Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage (Acts 17:1-9) transports me to the fictional town of Angel Grove, California, where a teenage boy named Jason is recruited to lead four of his friends into an epic battle of good versus evil. These teenagers with attitude are given Power Coins that enable them to transform into various superhero figures, and they proceed to turn the world upside down as the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. But suddenly the scene changes and I’m transported instead to Camp Crystal Lake in Blairstown, New Jersey, where the camp’s cook, Mrs. Voorhees, has a disturbed son named Jason who winds up donning a hockey mask and terrorizing the campers through countless Friday the 13th movies. And just as suddenly, I’m whisked away from this turbulent lake and find myself on an Italian fishing boat off the coast of France, where the fishermen reel in an unconscious gunshot victim out of the water. When the man wakes up, he finds he is suffering from amnesia, and thus the Bourne trilogy is underway, with the renegade wanted man Jason Bourne searching for his true identity as he escapes the grasp of the powers time and time again.
I couldn’t help but take this stroll down Jason lane as I read the passage in Acts, about Paul and his cohorts stirring up trouble and finding refuge in the house of one Jason of Thessalonica. Jason is hauled before the authorities for providing this safe haven, and the charges are that he and Paul and the others have been turning the world upside down with their preaching, defying the authority of King Caesar by fomenting a revolutionary movement around a supposed new king, Jesus. It was indeed a flipping over of imperial world values, the very idea that a peasant child from the backwash far corners of the empire could grow up to be a king in that land where pedigree and status were everything. It wasn’t just defiant; it was downright deviant in its thought processes. And that wasn’t all – Jason and company were claiming that this way out woodworker, this same one who had been chopped down to size and crucified with thieves, was actually God in the flesh, and had even conquered death. It was enough to stir up a crowd.
I thought about how Jason represents the life of the church, of Christianity, throughout the history of the faith. In that early phase of church life, when it was a taboo practice and could get you killed, Jason and the early church leaders were very much like Jason Lee Scott and his band of “teenagers with attitude.” These early followers of Jesus were mighty power rangers, not afraid of the threats of this world, not afraid of death; they were able to work mighty wonders, all through the power of love. Through this amazing power, they could give people the gift to morph from bad to good. Paul had certainly morphed, from the murderous and threatening persecutor of Christians to the great Christian church-starter. The stories in Acts really do reveal the life of a community with attitude, a community not afraid of the empire, a wonder working community that opted out of the world system by holding all things in common and breaking down all the dividing walls of culture. Then, 300 years into the rangers work, the world got wise, and found a way to return the favor and turn the church upside down. When Constantine converted, making the entire empire “Christian”, the church indeed morphed. The cognitive dissonance involved in trying to weld together the teachings of Jesus into the rule of an empire was enough to make Jason a disturbed child. It wasn’t long before he began donning the hockey mask, creating a slasher series of Friday the 13th episodes throughout church history that included the violence of the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Holocaust, all carried out under the banner of Christ. Fast forward to the Church and Christianity now, and you get the sense that we are more often like Jason Bourne, suffering from amnesia and confused over our identity. I think of the scene when Jason Bourne gets to the safety deposit box, hoping it will provide him with a clue to his real identity, and instead he finds a whole stack of passports, each with a different identity. That is Christianity today, a thousand different passports with different denominational and sectarian names, ranging from the highly ceremonial to the apocalyptic to the charismatic to the activist on both left and right. And like Bourne, we are searching for our true identity, and we are seeking a way to escape the grasp of the powers of this world that have coopted us into their service. As we search, maybe the lyrics of another Jason can provide us with our best clue – Well open up your mind and see like me, Open up your plans and then you’re free, Look into your heart and you’ll find love love love love, Listen to the music of the moment people, dance and sing, We’re just one big family, And it’s our God-forsaken right to be loved loved loved loved loved, There’s no need to complicate, ‘Cause our time is short, This is our fate. . .
As always, your feedback and comments are welcome.