I have to get something off my chest. I met some nutcracker ushers the last time I was in the valley. One particular Baptist Church likes it when I usher while they are here. I’m the token backsliding gringo who is a reason to pray for protection. Ushering for them is a double bonus. They get to signal their hospitality to odd people while trying again to convince me that a blue suit is a better look for me.
That’s one piece. The next bit is that I’m not a nutcracker usher. These Baptists are a Sunday best sort of church. Their ushers stand at their assigned door like nutcrackers. You approach their door, they open it to let you in, maybe hand you a bulletin and then let it close. Lord almighty if you speak to them. Never do that.
Though, funny thing. If a friend approaches their door, whole other thing. It’s smiles and chatty and they spend a minute catching up. I’m a damned Yankee. I walk toward a manned door and it’s like I am a leper. They open the door arms stick straight, keeping their distance from me.
- My first sin is that I had my hands in my pockets just after greeting someone. Really? That’s the thing that makes me a bad usher? Let’s not stop with my hands. Most of the time I am in sandals, beach shorts, and a tank top. I have a closet full of Hawaiian pattern shirts. I am the epitome of boomer gringo on holiday.
- B) Some more. I tend to have over-the-ear Bluetooth headphones around my neck. You can hear Jimmy Buffet leaking out of them.
- I also kept picking up church bulletins from the careful piles for each nutcracker. Instead of sticking to the rules and only handing out from an assigned pile I took them from whichever pile was nearest. For that I am apostate. I am a bad usher needing to be scolded.
- Still not done. I made the entire foyer of the church my turf. I greeted whoever entered, through whichever door. The nutcracker ushers stood mouths agape. This is not how it is done.
You Are Doing It Wrong
You are right. It is now how it is done. Ushers with some boogie and charm don’t fit the stiff blue suits that guard the doors to the chapel. I mean, I look like I am dancing while I flit from person to person greeting them and ensuring they are welcomed.
Let’s repeat something. Jesus is absurd. Christ chased the money changers with a whip. He broke bread with prostitutes and tax collectors. Jesus healed the sick on the Sabbath. He said that the meek and poor in spirit are blessed. That bastard Nazarene carpenter told a wealthy man it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for that man to enter heaven.
Keep that in mind as I say that this country is in an imperialist/legalist mood. The answer to most problems is more and stricter law. Lately, London’s mayor has decided that the answer to a rise in murder by knife is to ban knives. He forgot about acid.
Baptism’s dark side is similarly stiff and authoritarian. Many Baptists cannot hear the loving voice of Christ over the shouting they internalize–they are not good enough, every exhale is a backslide, every inhale another ingestion of worldly decadence. The answer is to insist that people must know Jesus because that would solve it.
Nutcracker Ushers in the Valley
Those nutcracker ushers are not in the Valley to show us the Mercy of Mother Mary. They are here to save us from the depravity they see all around them. They see us and there is too much of the world in us. Yep. We just toast them and tell the band to crank it up.
Jesus came to fulfill the law. The whole miracle is wrapped up in how he fulfilled the law. Hillel’s summary of the Torah, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah.” Christ flipped the script, Mat 7:12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” All this bickering over things like whether it is proper for an usher to have his hands in his pockets is a trifle needing charity. Yet there are Baptists who can spend hours arguing over this and whether intinction is proper.
Meldenius, “Necessariis unitas, quae necessaria libertatis et caritatis cetera.” I get annoyed at those who would judge my fielty to Christ by my manner of dress, the placement of my hands, and the music leaking out of my headphones. It’s not very far from that to judging someone by bloodline or skin color. I have a hard time believing my stated sin of having my hands in my pockets is a necessary concern requiring unity. But . . . I’m Presbyterian and we decided to punt when challenged on whether fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman is a requirement for our clergy, so there you go.
Let’s Eat Hummus and Revolution
We are a Middle Eastern religion born out of a rebellion against the church and Rome. Our truest nature is that of malcontents. We are odd. Once we stop being outliers we dim the lamp of the Holy Spirit. Ours is a traditional way of life with rules that are essential and thus, require unity. I wonder, though, if the man who praised a woman for pouring nard on him and turned water into wine would obsess over the position of the hands on an usher.
As to fundementalism, I like what Shane Claiborne said. Since we are dissident Jews our fundamentals ought to be Arab and Israeli. I am amused at the thought of a rabbi giving a homily in a ‘merican church. It would be an uncomfortable few hours for the nutcracker ushers.
Here are some of my essentials: I find myself hungering for service to everyone regardless of their rung on Jacob’s Ladder. I am alive because of God’s Amazing Grace. It is out of gratitude for His grace that I keep saying we should lead with grace. Jesus said a lot in the short time he was here. Some of my favorites are the Beatitudes, Acts Chapter 2 and Romans 12.
I repeated the Meldenius quote above. Asked to boil my essentials down to a paragraph I would say we are to love our enemies and neighbors as ourselves, treat others as we wish to be treated, diligently seek to perform small acts of kindness with great love, pray, worship, tithe, and read scripture.
The Good Fight
If there is anything that is characteristic of us it is this: we never stopped arguing about what we believe. It is why I love Meldenius’ words. We all have to pick our essentials that are not up for debate. After that the rest is fungible.
I know the nutcracker usher who chided me for having my hands in my pockets. His faith is fluid. He fights that first step, admitting we have a problem we are powerless against. Like many, when sober he is brilliant. His inner child became an overachiever because that way his parents would be safer. There is safety in law for him. If there were a law and we would comply it would be so much better.
So he comes to the valley to tilt at our absurdities. We need to come correct so he can be ok. If we knew Jesus and all that. I suppose Fr. Thomas doesn’t know Jesus. The nutcracker usher has been to confession. He found it troubling and attractive.
I’ve crossed paths with him at the cathedral. He’s been at the club when I walk through to my flat upstairs. I think I get where the thing about my hands comes from. It’s easier to fight for kings and law to solve our problems. Christ is tough. His way is absurd. Rather than lift a sword he died and lived. Bickering over hands buried in pockets is a lot safer.