You Can Bet Your Life
There is nothing more important than being human. Our lives have eternal significance. And no one – absolutely no one – is expendable. – Martin Bell, “Wood and Nails and Colored Eggs,” in The Way Of The World: The Gospel In New Images, p.80
T. S. Eliot wrote that there comes a time we return to the place we began and we see it again for the first time. Living the Christian life, as Eliot understood, is both a circle and a spiral. We both move forward, yet find ourselves, perhaps multiple times, back where the journey started. Standing at that starting line, yet another time, we see all sorts of things we hadn’t before. Suddenly, what was a clear memory becomes something new, filled with the surprise of glimpsed beauty, the emergence of hidden understanding, and the gladness that comes with knowing that, no matter what lies ahead, the path is one the traveler has trod. This time, however, that familiar path promises all sorts of new things to see and hear and feel and touch and taste.
Back in the mid-1980’s, I was working a summer camp as a counselor. Someone was reading this story, “Barrington Bunny”. It was beautiful, sad, triumphant, and beneath the surface filled with so much power it was difficult to believe such a simple story could be read without everyone hearing it bursting in to flames. When I asked where the story came from, the reader held up the book The Way Of The Wolf. At the end of the summer, I picked up a copy. By that time I had read it through several times, using one of the copies floating around the camp. Inside were stories about rabbits and racoons and tiny soldiers and demons and songs. It isn’t a big book. It is proof however of the special theory of relativity; even the smallest accumulation of mass carries tremendous power, if only it were possible to tap in to all that potential.
Martin Bell understood something that, in the quarter century since, I think I’ve forgotten. The best way to relate the Gospel to people is the old rule, K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple Stupid. His collection of stories and sermons, of songs and poems fairly rumble with power just itching to burst forth. This power, it isn’t destructive, unless you think destroying those parts of yourself that deserve to be stripped away and left in a scrap heap is destructive. Like the story of Barrington, the rabbit trapped in a snowstorm who offers free gifts without price to others in the forest, including a small mouse who was lost and, oh!, so cold, the stories sound and feel like stories for children. Perhaps they are.
At the same time, these words have the power to light up your life with unbelievable brightness. You’ll be blind once you realize that surface of the text holds back a star’s worth of energy, ready to rip you to shreds while you laugh with joy.
In the time since reading Bell’s book, I became overly impressed with intellectual fireworks. I thought that understanding was a path best lit by intense research, careful writing and rewriting, and couched – always! – in the abstruse vocabulary of academia. You really want to learn what it is to believe, this is the path you have to take. I had forgotten the clarity and richness of clear, direct, simple stories. I had forgotten that all the frou-frou of the academy had covered over the simple message of Jesus of Nazareth with the pretense of understanding hidden behind more words than were necessary; more subtlety than finesse; and the kind of insiderism that comes from those who use particular vocabularies to exclude as much as to enlighten. Which is not to say that academic theology should cease; it is, rather, to see for the first time the place I began. And it all began with Martin Bell’s little book.
Of all the pieces Bell included in this small volume, the one that hit like a sledge hammer to the gut was a simple, clear, Easter sermon. A snippet appears as the epigraph. It opened my eyes and heart to the possibility that this whole God thing was a whole lot more than sitting in church; that this whole church thing was a whole lot more than singing and praying; that the singing and praying actually meant something. What it meant, well . . . what it meant was everything. If it didn’t mean everything, we all might as well close up shop and go home.
How did Bell make this clear? It’s the ending of this sermon that grabs you by the lapels, kicks you in the groin, shatters your complacency, kindles your rage at the injustice and hate in the world, and makes your heart sing praise to a God willing to do this:
This Easter some of us cannot hold the eggs, others of us cannot see the colors, many of us are unable to move at all – so it will be necessary to color Easter eggs in our hearts.
This Easter there is a hydrocephalic child lying very still in a hospital bed nearby with a head the size of his pillow and vacant, unmoving eyes, and he will not be able to color Easter eggs, and he will not be able to color Easter eggs in his heart, and so God will have to color eggs for him.
And God will color eggs for him. You can bet your life and the life of the created universe on that. (WOTW, pp.81-82)
I have said many times over the years that this whole Christian thing is a life-and-death proposition. Real human beings, real human lives sit in the balance, waiting us to bet our lives that God colors Easter eggs for those who can’t do it for themselves. So, how about it? Are we going to continue to yell at each other about gay sex and abortion and calling each other names like fascist and heretic? Or are we going to be the ones out there coloring Easter eggs in the heart of this world that cannot do so for itself, that will not see those colors? It’s that simple. It’s that radical.
Either it’s everything or it’s bullshit. Me, back again at that place I started so many years ago, I want to color Easter eggs in the hearts of all those who cannot do it for themselves. And I would really enjoy some help and company.