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I was listening to Mason Proffit singing “Two Hangmen” today and the words caught my attention.  I was surprised how these lyrics that were written into an entirely different context fit into my experience in American Evangelicalism.

Too often those who dare to think thoughts outside the excepted boundaries find themselves facing the proverbial hangman.  How many times have I seen people called to account for not following some set of rules.  How many excoriated for daring to suggest that a belief or set of beliefs might be obsolete or incorrect.  Or perhaps culturally bound.  How many have I seen ridiculed for relinquishing the rope and choosing hope.  For  choosing love over law.

There was a time I was zealous in my evangelical fervor.  A time when, God help me, I might have played a part in that hangman’s role myself.  But then I began to see the loopholes, the innocent who were being hung.  I have personally been on the receiving end of the hangman’s noose on more than one occasion.  No one is immune from this.  Not even the one who has accepted and carried out the duties of the hangman.  I just wish there had been someone there to cut me loose.

So If you find yourself in the Evangelical hangman’s noose, give me a call.  I will come and cut you loose.  And if need be, I will hang with you.  For we have a God who chose love over law.  Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

 

Two Hangmen

As I rode into Tombstone on my horse, his name was Mack
I saw what I’ll relate to you, going on behind my back
It seems the folks were up-in-arms, a man now had to die
For believing things that didn’t fit, the laws they’d set aside
The mans name was “I’m a Freak”. The best that could see
He was the executioner, a hangman just like me
I guess he’d seen loopholes from working with his rope
He’d hung the wrong man many times, so now he turned to hope
He talked to all the people from his scaffold in the square
He told them of the things he found, but they didn’t seem to care
He said the laws were obsolete, a change they should demand
But the people only walked away, he couldn’t understand
The marshals name was “Uncle Sam”, he said he’d right this wrong
He’d make the hangman shut his mouth, if it took him all day long
He finally arrested Freak, and then he sent for me
To hang a fellow hangman, from a fellow hangman’s tree
It didn’t take them long to try him in their court of law
He was guilty then of “Thinking”, a crime much worse than all
They sentenced him to die, so his seed of thought can’t spread
And infect the little children, that’s what the law had said
So the hangin’ day came ’round, and he walked up to the noose
I pulled the lever, but before he fell I cut him lose
They called it a conspiracy, and that I had to die
So to close our mouths and kill our minds, they hung us side-by-side

And now we’re two hangmen, hangin’ from a tree
That don’t bother me, at all
Two hangmen, hangin’ from a tree
That don’t bother me, at all

Late this afternoon I stopped at a coffee shop to finish up my work day.  It seems that a lot of Christians like to meet a coffee shops to discuss and discover deeper aspects of their faith.  Today was no exception.  It’s not that I was trying to overhear their conversation, because I wasn’t.  I was trying to concentrate on my work, but their voices kept breaking into my reality.  In fact, their conversation was inescapable for anyone in the shop  — including those of us seated on the other side of the room.

Two men met up just as I was arriving.  One appeared to be a recent college graduate who was looking for a job.  The other appeared to be around 30.  There was a bit of banter about C.S. Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia as they stood in line — even the barista joined in with commentary of her own.  They continued to discuss Lewis as they sat down but soon branched out to cover other authors of religious writings.  From there they moved to Scripture and theology.  There were three things about their interaction that I found interesting.  Early on I noticed the role that each individual took.  The older took on the role of wise mentor guardian to the younger.  The younger implicitly accepted anything and everything that fell from the lips of the guardian.  Second, any author whose writings fell outside outside of the guardian’s fairly narrow evangelical view was deeply suspect and to be avoided.  Third, the guardian was very sure of his Biblical interpretation and his theology.  From time to time he would wax eloquent with great passion correcting and then instructing his young charge on how he should believe.  There was no doubt or question, he knew the truth — and the truth is seen in black and white.

I remember when I was that sure.  When it was all so simple, when I had all the answers and the truth was black and white.  A time when I parroted the truths I learned from my guardians to the proteges that were under my tutelage.  A time before I really began to wrestle with God, with life, with the harshness of the world within which we live.  A time when I thought I was living by faith, but truth be told, was more likely living by someone else’s faith.  A time when I shied away from authors who were not aligned closely enough with my faith for fear that their influence might somehow “corrupt” my belief system and turn me away from God.  A time when my God was too small.  A time when my God was hemmed in by the boundaries of a specific theology of a specific subset of a subset within the universal Church.

But life broke my theological boundaries and God escaped.  And when I went to find him, I found riches untold outside the borders that I had constructed.  I found that instead of providing protection, those boundaries had stunted my spiritual growth.  That God had endowed men and women from other faith traditions with a wealth of wisdom, knowledge and insight through which I could draw into closer relationship with him.  I also learned to not be so sure of myself, of my answers, of my understanding.  And I learned to be patient in the pursuit of truth.  To allow time for God to speak, to lead, to guide.

I am glad I now live in a world of uncertainty, for it is a world where God can be God.  A world where God can go exceedingly and abundantly beyond anything I could ever ask, hope, wish or think.  A world where he can work in me and through me in ways that I could never imagine.  All I have to do is say “yes” to the journey.

Yes.

On to the  journey.