Church in the French Ponderosa

I love Ben Cartwright for many reasons: he is a New Englander living in the West, and he is very loving to his sons and to everyone around him.  The greatest line I heard him say was in response to the sheriff saying, “Don’t you want the rope for that lady killer?” and Ben responded, “I want justice,”  as he was squelching the posse’s mob mentality.  Now I know it is just a show, and a show that even has the heroes using the fist or gun to solve the problem, and the problem is always solved by the credits.  I just know when I watch that show and most American films the good guys win by being morally good.  I will even admit to tearing-up at the end of the movie “Cars,” knowing that the wonderful message of the film is lost in the real world.  The perfect ending does not neatly happen for most of us. I enjoy these plots that wrap up and are so very moralistic, and yet it upsets me how the world does not match the silver screen; the world is not The Ponderosa.  The world is more like a French film.  I love those films as well for when the credits roll, I do not feel upset that the world does not match up, for often the plot was not truly resolved. Dieu est grand, je suis toute petite was just one of those French movies I enjoyed, enough that I watched it again with my wife.  When we arrived at “fin” my wife was very upset it was not wrapped up neatly.  Even today when I mention that movie she gets angry that the film did not resolve the story.  I find that refreshing, the story is the story.

Church needs both narratives.  Both.  We are however used to the former; we understand the neat stories in our congregations that end in plaques upon walls, stories repeated over the years, building dedications, and miraculous events.  These wonderful stories of success, and of failure, are how we learn about ourselves and about God, and they are important to church.  Honestly, we want all church narratives to fit in these perfect scripts in which we learn.  For instance, have you heard the story about the church in the good old days?

The reality is we need to also need to be able to sit with narratives in which we do not know the ending.  I do hear lip-service to that idea when people say we are “planting seeds.”  However, in the year book there is no place for seeds.  Just the other day I went to an area pastor’s gathering and the main question I received from all the clergy (whom I did not know well) was how many members do we have or what was my average Sunday attendance.  I do not deny that these are things to know and observe, but I think clergy of all people may be so inclined to ask about the seeds, the narratives happening in the church.

Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow, but as you know that is easier said than done.  However, it is the ending of Mark that speaks the most to me for this blog.  You know, the original ending of Mark, not the two add-ons.  Mark ends, “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” ( 16:8).  The scene is not resolved, and actually in the Greek it is truly an incomplete sentence.  At some point there were two additional endings to create a neater story, but Mark is telling us something.  For me it seems to ask the question:  The Resurrection happened, and what are you going to do in response?

If a Gospel writer was so confident that the story does not need to be so neatly ended, perhaps we can be more confident in thick meta-narratives that do not all fit neatly together, as opposed to the thin narratives at how church works.  The thin narratives promote syndication of the same which works on the television and movie sets, but we need to realize that God is big and we are not, thus it will take all our stories and narratives to help us approach the large Divine narrative that is Love.

As another favorite fictional New Englander, Hawkeye, once said, “Ours is not to question why, ours is not to let them die.”  Let us as church walk with each other and we will discover eternal life together is not neat for…