I stayed for the benediction.
Not the later one, the one we would become known for, that we would tattoo on our arms and cross-stitch onto our children’s pillows. But the first one, the one with the words we played around in, much like Paul many centuries earlier, before Kyle began to venture off into his own poetry.
“Go now in the name of the one in whom we live and move and have our being.”
Many of us came from backgrounds that required us to think about God a lot. “Praying without ceasing,” (1 Thessalonians 5:17,) rather than being an admonition to remain connected to God was, instead, a challenge to see how many minutes in the day we could be consciously aware and engaging God’s presence. To do that required extensive mental and spiritual gymnastics, and the avoidance of just about everything that could be deemed “secular.” We burned the books and the cassettes that didn’t proclaim the gospel, or we at least tried to make the artists and authors say things they never intended on saying.
It was exhilarating for a season, but became exhausting.
And then this idea from Paul, to the Athenians on Mars Hill– God is not far from any of us. It is in God that we live and move and have our being. (Acts 17.)
What is interesting, and a key to the possibilities these words evoked in us, is that they weren’t even from Paul. They were originally mashup quotes from the Greek poets Aratus and Epimenides. In preaching the good news of Jesus, Paul had the entire Hebrew Bible at his disposal, but chose instead to use the words of pagans to display God’s reaching out to the people of the world. Which says something about what Paul and the early apostles felt about reading “secular” works of literature.
“In Him we live and move and have our being” gave us freedom we had not known before. The simple recognition that we lived and moved and had our being in God allowed us to live and move and have our being in a million different ways without fear of retribution, or the suspicion that we were slipping away from God.
We painted paintings and wrote poetry and sang songs about the every day goings on of our lives, and we didn’t always feel compelled to attribute these expressions of ourselves to God at every turn and every stroke of the pen. Occasionally we set up shop in the backside of the church and featured our artists and creative types. There were techno beats and coffeeshop singer-songwriters. We had “high art,” portraits and paintings that would eventually end up in galleries and museums, and someone once laid a piece of butcher paper on the ground, stepped in paint and walked across it over eggshells.
We knew we were God’s, and that in God we lived and moved and had our being. We talked about it some, but we were excited about the fact that this Truth could afford understatement.
We read books we never would have touched before– Barbara Kingsolver, Dave Eggers and Jonathan Safran Foer were mainstays, though some of the more bright among us (not me) ventured into Tolstoy, Pynchon, Joyce and David Foster Wallace. We watched movies like Dogville and Donnie Darko, and before you knew it we were the assholes calling them “films” instead of movies. We would deal with our pretension later, when we came to terms with being the first hipsters on the scene, but for the moment we were experiencing the freedom of God to be ourselves.
One of the films we watched was The Big Kahuna, starring Danny Devito, Kevin Spacey and Peter Facinelli, who played three salesman of industrial strength lubricants (for large machines– geez,) at a convention in the midwest. Facinelli played an evangelical Christian who would rather have a conversation with a potential buyer about Jesus than the product he was in Topeka to sell. He acted in similar ways to Spacey’s character, a brusque, aggressive man who had been friends with Devito’s character for many years. In a powerful monologue toward the end of the film, Devito chastises Facinelli for being too eager to jump to Jesus in an exchange with a stranger…
“If you want to talk to somebody honestly, as a human being, ask him about his kids. Find out what his dreams are – just to find out, for no other reason. Because as soon as you lay your hands on a conversation to steer it, it’s not a conversation anymore, it’s a pitch. And you’re not a human being, you’re a marketing rep.”
We had grown weary of being pitch-people of Jesus, and wanted to be honest. We found that honesty in the One in whom we lived and moved and had our being. It was also in that One that we found each other.