My newphew was born in the waning minutes of September 29 in a year long enough ago to put him in college now. The next morning my brother called me as daylight was breaking and announced, "he's heeeeeerrrrrrre!" It was Sunday, and I remember shifting gears to go to early church so that I could get to the hospital to see Jesse as soon as possible. My mother, then living in a suburb of the Big Apple, drove into the city to pick up my grandmother before heading our direction to meet her first grandchild. There was great excitement in the family.
I remember Elaine, Jesse's other grandmother, being moved by his arrival on "the holiest of days," Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement. Whatever direction Jesse's spiritual life was to take, his inheritance was literally Judeo-Christian, and I noted to myself that on my own calendar of feast days Jesse's birth coincided with St. Michael and All Angels. It seemed to me a double blessing to him that these two celebrations undergird the days that would unfold as his life.
After a period of time of collective oohing and aahing and congratulating the new parents, my family headed to my brother's house for some time together, and to give the new mother a chance to rest. Leaving his car at the hospital Jamie rode back to the house with me. After clearing the center of town I turned left onto a side road, a short-cut to the house. In the seat beside me Jamie smiled and nodded his appreciation that I knew the route. "There are two kinds of people in the world," he said. "Those who do and those who don't."
I knew exactly what he meant. If our upbringing in the Quaker tradition did nothing else it condoned the right to non-conformity. It wasn't taking short cuts that my brother appreciated, but the willingness to break from the well-trod route of familiarity to go a different direction. His work as a home remodeler reveals that regularly as he designs and builds distinctive spaces that reflect the lives of the people who live in them. His imagination is never confined by what has been done before as he considers what could be.
It can be risky to consider possibility, and it has dawned on me that such risk lies at the heart of why the Church has failed in so many ways. My thinking along these lines began with the not uncommon question of why so many people want to be told what to think and believe rather than allowing their minds and their lives to draw their own conclusions. In spite of the biblical understatement that "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God," (Heb 10:31) so many people who consider themselves faithful don't practice faith, but mimicry. It's easy. It doesn't require the wrestling of conscience or asking questions of conflicting texts, the answers to which might lead us into territory where while our belief might feel more grounded we are also more alone. To stand outside what is normative is to risk discovering a new way of thinking, feeling, acting; it reveals the unknown territory of what can be even as it promises us the fulfillment of arriving at a place that feels like home to our soul. The implications of this for the Church are manifold. Wait. Doesn't that sort of describe what Jesus was trying to tell us?
There are those who do and those who don't; those who seek and those who settle. And there are those who like nuts in their brownies and those who don't. What kind are you?