By Rajmund Dabrowski … I liked standing on my head because it made me see old things in a new way. I liked it because it made life seem exciting and unpredictable. —Barbara Brown Taylor, Gospel Medicine, p. 159
It was just about the end of February 2004 when my cardiologist strongly recommended that I should change my lifestyle. If you are to live with no hiccups, you need to slow down and apply breaks to the speed you are living.
I thought I knew what he was saying. Among my initial thoughts was a strange notion—for a person who was engaged in a “healthy religion,” could this mean becoming less religious? How can this be when my church promotes healthy living, yet my heart was not working according to its required tempo? What had to change?
What happened next may not be the prescription for everyone. I, however, needed a radical change.
I went home straight to a filing cabinet. On the way, I grabbed a black Husky drawstring trash bag, the “nothing’s tougher” sort and began emptying sermon files, some of them dating back to 1972. I looked (with nostalgia, I suppose) at the early dates and yellowing sheets of notes, most typewritten, and said goodbye!
I was responding to my need for a radical change, inspired by a haunting admonition: “I am after mercy, not religion.” I needed newness even in the way I approached being a Christian. I reclaimed my Bible study by joining a “discipleship class” with a group of fellow believers from Sligo Church (thank you, Dave Brillhart!). This simple decision was instrumental to reform my thinking and understanding of what it means to walk the talk.
The biblical-times prophets are a group of God’s communicators. They had two challenges—understand the message and know how to deliver it. Take Jonah. He was sent to a city to deliver the message of a needed repentance, but in his view, it was a useless exercise. He was even angry at God, but as it usually happens, the Source of messaging did not budge. God did not mind Jonah’s anger. It was Jonah who was “greatly displeased and became angry” (4:1) and opted to see Ninevah’s destruction rather than its salvation. But God was not the one who gave up. It was Jonah who was ready to die and win the duel with his “Employer.” However, God had a better plan and helped him to see that His missionary had a job to do, by hook or by crook.
Message delivery was a challenge for another prophet, Isaiah. Abraham Joshua Heschel comments about Isaiah’s challenge: He [Isaiah] is told to face his people while standing on his head. Did he not question his own faculties of seeing, hearing, and understanding when perceiving such a message? (Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Prophets, p. 89)
Isaiah’s dilemma was in dealing with the message he is to communicate by framing it by a method of delivery— hearing, but not listening, seeing, but not perceiving. We are continually challenged to tell the truth in a new way.
Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:19, NIV).
We are also challenged to turn the world upside down, seeing the people but flipping the script, seeing the people but from a different perspective. We are challenged to not do church the same way we have been doing, on and on and on. It forces us to see our mission differently.
Jesus constantly reminded His audience that if you have eyes, look, and if you have ears, listen.
Are you listening to me? Really listening? “How can I account for this generation? The people have been like spoiled children whining to their parents, ‘We wanted to skip rope, and you were always too tired; we wanted to talk, but you were always too busy.’ John came fasting and they called him crazy. I came feasting and they called me a lush, a friend of the riffraff. Opinion polls don’t count for much, do they? The proof of the pudding is in the eating” (Matthew 11:15-19, MSG).
Change. Could we consider the option of seeing our Christian mission by looking at the world upside down? The world looks funny upside down, but maybe that is just how it looks when you have got your feet planted in heaven,” writes Barbara Brown Taylor. “Jesus did it all the time and seemed to think we could do it too. So blessed are those who stand on their heads, for they shall see the world as God sees it. They shall find themselves in good company, turned upside down by the only one who really knows which way is up (Gospel Medicine, p.163).
It’s worth risking standing on our heads. It’s also radical, and it may just bring the needed change. That’s God’s way forward.
–Rajmund Dabrowski is RMC communication director. Email him at: [email protected]