By RAHN ADAMS
MORGANTON, N.C. (March 1, 2020) – Like the dogwood’s beauty, religion should be simple—and it is when one’s path on this challenging course called life is true. Not necessarily smooth. Or straight. Or wide. But true, as in the right path that leads the traveler to a meaningful coexistence in this wild world.
Today is the first Sunday of Lent, so I’m going to use the break (Sundays aren’t counted in the 40 days of Lent, the period of reflection leading to Easter) to think about religion in general and Christianity in particular. We’re currently “taking a break” from church—giving it up for Lent, I guess, maybe longer.
Two months ago, the church we had attended for years changed its main worship service to a time that was too early for us to attend. We were going to attend a later Sunday morning service until the pastor announced that he wouldn’t be preaching at that gathering, just at the earlier, more contemporary service.
Alrighty, then. But I’m getting off track here, off the right path. Maybe staying on course isn’t easy after all.
All that Christians must do is love God and love other people—all other people—as much as they love themselves. Those are particularly difficult tasks considering we Baby Boomers are the Me Generation and that those of us still employed came of age in the Me Decade of the 1970s. Like our current leader, we are narcissists. And whom do we follow? Why President Donald J. Trump, of course. The Lyin’ King.
Oops. There I go again. I should care for “the least, the last, and the lost,” not focus on the “foremost, the first, and the found.” But that’s hard to do, when everything now is about money, power and fame.
Even before considering Jesus’ two great commandments (above), shouldn’t we concede that Truth, not Love, is the actual basis of Christianity? If we don’t tell the truth about ourselves and about the persons and institutions we support, then we can’t “confess our sins” and be forgiven and cleansed of guilt. “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:10, NASB). And, of course, the Him in that verse is God, not Donald Trump nor even Jesus, a righteous son of God.
The ultimate truth is the nature of God. So how do we define Him? Or are our gods lower-case deities?
What did Jesus mean when he told some phony Pharisees, hypocritical Jews of his day, “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21, KJV)? Answering that question is the key to understanding Jesus’ teachings, even where this itinerant Jewish preacher’s most straightforward admonitions in his Sermon on the Mount are concerned. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness,” Jesus told his peeps, whom we’ll call Mountaineers, because the mountains are God’s Country (Matthew 6:33, KJV).
No, no, no. God lives anywhere we let Him, even here in Morganton, not just where summers are heaven.
So what is the kingdom of God? Does it have anything to do with Jesus being the King of the Jews, or of Israel? Or, as the apostle Paul wrote, is it “not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17, NIV)? Then there’s the controversial gnostic Gospel of Thomas, in which Jesus says: “[T]he kingdom is inside of you and outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will realize that you are the children of the living Father” (Biblical Archeology Society). Son of God? Son of Man? Children of Israel? Children of God?
So many questions. So few answers. The Legend of the Dogwood is so much easier to understand: The dogwood tree once grew tall, straight and strong, but Roman soldiers used its wood to build the cross of Jesus’ crucifixion. So God both cursed and blessed the dogwood tree. He ruled that it would never grow large enough again for a cross but that every spring it would bear beautiful, cross-shaped petals, pink or white, each blossom with a tiny “crown of thorns” in the middle, each petal with a nail-mark and bloodstain.
Yes, that’s a simple story—kind of like all those parables that Jesus liked to tell. But what does it mean?
Try this on for size: If you’re a tool of wrongdoing, even if you don’t mean to be, you will surely suffer, though you may still be one of the beautiful people—one of the foremost, the first, the found.
Is that simple enough?