I remember the stir when Joan Osborne came out with the hit single, “One of us”, written in 1995 by Eric Bazilian of The Hooters. The music video, filmed on Coney Island, uses multiple actors to stand in for the “God” face, associated with the question, “What if God was one of us, just a slob like one of us”. This week St Matthew in the City, an Anglican church in Auckland, New Zealand, put up their annual Christmas billboard, suggesting that Christmas is time for Jesus to come out, a statement about God identifying with the gay and lesbian community. Back in 1995, and now in 2012, it’s time for revisiting the good news that God, in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and the presence of the Spirit of God, is with all of us, identifying with all of us, in solidarity with all of us. The Christian gospel has at its heart the reassurance that at every part of our lives we are not alone.
Vulnerable With Us
I know that only two of the gospels begin with the “Christmas story”, focusing on the birth and infancy narratives of Jesus before heading into the actions and teachings of Jesus. These narratives could be interpreted as making Jesus’ birth auspicious, more significant than those of others. I choose to focus on the earthiness of the stories. Here we have someone living out the vision of God in a fragile, mortal body with a beginning and a certain end, like the rest of us. This is no omnipresent (all powerful) omniscient (all perceiving) and omnipotent (all powerful) deity here for a brief visit. This is the story of a person who must focus on a small geographic circle, with a limited perspective on the past, present and future, and with inspiration and character as the basis for influencing his world, like most of the rest of us.
When facing the fragility of life I am comforted to know that somehow God is in this world with me and my fellow citizens of Earth. I’m not expecting or looking for a “fix all the evil in the world” framework, that depends on people towing the line and living right. What I’m more interested is the “with you in this” commitment shown by people like the Anarchist Soccer Mom who blogged today on “Thinking the Unthinkable”, writing about her experience of being the parent of a child with dangerous mental illness.
Eating With Us
Each of the four Christian gospel narratives shows Jesus embracing scandal by associating himself with people on the margins of society. The culture in which Jesus lived was dominated by voices focused on purity through exclusion, staying separate from those believed to have compromised standards of behaviour, belief or cultural practice. Jesus made it a practice to eat with social outcasts, touch the untouchables, and look for the people who had become out of sight, out of mind. The Christian community has a call to follow suit. It’s tempting to focus on setting up a place where others might dare to enter. However the lifestyle of Jesus was more about hanging out in spaces created and frequented by others. I’ll be keeping that in mind next time I’m at the shopping mall food court…
Time With Us
Christian congregations and agencies are known here for making an effort to provide for the needy, whether that be through providing accommodation for the elderly, supporting young families with counselling and emergency relief, or providing support to the homeless. To sustain this work we need to keep an eye on fund raising, project management, business plans, service delivery, compliance and standards of quality. But what counts for more is the human interaction that reminds all involved that we are connected, linked together, learning together what it means to be fully human.
Praying With Us
Many Christian services of worship have a section at the beginning focused on “confession”. We concur with God’s perspective on the human condition, and humbly look for the capacity to begin again. We’re assured that we are indeed forgiven. I think our acknowledgement of the human condition needs to also pay attention to the disconnectedness experienced by us all. We need prayers that acknowledge the isolation we feel as face uncertainty about the future. We need prayers that lament the sense of abandonment experienced by those affected by gun violence or marginalization of refugees. We need prayers that acknowledge how hard it is to be aware of others when we’re dealing with the pain associated with disease, disability or dysfunction. In all this we need more than just a new start. We need to hear the message, “You are not alone”.
More to come as I work on this theme, during a Christmas Day service I’m leading at O’Connor Uniting, and in the book I’m crafting over the summer.
Click on the image below to play the One of Us music video in YouTube (HD)
The One of Us music video, by the way, was directed by Mark Seliger (Black Dog Films) and Fred Woodward.