Sunday, May 20, 2012

Summer Reading Course

My major shift in focus for my Ph.D. has resulted in a shift in my independent study... so this is what I will be reading this summer!  I am excited and motivated.  Which is good.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Jesus Sign

Today was Cinco de Mayo, on the fifth of May, no less.  It's not an official Mexican holiday, for the record.  Mexicans know about it, but only because Americans think it's a Mexican holiday and drink copious amounts of tequila on this date, thereby stimulating the Mexican economy.

Regardless, every May there is a huge festival on Cherokee Street to celebrate this non-holiday.  There used to be a good amount of Mexican vendors during this festival.  I have lived in this area for five years now and interestingly, as the festival has grown bigger, and it has become less "Mexican" to the point where you can get kabobs, gyros, and Korean food along with tacos, elotes and raspados.  There is a stage with traditional Mexican music on one end, and a stage with local rap and hip-hop artists on the other.  In other words, it's just an excuse for a big party with fish bowl margaritas.  Although the crowds are ethnically diverse and probably from different parts of the city, the deafening noise (and copious amounts of tequila) makes it  hard for anyone to strike up a conversation, let alone make a new friend.

The Mormon missionaries were out in their ties and name tags (in Spanish).  I'm not sure how they were going to witness to anyone over the noise, but the message was certainly not lost on me.  This is a crowd of people who are searching for something.  There was also a palm reading/tarot card tent this year.  Right next to the gyros.  Get your shaved meat and your future.

With every Cinco de Mayo on Cherokee Street, there is a parade.  I have watched many parades on Cherokee Street.  There is the one for Cinco de Mayo, one for the Shaman Festival, a few other random parades, and the Naked Bike Ride.  With the exception of the latter, all the parades are mostly the same.  There are the hula-hoop people with extensive body piercings and tattoos, the large paper-mache golden bull with large testicles, the paper-mache bikes of various animals, the people
dressed up like American Indians or forest animals dancing to hand drums, etc.  Again, the message is not lost on me.

And here we are, with our Jesus sign posted to our fence.  I don't remember if I've written about the Jesus sign; it was a hand-made present from our neighbor.  I think I would have preferred cookies at the time, but slowly the sign has grown on me until I have almost forgotten it is there.  But there it is, in all it's golden, stenciled glory. 

I have been thinking about what it means to be salt and light, a city on a hill (Matt. 5).  In the case of salt, or the kind used in Israel anyway, it had to be used or it would become useless.  Profound, I know.  It was stored on dirt floors in large piles and parceled out as it was sold.  If it stayed on the dirt floor too long, the dirt would have a chemical reaction with the salt and would transform it into more dirt, making it unusable for human consumption.  It couldn't be put on the garden either, because it was actually toxic, so it could only be used as gravel on the road. To be walked on.

In the case of the light, there seems to be a choice, albeit unlikely.  Either you can shine the light or you can put it under a basket (and set the house on fire), but the choice seems to be the same as with the salt analogy in terms of use/disuse.

The city metaphor is more intriguing.  Jesus says, "You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden."  He was not talking about a real city, although he was surely giving an image that the people would have understood.  He was saying that the church,  the families and individuals that make up the church, are the light of the world, as obvious as a city that is on a hill.  As obvious as a light in the darkness or salt on food.  Or a Jesus sign on Cherokee Street?

I'm learning to own the sign.  "Yeah, that's my Jesus sign.  I know a guy if you want one."  But seriously, what good is a sign?  Am I salt in my neighborhood, or am I just sitting in my house slowly becoming one with the couch?  Am I a light to my neighborhood, or am I hiding behind my curtains, blinds and alarm system watching the parades go by?

"And He was saying, 'The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows--how, he himself does not know. The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.' And He said, 'How shall we picture the kingdom of God, or by what parable shall we present it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the soil, though it is smaller than all the seeds that are upon the soil, yet when it is sown, it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and forms large branches; so that the birds of the air can nest under its shade.'"
(Mar 4:26-32)