Urban Legend in a Small Town

source: simpleinsomnia via Flickr
source: simpleinsomnia via Flickr

Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”

He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was completely restored. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.

My town is a fascinating place. Founded by a charismatic Pastor from the Netherlands, his talented child bride, and hundreds of his staunch Dutch Calvinist followers, I am continually amazed at how its founders continue to mold and influence our present. If you move to Pella you will likely be warned by someone not to mow your lawn on Sunday or to be prepared to face the social and religious wrath of your neighbors. I’m not sure if you can all it an urban legend in a town our size. Legends are often rooted in some truth, and at one time I know that mowing on Sunday would incur a neighbors wrath – though I’ve not found that to be the case today.

For good, or for ill, you’ll find religious conviction still plays a huge role in our community. As President of our local community theatre I get to read and respond to the letters our merry stage troupe receives each time we offend one of religion’s perturbed minions. A few years ago Wendy and I were in a play about a radio station in northern Minnesota that was run out of a corner of the local tap, called Carl & Lena’s Place for Beer. The commercials for this small station were jingles sung live on the air and, in our production, the jingles were all sung to the tune of old hymns. Apparently, some of our religious audience members were offended in “hard liquor” being served on stage and the sacrilege of the “great hymns of the faith” being parodied to sell Ole’s ice hole augers.

In my graciously worded responses, I explained that no hard liquor is served on stage (it’s usually ice tea or apple juice). I also tried to provide a history lesson. The truth is that many “great hymns of the faith” started out as bar songs which the hymn writers stole because they were catchy tunes and the they wanted to appeal to guys like Sven sitting down at Carl & Lena’s Place for Beer. In a way, we were simply paying homage to the original source of some of those hymns and besides, I did not add, it was really funny!

I’m quite sure my letter was unappreciated, and my history lesson fell to blind eyes.

Jesus was dealing with the same kind of staunch religiosity back in his day. Religion has a way of obfuscating the simple, productive intent of God’s prescriptions for life and churning them into a weighty, prohibitive volume of institutional regulations. The religious rule keepers of Jesus day were more concerned with his “working” to heal someone on the Sabbath day than they were with the fact that a paralyzed man was healed.

The truth is, I don’t mow my lawn on Sunday unless there’s some extenuating circumstance. This is not because I’m afraid of the religious wrath of my neighbors, but because I’ve come to really appreciate the quiet on Sundays. I like taking naps during the Cubs game and it’s nice not having the din of a hundred mowers disturbing me. Jesus also said in today’s chapter, “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.” I try to respect the Sunday naps of my neighbors.

 

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