2013-04-13

How Brave the Fire: A Retold Tale

Though I may speak with bravest fire,
And have the gift to all inspire,
And have not love, my words are vain,
as sounding brass, and hopeless gain.

Though I may give all I possess,
And striving so my love profess,
But not be given by love within,
The profit soon turns strangely thin.

Come, Spirit, come, our hearts control.
Our spirits long to be made whole.
Let inward love guide every deed;
By this we worship, and are freed.

(1st two verses from 1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

So this uptight dude from Tarsus named Saul, had a hobby of persecuting people. For his day job, he was a manufacturer of camping equipment. He had a website: Saul Things Camping ("The prices are fair, ya see.") Yet Saul himself was an unhappy camper.

He made tents. He made everybody tense. He made himself tense. Until the day Saul scored some primo weed: "Damascus Gold." Opened up a whole new world for him. Made him three days blind, and when he could see again, he could see.

He said, "Whoah, dig it. I am all new. I need a new name." Changed his name to Paul, and he was one hep cat.

Let me tell you about the trip he laid down on those brothers and sisters in Corinth. He went there and he asked them a strange question: "How brave does your fire need to be?"

These Corinthians, they were ministers. They had MDivs from Asia Minor Theological Seminary, and they all got a 1 from the MFC (Ministerial Fellowship of Corinth). They could whip up some decent inspiration, no problem. They could burn some pretty brave fire on a good day.

Paul said, "Groovy. Burn baby burn. Keep on burning, sisters. Flame on, brothers. But: how brave does your fire need to be?"

One Corinthian said, "Brave enough to burn up all the fear in the world."

Paul said, "All of it? Really? No, we need to be able to fear. You may not be a fear addict -- a junkie with the jones on for another hit of adrenalin speed; the short hairs on your neck standing at attention; pupils dilating to take in everything. Maybe you're not craving that it do so, but your body can fear, and that is a grace. You wouldn't want it not to be able to do that. Fear is a grace. So I ask again, how brave does your fire need to be?"

No one made a second guess, so Paul said: "The brave fire doesn't sear out the body's wise danger signals. It burns the cobwebs of fear, hanging around, clinging and sticky, long after the body-fear's gracious gift-work is done."

Then, since he wanted to include some Florida metaphor in the scripture he was laying down, he said, "The brave fire doesn't burn the oak; it burns the Spanish Moss of fear covering over and weighing down, harbouring little bugs to make your soul itch and crawl. That's a brave fire that can burn all that leftover, hanger-on fear, looping, looping, home for the persistent itchy epiphenomena of fear. The brave fire burns what just isn't needed anymore, burns the conscience that doth make cowards of us all, burns us into our courage. Do you speak with that brave fire? Have you ever? Maybe once? Well burn on, baby. That's great."

"Let me just ask you this," continued Paul. "Right now, this evening, right here, each other, where's the love, man?"

Those Corinthians couldn't answer. Paul rested in their silence until he was sure he could see where the love was. Then he said, "Look. No, really: look. What have you got? Look and see. Take inventory. What have you got? You've got possessions. OK. A house, a car, a closet full of clothes, bookshelves sagging with the weight of those volumes you got back in school. Throw it all out if you want to. I mean, that biographical analysis of the theology of John Calvin? When are you going to need that again? That sounding brass that you got at that little gift shop at that spiritual retreat center because you thought it would be a cool thing for a minister to have, what are you still carrying that around for? Chuck it all. Or, heck, don't. Keep it. I don't care. Keeping it is useless. Giving it away proves nothing. So, whatever.

"What else? What else you got? One hell of a work ethic. OK. What else? Fatigue. Well, yeah, that goes with the work ethic. What did I tell you about those John Calvin books? What else? Hope. That's cool. Anger. Yeah, you got that. Faith. Courage. Good boundaries -- well, most of the time. Professional expertise and a great bag of tools. That's all good stuff. What else?"

"Love," said one of those Corinthians.

"Bingo," said Paul. "You got love. You got love like an ocean in your soul."

And just as the Corinthians were breathing a collective sigh of relief, Paul said, "Now get it out."

"What?"

"Get it out. Take love out of that box you carry it around in, that casket you call your heart, open up that box and take out the love you have."

"You said it was an ocean," objected one Corinthian.

"Yeah, you're mixing metaphors," added another.

"I'm not mixing them, I'm switching them. You gotta be quick. You gotta be nimble. C'mon, keep up with me. Now take it out."

"You mean, like, metaphorically?"

"Whatever. Just, let me see it."

The Corinthians sat there, just looking. Kind of like you are now.

Paul said, "What's the matter, take it out. Come on. How hard could that be? Simply open up the box of your heart, and let your love out. Just do it."

Finally, one of the Corinthians said, "Paul, I'd like to, really, I would. And I know I have the love. I feel it glowing in there right now, and I have felt what it was like when the box opened, but I can't just open the box on command."

Paul said, "So you're a failure then." And the Corinthian was suddenly very interested in her shoes.

"How about the rest of you?" But they were all interested in their shoes too.

"You can't do it, can you? You can't say, 'I'm going to open that box,' and reach in and open it. You can't make that box open up so that your love can be unmistakably seen. Can you?"

The Corinthians slowly shook their heads.

"So you're all failures."

There was a long and awkward silence.

One of the Corinthians finally said, "So what do we do now?"

"So what do we do now?" repeated Paul. "We need your brave fire to burn with love, because there is such a thing as burning without it. Yet you can't make the love come out. Not by yourself. It comes out when it is born out on the winds of spirit that are not held within you but which come into being among us and between us, the spirit that comes to be yours but first was ours. You made the love, but you don't open the box to let it out, to let it be seen and recognised and take effective form. You don't open the box to let out your love. We do. And we do even when we don't know what we're doing and don’t mean to be doing it. The spirit which is beyond our control but which our connection somehow mysteriously creates, takes control of our hearts, brings our love into the broad day. The spirit that is us brings wholeness to our fragmented, separate individual hearts and spirits. Then inward love directs all our doing. And when your love is set free, so are you."

"So...we're not failures then?"

"Oh, yes, you sure are. Forever do you -- and I -- fail. And, through each other, forever are you and I being redeemed."

A Corinthian said, "Paul, that's great. I'm just not quite clear on how that answers the question."

Paul said, "What was the question?"

"The question was, So what do we do now?"

"So what do we do now?" Paul repeated again. "What we do now is pray. Together."

"Pray for us, Paul," shouted a Corinthian in the back.

But Paul said, "Oh, no. You know the words."