Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (Luke 9:18-36) transports me to my first time visiting the home of our good friends Nestor and Mabel in San José de las Lajas, Cuba. Nestor is the van driver for the Fraternity of Baptists; my first trip in the late 90s had been the maiden voyage for him and the van. We became good friends and spent much time together over the course of the next few trips, and then one summer when Kim and I were in Cuba for a month, he invited us to his home. We were the first “foreign” guests he and Mabel had ever hosted, and it quite was a special privilege. I remember the great pride he had in showing me their new television set, something of a rarity in those years for Cubans who had been through the austerity and self-denial of the Special Period. He had used the gift money one of our groups had collected for him to buy it. We enjoyed watching an episode of the Hillbilly Bears cartoon; he had been telling me for a long time that I reminded him of the mumbling and shuffling papa bear from the cartoon. Fast forward several years, when Kim and I had the opportunity to return Nestor and Mabel’s hospitality by hosting them in our home. It was their first trip off the island, and we had lots of sight-seeing excursions planned. Later, when I asked Nestor what some of his most memorable experiences were, one that rose to the top of the list was our visit to the local Best Buy store. I forget what we had gone in to buy, but Nestor was drawn to the back of the store and the wall to wall big screen tvs, all displaying a NASCAR race, complete with the loud roar of the engines. He was mesmerized, and just stood there for the longest time, watching that collection of dazzling big screen images covering the wall. You’d have thought he had died and gone to glory. Our trip to the Biltmore House paled in comparison.
When I read the familiar transfiguration passage in Luke’s gospel, it speaks to me of the extremes of austere self-denial and extravagant glory. Jesus goes from speaking of suffering and the gravity of the cross, to the mountain-top experience where he is clothed in a lightning-like apparel. His rock-star-like dazzling and mesmerizing appearance startles his followers out of their sleepiness. They gawk and stare and are filled with desire, wanting to stay glued to that spot and abandon the old life with all its references to suffering and death. They hear a voice thundering from the clouds, and suddenly, it is all over. Time to go back to the real world.
I never had a big screen tv, but I remember a time when I loved going in to the Best Buy, because they often had rock videos on the screen, and I’d get my fix while “shopping” for something. I remember not too long after coming back from that trip in ’98 when we first visited Nestor and Mabel, I was in the Best Buy and got mesmerized watching U2’s latest concert video, from the ’97 Popmart tour. The middle of the set had a whole string of some of my favorite songs, New Year’s Day, Pride, Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, Desire, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Where the Streets Have No Name, and in the middle of these familiar songs was one from the Pop album that I hadn’t heard, and it floored me. The lyric spoke of being stuck together with God’s glue, and staring at the sun. This song, and the whole Pop album was an attempt by Bono and company to satirize our consumer culture’s fascination with all things dazzling and mesmerizing, including their own rise to the mount of transfiguration, where their followers had come to see them as iconic gods. But at the end of the day, the world of suffering down below was still there, with military still in town, armor plated suits and ties. . . God is good but will He listen, I’m nearly great but there’s something missing. . . I’m staring at the sun. . . Standing there in the Best Buy made so clear our world of competing callings and dual desires: the dazzle of the wall-covered big screens versus the dismal realities Bono described of a world covered in mililtarism and poverty, the captivating magnetism of lightning-clad rock-star Jesus verses the clarion call to take up a cross and follow him down the mountain. Sitting square in the middle of these competing clamors is a simple home in San José, with the Hillbilly Bears dubbed in Spanish on a small screen. I guess I’ll keep on mumbling and shuffling as I try to sort it all out.
How about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.