the teachings and worship of the Airport Fellowship, I’m on a path of listening to what the earth has to say to my soul. We incorporate both into the United Church box – with mixed results.

Our home becomes centred around the care of David. The work of helping him grow to potential consumes all of our disposable income – and more. We encourage his body to heal with the best that science has to offer and we continue to search in GOD’s heart for a healing that science can’t bottle.

My rationale for the trip to Lakelands was as a spiritual pilgrimage. The Moslems have Mecca. The Jews have Jerusalem. The Catholics have the Vatican. Where do we Protestants go?

I’d just finished reading “The Horse Boy”. It’s written (also a film) by the father of an autistic boy who follows the healing trail, on horseback, all the way to shamanic healers high in the steppes of Tibet. The advice that sets him off on the journey was “the worst thing you can do – is nothing”.

So, Nicodemus packed up the family car and drove all night and day down to where this strange man was delivering GOD’s blessings on the pilgrims who showed up.

Next week, I’ll tell you what i told George St. about the healing. 

I'll also try to capture what telling that story again has helped me to see about how our home life unravelled.   

thanks for the photos again Richard

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