Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Good Shepherd and the "Different Drummer"

When I was in high school, I liked to think of myself as intellectually superior. It's one of the hazards of being young. It was the 60's - and on TV, I saw that young people were pushing the envelopes of lifestyles and thought. Even though I lived in a small town far from Hippie havens, I wanted to be that too. Also, I was the nerd kid who wore glasses, never dated until Junior year prom. I was the kid reading The Lord of the Rings during freshman study hall and getting weird looks. I was the kid taking 5 subjects instead of 4. I was going to college.  I didn't (and still don't) do chick flicks.

During that time, I thought Jesus was for sentimental people who weren't smart enough to know better.  (I was raised mixed Protestant with a large dose of Unitarian, seasoned with after-dinner discussions of existentialism with my stepfather, a former minister.)

My personal motto was from Henry David Thoreau: "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."  I believed I was meant to do that. I was special. I was different. I abhorred mediocrity and my greatest fear was that I would be "ordinary." I did NOT want to be a sheep.

In college, I continued that. I quickly found a relationship with a like-minded young man (who later became my husband) took as many courses as possible each semester, participated in anti-war protests, went to rock concerts and blues bars, spent lots of time in libraries, read voraciously, spent hours in record stores looking for non-mainstream music. We almost never partied. We were serious students. We went to graduate school and the intellectual distance between me and those from my small town widened. I continued to follow the beat of the "different drummer." We were part of the intellectual elite. We were also unchurched.

Fast-forward to 1986. I had, in the meantime had married my young man, who, not incidentally, was an inactive Catholic. Following the usual formula, I promised to raise any children as Catholics. By 1986, my oldest was in preschool and my latent memories of Protestant Sunday School kicked in - I figured it was time to get my boy in.. and I wanted to learn what he would be learning. Next thing you know, I was in the RCIA and joining the Church. The Shepherd had found a lost sheep. (I had a clear vision of a sheep-hook reaching out and grabbing me at one point early on!)

What I found was a Church (and a Jesus) far different from my expectations. I learned to love the parish community - people of all backgrounds and abilities. I learned that it was OK to be a sheep, if I was in the right flock. I learned that my role on earth was to cooperate with God's grace in "building the kingdom."  I learned about the Social Teaching of the Church:  the dignity of EVERY human person, passion for the poor and downtrodden, advocacy for those who have no voice, opposition to injustice... and I learned that the Christian life was not for milquetoasts or intellectual lightweights. (In the personal hardship of the years that have followed, this has only been reinforced.)

I have learned over the years that Jesus Christ is the different drummer in today's culture. That to be Christian is to be truly counter-cultural. In a world where beliefs about life, marriage, and sin are now regularly challenged by the media, the mainstream culture, politicians and those who make laws, we who follow the teaching of Christ and his Church have become the ones who are seen as outside the pale. Others see us as having antiquated beliefs that must be changed. Pretty much they misunderstand those beliefs - and have beliefs from mainstream Christian churches mixed in with those of conservative, intolerant right-wing Evangelicals who have re-written Christian belief as a political agenda. Readers are, no doubt, familiar with all the issues, as hardly a day goes by when some of them are not in the news.

Today, many years out of high school, I can honestly say that I still follow a different drummer. However, he's not some abstract intellectual ideal. He is a living being, who came as a carpenter from Nazareth, who died and rose for our sins, who loves us unconditionally. He is the Good Shepherd who seeks his lost sheep (as he did me) who must weep at much that he sees in today's world. Our vocation, as his disciples, is to weep, too. But also to follow and be faithful, to likewise seek the lost sheep, even in the face of opposition and adversity. We are sheep, but we also are followers who must take up our cross and follow Jesus Christ to Calvary and beyond, who are called to preach, teach and baptize in the name of the Shepherd. Jesus Christ IS my different drummer - and I follow him gladly...

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