A New Way Instead of the No Way

Though years ago, I still recall when my routine and well-deserved afternoon nap was interrupted by a call from China. Maybe you get those all the time . . . not me!

My wife had joined other university colleagues for an educational adventure to the land of terra cotta warriors, Tiananmen Square, and cities like Shanghai with its population of a gazillion (officially now over 24,000,000). Before departing our little village of Fresno (with its paltry 500,000 residents), she promised to call—at least to try—while tramping along the Great Wall.

And so, the phone awoke me.

“How are you?”

“Fine, how are you?”

“Fine.”

“Love you.”

“Love you too.”

“Are you okay?”

“Where are you?”

I could continue recreating our ninety-second conversation, but I don’t want you to drift off into your own nap.

She’d borrowed a friend’s international cell phone that then digitally borrowed fiber optic cables and satellite links and who-knows-what connections to facilitate a banal, stunning talk between a sleepy husband and a wife standing on a wall completed about 221 B.C.E.

Mostly, I was glad she was safe and having a good time.

How amazing, though! Our “Hellos” and “Love yous” were exchanged while the 65.3 million square mile Pacific Ocean flowed clockwise between us. Amazing for my wife to perch on the edge of structure begun in the 8th Century B.C.E. and to gaze at hills just as Confucius (551 B.C.E. – 479 B.C.E.) may have done 2,500 years before her. Of course, I’m stretching imagination like fresh taffy to historically link my wife’s brief Great Wall sojourn to an activity the famous Chinese philosopher could have undertaken. For all I know, Confucius knew less, and maybe cared less, about the Great Wall than you or I do now.

I just want to create context, ya know! She spoke from a wall built several millennia ago. There was a vast ocean separating us. It was a conversation between distant continents.

Not too long ago, we enjoyed time with out-of-state friends in San Francisco. Among other topics, we marveled at the cable cars. They are charming, distinctive, and remain a good transportation option for the city’s steep hills. And, by the way, how do they work? I tried to explain the simple underground mechanism first used on Nob Hill in 1873.

1873!

Doesn’t that seem antiquated, an historic relic? Well, perhaps not when wondering if, 25 centuries ago, Confucius scurried along the same stone path that my wife did!

Be careful about what impresses you.

About twenty centuries ago, a fellow named Peter, a devout Jew, visited with Cornelius (see Acts 10:44-48 and the surrounding verses). Since Cornelius was not a Jew, he was deemed the other category: Gentile, as in Jew vs. Gentile. Two different ways and worlds, separated—literally and metaphorically—by circumcision. It’s a great moment; a faith-shattering and faith-building encounter. Peter, the devout Jew and newbie follower of Jesus the Christ finally got it through his thick, rocky noggin: all are welcome in God’s realm of love!!!! (Yeah, it was definitely a multiple exclamation point experience for the disciple who’d denied knowing Jesus a few months before.) Peter, by way of a vision, the swirl of the Spirit, and being eyeball-to-eyeball with the uncircumcised Cornelius, had a light bulb in his brain finally switch on. Or, to be first century about it, an oil candle sputtered to life in his cranium.

All are welcome. All are welcome? Really?

Was China, or the Chinese people, ever mentioned in the Bible? I don’t think so, though I could be wrong. Am I?

Peter, finally getting it, wondered, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people?”

Five hundred years before Peter’s awakening, Buddha settled beneath the Bodhi tree and into enlightenment. I know so little about Buddhism (or Hinduism or Islam), but am thankful to live in a world and an era where I understand there is more than merely the circumcised and uncircumcised. The Biblical worldview I embrace—with its call to love the neighbor that I can barely live out on any given day—is limited. The sacred scripture of my tradition is a start, but never the end, in how we might glimpse the unlimited love of Creator for creation.

Peter probably never knew of Buddha. After all, Siddhārtha Gautama had died five centuries before the so-called “first Pope” figured out that Cornelius was welcome. And that’s fine. The context of the Bible, of these verses I treasure, can only hint at the Holy.

And yet I read about Peter as he crosses the threshold of Cornelius’ home and am thankful.

Peter changed.

The Spirit spun him around. An old worldview was abandoned. The barnacles of us vs. them were scraped from his soul. He saw a new instead of the no way.

Enthralled with Peter’s own awakening, let me be a fool for Christ by never shutting the doors on others. I have been privileged to baptize fellow travelers in the Christian faith. And I am blessed to learn from those with faith traditions different from mine.

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