For Heaven's Sake, by Brian Kingslake

from Brian Kingslake, "For heaven's sake. Forty-six variants on the theme: how to react to the conditions of life on earth in such as way as to prepare oneself for life in the kingdom of heaven (Christopher: North Quincy, MA, 1974)

Table of  Contents


8. Shock Tactics

Someone showed me an article about a minister in Texas who refers to Jesus as a cowboy. This seems strange, almost blasphemous; yet, as he points out, the Psalmist calls the Lord a shepherd, and Jesus Himself picked this up and called Himself the Good Shepherd, so it is reasonable to assume that if Palestine had been cattle ranch country instead of sheep country, David would have said: "The Lord is my cowherd, I shall not want"; and cowherd, translated into American, is cowboy! People say, "Oh no! Shepherds are clean and sweet. We've seen pictures of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, and His robe has been spotlessly white, and the lamb has lain so gently in His bosom; whereas cowboys are crude and rough and dirty." But in reality such a difference does not exist. I have been on a sheep farm, and the shepherds are crude and rough and dirty, just like cowboys! What we church folk have done, is what we so often do: we have taken a religious concept which once had some direct bearing on the life of the people, and romanticized it into a pleasant kind of thing which is so remote from our everyday life that we need not bother too much about it.

"The Lord is my cowboy, I do not lack." Most of us nowadays, however, are not even stock breeders. Factory workers would have to say, "The Lord is my foreman," and office secretaries, "The Lord is my boss." Such comparisons are not blasphemous. They are justified to the extent that they make religion more real for us. It is time we took Jesus out of the stained glass windows of our cathedrals, out of the sentimental Sunday School wall pictures, out of the "In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea" kind of hymn, and let Him be here, with us, where the action is. That is not blasphemy! What I call blasphemy is to sentimentalize God out of the hard reality of His being; to make religion a kind of game that can entertain us for a while each week, and even make us feel good, without having any real meaning for us in our lives.

When you die and leave this world, everything you have thought or said or done on earth will be left behind and forgotten, Except what you have actually assimilated or structured into your character. Religious concepts which are "up there" somewhere, which you feel might be good for somebody else but don't apply to yourself, these will all be stripped away from you. Formal prayers in church services are useless if they do not touch your condition. For years as a child and young man in England I heard the minister pray to the Lord to "ameliorate the temporal conditions of such as are in need," and it never occurred to me that it might mean something! We prayed to be cleansed from our iniquities, to be made righteous, and we used such words as "vouchsafe" and "quicken." No wonder the churches have gained the reputation for being hypocritical! What the rising generation wants, and what we all want, I guess, is a religion so real that it influences everything we think and say and do, that it affects our judgments and priorities, and makes us "God's people" through and through, built up in His image and likeness.

I heard of a minister who staged a kind of theatrical performance during a church service. Just as he started to preach the sermon, someone dressed like a conventional angel walked up the aisle of the church and started removing the Bible from the altar, and, when the minister expostulated, he said "God's orders!" and took the Bible away. Then two other angels came and removed the

candlesticks, saying "God's orders!" and another pair of angels removed the flowers; and when the minister was nearly bursting himself with protest, the voice of God Himself came over the P.A. system, saying that since these objects no longer seemed to mean anything to anyone, they might as well be removed! Of course, later they were put back again. But I have often thought it would be a useful exercise to imagine an angel coming into our lives and removing everything from us which does not serve some use by making us more aware of our Lord and more aware of our neighbor. Because, in the final analysis, nothing is of any value to us unless it helps to increase our love to the Lord, our willingness to submit ourselves to His will, and our love to the neighbor; unless it makes us more tolerant, more understanding, mellower, kinder, less critical of others, less complacent and comfortable, less egoistic.

One day I shall have to preach a sermon on the "hard sayings" of the gospels, the "nasty things Jesus said," as a friend of mine once put it. Jesus made quite a few scary references to hell fire, gnawing worms, and handing people over to the torturers. Generally speaking we have just waved these aside, because they do not fit in with our sentimentalized image of "Jesus meek and gentle." In some cases, we have not only rendered them completely ineffectual but we have actually twisted them into something quite different from what they originally meant. Take the cross, for example. The cross is an emblem of submission. On the cross Jesus demonstrated His willingness to submit without resistance to the power of evil, even to torture unto death, although He could easily have summoned twelve legions of angels to rescue Him. And He told His disciples that they should likewise take up their cross and follow Him. They should be prepared to suffer shame, indignity, accusations and insults without bitterness or any desire to get their own back or even defend themselves. Which of us is willing to do this, even in a small way? If we suffer unjustly, or are even unjustly accused of anything, we are indignant and rise up in our own defense. Our culture actually requires that we should do so; if we don't, people get angry with us, call us cowardly, weak, despicable. There is nothing that arouses people's savage fury so much as if, when someone is hit, he doesn't cry out or make some attempt to defend himself, but just allows himself to be hit. That is why many of our black brothers turned against Martin Luther King: he wouldn't defend himself. Nor did Jesus, of course, which must have exasperated his torturers, as well as the evil spirits in hell. Nor must we, if we are to take up our cross and act like Jesus. And if you ask, "What would the world become if nobody defended himself?" I can only answer, "Maybe we should at last get an inkling of the meaning of Calvary!" Anyway, our job is only to follow in His footsteps. The ultimate responsibility is His, and we can safely leave it to Him. Unfortunately the world has now completely reversed the significance of the cross. By "taking up the cross" or "starting a crusade" people now mean going out and trying to force their will on somebody else. The crusaders in the middle ages tried to wrest the holy places out of the hands of the Arabs and Turks who happened to live in Palestine, thus they were behaving like the Romans who did the crucifying, rather than the Christians who suffered it. We perpetuate the misconception when we sing: "Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before." It would be more realistic to say: "Onward, Roman soldiers," because it was the Romans who carried crosses with them when they marched to war. They needed them to crucify the Christians.

It is true that Jesus did nothing to defend Himself when personally attacked. But He could be an Angry Young Man when occasion demanded it. He was not exactly timid when he called the Pharisees a generation of vipers, whited sepulchers full of dead men's bones! His words cut like a spear - thrust through the complacency of the self-satisfied upper middle classes, who prided themselves on their righteousness but would not lift a finger to help those less fortunate than themselves. He told a story about some of these, who, after death, found themselves accused of maltreating Him, of not feeding Him when He was hungry or giving Him drink when He was thirsty, and not visiting Him when He was sick or in prison. And when, in the story, they indignantly repudiated the accusation, He retorted: "Inasmuch as ye have not done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have not done it unto me." What a shock to these respectable people, who had expected preferential treatment, to be told by our Lord in the future life, "Go away, I never knew you!"

It was to avoid this after-death shock that Jesus gave us His "hard sayings." He yearned with an infinite compassion to get people to see the self-love and love of the world which were corrupting their inner lives like a cancer; for, unless these evils are seen and recognized, there can be no hope of healing. The people Jesus really lashed out at were the self-complacent "good" people, and His sole purpose was the merciful one, of trying to get them to see, in the light of stark reality, that their goodness was, in many cases, only skin deep. As soon as the padding is torn away, the self-excuse, the evasion, the "I thank God I am not as other men," . . . once a soul is laid bare, THEN the Lord's love envelopes it. No matter how corrupt it is, if only it is real, the Lord has compassion on it, and yearns over it, and tenderly sets about restoring it. So we get the paradox of the gospels, that Jesus seemed to love the prostitutes and n'er-do-wells and thieves and traitors, better than He loved the God-fearing members of the establishment. What He loved was people - real people, genuine people. The first step had to be to tear them open, to strip away the protective layers of pride and pretentiousness and pomposity. That was when He seemed harsh. Once the inner heart was revealed, then the process of healing could begin, and here it was that His love and compassion were so wonderfully displayed. If we want to taste that love and compassion, and be molded by Him into the shape He wants us to be in, the first thing is for us to go to Him as we really are - not as we think we ought to be, or as we would like to be, but as we really are, with all our faults and failings and impurities. We must say, in the words of the old hymn, "Just as I am, without one plea." Then the Lord can do something for us.

When I was working at a first-aid post in England during the Second World War, I learnt a new word: necrotic. It means "dead." The surgeons spoke of removing all "necrotic tissue" from a wound, to enable the wound to heal. Anything in your life that does not help to improve your relations with God and the neighbor is necrotic tissue, which must be cut out if you are to heal up properly. Unfortunately this includes so much which our culture values and regards as most important: our involvement with property and gadgets and accessories and useless toys; our rushing around doing a hundred things which absorb our energies and waste our time and get us nowhere; our personal status, and most of our achievements which make us feel important . . . these are some of the things which the Lord will want to cut away. But if there is any living flesh in the midst of so much dead matter, any genuine desire for goodness and truth, any growing edge of love to the Lord and other people . . . how tenderly He cherishes and nurtures it, applying His healing ointment and His balm! "The bruised reed will He not break, and the smoking flax will He not quench, till He send forth judgment unto victory." The bruised reed - almost broken but not quite; The smoking flax - the wick of an oil lamp, almost extinguished but not quite! Those whose barriers are down in His presence, whose pride is broken, who are on the edge of despair . . . if only they are real, genuine, no longer pretending, utterly and completely honest before His all-seeing eye . . . well, when at last you reach this condition, whether in the present life or in the life to come, if there is anything true in you, anything just, anything pure, anything lovely, anything of good report, any virtue or any praise ... you'll be all right!

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