October 6, Vineyard2.0

Maybe a different, but for me very real, small picture perspective on the Parable of the Vineyard that is seeming obvious these days. Some 50+ years ago when I entered the Active Duty Army I began to realize that the questions I had the answers to were questions that nobody was asking. Their questions were real life stuff, life and death and everything in between, eg: “where is God in all this?”; “how can God allow this killing etc to go on?”; “we’re glad you’re with us Chaplain, but where is God?”. Celebrating masses in the midst of all the nasty stuff was a new experience for all of us, including those of little or no religious tradition. Mass took on a whole new meaning well beyond what I had learned back then that is still happening and growing, perhaps different from established terms, but very real. Some of the Masses offended liturgical purists, so I’ve been told. As I was preparing for Active Duty, well-meaning priests told me I could not “save my soul” in the Army. There was absolutely no correlation between what I was prepared for and what actually happened. My first several years were a very steep learning curve with fits, starts, failures, lots of learning. For a long time I felt like a fish out of water. The military culture is so different from civilian life that folks outside it have no idea of what it really is. That’s not good or bad, it just is. As difficult and eye-opening as it was, I wouldn’t change a thing, although back then I didn’t say this. With respect to the well-meaning priests, it is easier to “save my soul” in the Army, because just about everything is of the nitty-gritty of real life, death, wondering, and not about property or bills — no place to hide from the Gospel. Same church and same Gospel lived and experienced in very different ways.

Then, some years later when I separated from Active Duty and returned to civilian life, I wasn’t ready for that either. Again, the questions I had the answers for, very different this time, nobody was asking, nobody knew, nobody cared. It was a completely different life, really a shock in many ways. Yet, in retrospect, it all was God being God in my life, planting a vineyard, putting a hedge around it, digging a wine press, and building a tower, with me all the while kicking and screaming. Perhaps to protect myself from any more stuff, I became like the tenants in the vineyard, trying to control everything, operating from a position of anger projected outward so things were never my fault but always someone else’s. Then, over many years, God sent his Son into my life in many different folks and situations and medical events, and even the unexpected recall to Active Duty. Often I treated Him then as the tenants did in the Parable, not very nicely. God didn’t quit, though I really told Him many times that I wish he would leave me alone since I already knew what I needed to know to “get to heaven”.  

As Francis Thompson says in The Hound of Heaven, “I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years; I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways Of my own mind”. But, also, “those strong Feet that followed, followed after. .  .” God kept sending his Son in the form of wonderful folks of all ages, and an amazing dog. I wasn’t nice to many of them, but God kept coming “with unhurrying chase, And unperturbèd pace”. On the one hand, the Parable speaks about God helping me build my own vineyard, my life, while on the other it speaks of my less than desirable attitude toward the God who is, which was heavily influenced by the god who isn’t — the god I was creating for myself. The parable speaks of God loving each one of us, working with us to make our own life in the midst of so much confusion and reason to fear. Throughout it all, in the midst of, or maybe in spite of, the dumb things I did, good was happening. I see that now.

For many folks Jesus just tells us how to “get to heaven”, and from this perspective doesn’t have much influence on our day to day living, since it’s all about what comes later after we die. But, when we listen to Jesus saying “the kingdom of God is among you” we might come to realize he is talking about our living right here and now, not about “pleasing a distant God” for later, living now with each other in the manner in which we are constantly being created. God is tending his vineyard, which is each of us here and now, through every one and every thing in our life. Jesus invites us to recognize this and cooperate with God. If we are open to it the Parable might talk to us about God being God in our life, through the rough spots and the easy ones. It’s good to remember that, no matter what is going on in our life, in no way are we ever alone. This might take a while to get. Often God loving us is something we can accept intellectually, but is very difficult to accept experientially. Is God that real? If we see God as a verb, our life is a process, a journey from God, with  God, to God, and, with our cooperation, God is guiding our journey in ways we don’t understand yet, but might later. It is a matter of believing “in” God, that starts with believing “about” God, but goes far beyond. It’s quite an adventure. We come to experience God being dynamic and very involved.

I guess that where I am these days might be seen by the system as a no-no. I’m constantly reminded that God loves each of us as we are, not as anybody else tells us we should be. No one knows who we are as well as we do ourselves. I’m learning my role is not to judge, condemn, or expect others to think and and see as I do, but to accompany, bless, accept, look for the good in all around me, to recognize God sending his Son among us in new ways I might not expect, to see God in the good happening in unexpected places, the caring for each other and for the environment being done by folks who aren’t using acceptable gospel terms, to be with the sick, the lonely, the suffering, the outcasts, caring for the environment, living responsibly. This is God being God, but what does it say to me now, how do I do it?  What is the Spirit calling me to? Perhaps a worthwhile question for all of us, especially these days.  Just sayin .  .  .