A Bad Guest

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

A Bad Guest – Audio Version
A Bride on Her Wedding Day

This past weekend my wife and I attended a long-delayed wedding. For well over six months, the dread virus had prevented the betrothed couple from publicly exchanging their wedding vows. Nonetheless, after patiently (or impatiently) enduring the pandemic-imposed pause, they had made it to the re-predetermined big day. Their long-anticipated, once-in-a-lifetime day finally, actually arrived. We were happy to witness the ceremony and share the occasion with the two of them.

At the reception afterward my wife and I were seated by the Officiant and his wife. I call him the Officiant because the pretty wedding program said as much. However, based on his eloquence and the poise with which he conducted himself during the wedding ceremony, I knew that the man could be no mere bureaucratic officiant. That was just a temporary title, a role he played in the wedding ceremony. I was very confident that professionally the man must be a preacher. And indeed, he is. All of this background information is just to arrive at the pertinent point that someone decided to seat us near the polished, professional preacher man.

The polished, professional preacher man and I talked over dinner. It ended badly. 

Throughout the reception, we periodically talked shop. I told him that I had attended seminary, like him. He informed me that not only did he attend seminary, he once taught at a seminary. In fact, he taught the art of Homiletics, which means he taught aspiring preachers how to preach. No surprise there: Based on the poise, the polish, the quick wit, and the eloquence with which he had conducted himself during the wedding ceremony as the Officiant, I already had him pegged as a prestigious religious professional.   

Our dinner conversation was going along quite nicely and cordially until I solicited his highly trained professional opinion on my favorite topic. Perhaps I should have been more hesitant to inject something so awkward into our pleasant banter. But my desire to go beyond conventions and pleasantries got the best of me, as it often does. So I went ahead and presented him with a brief summary of how I interpret the Book of Revelation. He politely humored me for a while, and gave me some considerate, candid feedback. However, he was not sold. He thought I had not established my points well enough. When I tried even more to convince him, he reached the end of his patience with me. He turned to his wife, and asked if she were ready to leave. I had pushed him too hard.

And so it goes. And I cannot blame him. We had not met before; yet I had turned an otherwise pleasant evening into an awkward interaction. When I persisted, he desisted. Of course, it was his prerogative to do just that. 

To be candid, I am still quite conflicted about my encounter with the polished, professional preacher man. I am not entirely repentant. If given the same opportunity again, I might do exactly the same thing again. That is because I believe that there are some things more important than meeting the expectations of social propriety. And, in my own defense, I also knew when it was time to quit — sort of, maybe.

The thing is, I actually gave the polished, professional preacher man something worthwhile to think about. He might not have agreed with me. He might not have liked the setting in which I chose to say it. But nonetheless, I gave him something potentially valuable. And I made my pitch somewhat discretely, as only two other people were there to overhear our conversation — his wife and mine. 

Jesus did the same thing. On occasion, he deliberately violated social convention. Sometimes, Jesus was intentionally impolite. He did so because he knew that what he had to say was far more important than how he was expected to behave. 

Necessarily Prickly

Are you wondering what I am talking about? In the Gospel of Luke 11:37-54, Jesus behaves quite badly as a guest at a banquet. He breaks social conventions over and over. To start, he fails to follow the custom of washing up before dinner. His failure to do so shocked his host. Thereafter Jesus berated his host and the gathered religious professionals for being more interested in exterior cleanliness than interior purity. Jesus denounced his host and his fellow guests as fools, and pronounced three woes upon them. 

Therefore, I think it is fair to say that Jesus was not polite in that social situation.

But, was Jesus wrong? His behavior was an absolute breach of propriety and convention. The Pharisees were very much offended. And Jesus must have known as much. But he chose to do it anyway. Jesus chose to offend them because he knew what he had to communicate was far more important than a pleasant evening with easy dinner conversation.

Now I do realize that not every dinner conversation needs to be a blunt confrontation with hard truths. But some dinner conversations should be. Sometimes hard things need to be said and heard. 

May God grant us the discernment to know when to dispense with propriety and when not.              

County Park Personnel

Tuesday, June 16th, 2020

County Park Personnel, Audio Edition

Today’s post is an aside. It is not directly about the Book of Revelation.

Not long ago I went hiking with my daughter and one of her friends. We went to a county park with two or three marked trails. At the trail head there stood a big wooden map displaying the park’s trails. There was a red trail, a blue trail, and a third trail. Was it marked yellow? Maybe. I think so. I think I think so. Honestly, I don’t remember. It may have been yellow, green, orange, or purple paisley. I was oblivious to it, and intentionally so. Since we were only hiking the red and blue trails, I did not pay the third trail any attention. The third trail I deemed irrelevant, very unnecessary. I chose to give it no thought, zero. 

Upon further consultation, my dear daughter informs me that the trail is indeed marked yellow. So there you have it.

Anyway, you do the same thing. You deliberately ignore information you deem irrelevant. As well you should. You should ignore irrelevant information, because otherwise you would quickly go into information overload. We cannot function well if we treat all information of equal value. Not everything is of equal value, as we all know. Gibberish, gibberish — we’re inundated with so much noise and gibberish. We get a lot of junk mail. Every day we scroll through hundreds and even thousands of possible clicks. Which shall we choose? How shall we choose? We all necessarily filter out extraneous information. But sadly, sometimes we err. We err in what we deem worthwhile, and in what we deem irrelevant and unnecessary. Sometimes we do.

Back to the woods we go, though. While I consider myself generally good with directions, the park was unfamiliar ground to me. I soon began to feel uncomfortably disoriented. I realized that if not for the trail maps and the periodic colored trail posts, I would end up hopelessly lost in the woods. I was grateful that someone from the county took the time and paid the necessary expenses to survey, map, mark, and maintain the park. Someone had gone before me, did some hard and extensive work, and by virtue of having done so, made things more understandable, and much, much easier for me, and for all other subsequent park visitors. Thank you helpful county park personnel. You kept me from getting lost. Muchas gracias.   

As you may have guessed, I just might be making an analogy here. I am talking about hiking in a wooded park, but what I really want you to consider is how someone studies the B-I-B-L-E. Studying the Bible can be similar to hiking along winding paths in an unfamiliar wooded park. Studying the Bible can be made a lot easier and more understandable if someone has gone before you, done some hard work, and put up well-placed maps and periodic trail posts.   

In general, someone has. The good news is that “the county park personnel” have done just that for you and me. Although the park may be unfamiliar to you, the county park personnel have years of extensive experience. They know it very well. And they have left maps and signposts for you and for everyone who subsequently follows. Hooray for our helpful heroes.    

But there’s a problem with my analogy; isn’t there? It would be nice if all “the county park personnel” were helpful heroes, who prove reliable and good at what they do. But some aren’t. Some of the county park personnel are unreliable. Some of them are lousy at what they do. Some of them are even deceptive. Intentionally or unintentionally, they have put up maps that mislead the visitors. They have left signposts that are actually the wrong color. If you naively trust them, you will end up thoroughly lost. It’s sad; but too often, it’s true.

Since unreliable and lousy county park personnel exist, a lot of park visitors do not bother with any of the park maps or signposts. Basically, they still want to hike the trails, but have lost all confidence in anyone who has ever served as county park personnel. That’s a shame and a pity, because there have been and currently are some really good and reliable county park personnel on the job. You just have to diligently work hard to find them.   

Another thing to keep in mind is that if you reject the work of all the county park personnel that ever tried to survey, map, mark, and maintain the park, you then have to attempt to do it all for yourself. Are you really sure that you will do a better job than everyone who went before you? It is a big park, after all. Maybe some county park personnel actually did their work well. Maybe you can save yourself a lot of frustration if you figure out who the good personnel are. 

A worse temptation, though, is to give up on the park altogether. A lot of would-be visitors do just that. They have heard and read about the unreliable and lousy county park personnel, so they just don’t bother with the park at all. Once upon a time, it may have seemed worth a visit; but what they’ve heard about the county park personnel has scared them off. They wrongly conclude that the park is a probably big waste of their time. Such scared-off visitors do err. They seriously err when they deem the park a wasted trip. In spite of some lousy county park personnel, the park is still worth an extended visit. In fact, the paths through the park are well worth a lifetime of daily visits. And the main path is worth a lifetime of investment. That main path is golden.  

In Matthew 7:15, Jesus warns his listeners about false prophets. He memorably refers to them as wolves in sheep’s clothing. They may look good and sound good, but their character ultimately betrays them. We should not be surprised at unreliable and lousy county park personnel. Ministry can be a means to a selfish end. People in ministry sometimes fail. But that does not invalidate ministry. It just means that we need to keep a watchful eye on the message and the moral character of the messenger.