Long ago, back when I was in Outer Podunk High School, I remember a regional daily newspaper creating a temporary local furor by describing some example of popular bad taste thusly: "As tacky as a girl from Outer Podunk, who wouldn't know Christian Dior from The Christian Science Monitor." Ouch.
Can anything good come out of Outer Podunk?
This past week, I watched the excellent PBS documentary Country Boys, following the lives of two Appalachian teenagers trying to overcome poverty, isolation, indifferent parenting and their own low expectations. At times the film was difficult to watch; certain scenes seemed to bolster every prejudice the rest of the country has regarding rural Americans in general and Appalachian Americans in particular, and the boys being profiled often seemed to have internalized these negative messages.
Can anything good come out of eastern Kentucky?
That's Nathanael's reaction to his friend Philip's news that he's just met an amazing, charismatic rabbi from Nazareth whom Philip thinks is the long-awaited Messiah:
"Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Nazareth was a jerk-water town within the Galilee, a region often dismissed by the Temple-oriented Jews living farther south as the land of weird holy men, political radicals and the morally and culturally compromised.
"Come and see," the excited Philip replies.
Nathanael, of course, changes his tune when he meets Jesus face to face. Another irony of this story is that, at any time during Jesus' ministry, he could have asked the same question about his disciples: "Can anything good come out of this clueless, faith-impaired bunch?"
But he didn't. Because Jesus' trust in God gave him the insight to see God's redeeming, reconciling and empowering action in the least likely people and places.
Even as many of us have been on the receiving end of skepticism regarding God's transformative presence in our lives, I suspect that we all have our own blind spots when it comes to seeing Christ in other individuals, other groups, other places. In which directions do we need to direct a more generous eye? Where might God surprise us by showing up?
Sometimes the surprise is that God is showing up in us. God's love for us, God's desire to be in relationship with us, God's active presence in our lives, is often hard to believe. Because we mess up; we don't do things we should and do things we shouldn't; even if we do the right thing, we often do it for the wrong reason. The paradox of simul iustus et peccator, of being a saint and a sinner at the same time, can be unsettling, and we may begin to second-guess where Christ is in the flawed complexity of our lives.
But in faith we hear Christ's message to us in Scripture that he's with us -- because he promises he will be. Many of us begin and end our days by making the sign of the cross. This is not an empty gesture, especially when we are being dogged by disappointment and despair and fear. It's a visual and tactile reminder to Christians that we have been baptized, marked with the cross of Christ forever. And just as Jesus invites Nathanael to "come and see," by following Jesus, the inbreaking of God's Reign, Jesus invites us to come and see and be a part of that as well.
Kelly Fryer, in Reclaiming the "L" Word: Renewing the Church From Its Lutheran Core, lists as one affirmation of a healthy faith community, People need what we have. If the love of Christ has touched us in a transformative way, we can't help but want other seeking people to experience that as well. A lot of money and ink and voice power is spent in the Church figuring out how to best do this, but I think Philip provides the best witnessing model of all.
"Come and see."
I think that the Christian blogging community -- people sharing their own life stories, their own faith stories, their own thoughts and doubts and hopes about their relationship with Christ -- provides a way for seeking others to "come and see," and provides those of us who blog to see and rejoice in the ways in which God is moving in the lives of others.
So -- what do you say? Come on; come with me; come and see.
"The First Two Disciples," Jesus Mafa Artwork