Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Gomes’ The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus, my past and future

“There was a time when we could sing, preach and pray about radical social justice in church and not be ashamed; there was a time when we could hold all of American society to a common standard of Christian Morality that had implications for our economy, our foreign and domestic policy, and the use of our resources and our neighbors”

(Gomes, 163).

My dad had been sent to Houston, Texas by Rohm & Haas company as part of the team to construct a new plant there. I was thirteen, and I spent my eighth grade year in Houston and it proved to be one of the best years of my life as a public school student. It wasn’t because of the high quality of the schools; they weren’t up to Bucks County schools. Instead, it was the warmth of the people. In Pasadena I made friends easily. Also, Pasadena was, at the time, one massive middle class suburban complex. It had none of the stratified caste system of Bucks County - a concentric ring of towns arranged by economic and social status in order from lower to higher, proceeding northeastward across the county. Oh yes, I was kidded about being a “damn Yankee,” and my peers made jokes about the way I pronounced words like oil. “It’s o – i – l,” they’d say as they spelled and then pronounced it in their drawn-out South Texas drawl, “not o – y – a – l.” However, it was all based in congenial camaraderie. As long as I laughed with them, they were more than willing to draw me into the social life of South Pasadena Junior High School. I quickly adapted to the easy society of my southern friends, and the slower pace in the greater Huston area. To demonstrate just how laid-back it was, one day my dad came home at lunchtime and announced, “we decided to close down for the afternoon.” Mom and I laughed because such a thing could not possibly happen in the driven Northeast. I’m not sure it could happen in the Huston of the 21st Century. Never the less, I absorbed the slower more relaxed attitude of the deep south like a sponge, and was not prepared for the return to the fast paced and snooty stratified school life encountered upon our return to Pennsylvania.

After being away but one year and three months, Bucks County was a cultural shock. In fact, the only pleasant social part of my fourteenth year was the little Church my parents belonged to. That year I attended the Presbyterian equivalent of Catholicism’s catechism, a class designed for young teenagers who were to become members of the church. During those classes Reverend Stone presented to us the “Good News of Jesus’ Gospel.” We also covered the books of the Pentateuch with the goal of preparing for that good news. Reverend Stone would often stop during those Sunday school classes and ask, “So, what is the difference between the vindictive, angry and jealous God of the Old Testament, and the God Jesus presents to us in the Gospel? We studied Jesus’ teaching; the parables, the beatitudes, and the miracles. We were allowed to question the Bible, and lively discussions ensued. Did science provide answers concerning some of the miracles? Could a miracle still be a miracle if it was possible to explain it scientifically? Reverend Stone often answered our questions with another. “Why couldn’t a miracle still be a miracle if you could explain it scientifically?”

Those Sunday school classes showed me that God loved all of his creation, and that included everyone, everywhere, even communists, criminals, all Caucasians and all the various races of man. As corollary I also learned that in order to be a good citizen I had to love all of God’s creation, just as God loved me. Additionally, I learned that I had to practice love through “good works,” and I was required to demonstrate that practice at church and in our community before I could become a member of the church. In short, Jesus had long ago taught his disciples, they in turn spread the good news, and finally the written word of The New Testament was teaching me a way to (at least try to) be in this world.

To be continued.

* Gomes, Peter J., The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What’s so Good About the Good News? Harper Collins Publishers (New York) 2007

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