Vicarious rebellion

By John D. Pierce

Rebellion never came easy for me — so I lived it vicariously through music by Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson. I wore a groove through a 45-rpm record of “Mama Tried” — although I turned 21 approaching college graduation, not “in prison doing life without parole.”

My one youthful attempt at running away from home lasted but a few hours. (If this hunkering down continues much longer I may try it again.)

While wrong to presuppose Jesus was born in late December, Kris was right to note Jesus’ rebellious nature in his 1972 song, “Jesus Was A Capricorn.” (And, yes, Tim Willis, I know it was “owed to John Prine.”)

I liked singing along with Kris about Jesus as: “Long hair, beard and sandals and a funky bunch of friends, reckon they’d just nail him up if he came down again.”

Jesus ran away from home and stirred up lots of trouble. He could have been a fine carpenter apprentice and model citizen in Nazareth who followed communal expectations of his religious and political setting. But he didn’t.

And, as a result, Jesus won no popularity contests among the religious and political powers of his day. They didn’t take too kindly to his opposing their abuses of power, discrimination and legalism.

The rebellious, radical side of Jesus gets downplayed in our American church culture that values order and authority, and resists challenges to the status quo.

That’s how we end up with a safe, domesticated savior who fits nicely within our national identity and serves our personal interests — but looks a lot like Storybook Jesus and little like the Jesus of the gospels.

Being an Americanized “good Christian” is much safer than calling religious leaders a brood of vipers, identifying with social outcasts, and empowering women in a patriarchal culture as Jesus did. His leveling of human value was not — and still is not — well received.

Because, as Kris the poet points out: “Everybody’s gotta have somebody to look down on, who they can feel better than at anytime they please.”

The truth is that when we make Jesus too safe we lose the risky and rebellious call to follow him to unpopular places — like, well, a cross. For most of us, however, the risk is not that high.

Maybe a few social media “friends” — or perhaps a job in which keeping the peace is more valued than speaking truth.

Confession: I still play it too safe to claim much faithfulness in following Jesus. But an awareness of that shortcoming is a start down the path that at least keeps one open to a more-demanding, divine summons.

Or as the Man in Black put it: “He called my name and my heart stood still, when he said, ‘John, go do my will!’”

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