Monday, July 2, 2018

Plastic Jesus

 (Submitted by Kerry Patton)
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walkhumblywith your God.  Micah 6:8
Meet Allen EakerIn 1980, my father, a minister in the Methodist church, was appointed to serve in the small West Texas town of O’Donnell, Texas. O’Donnell claims fame as the home of actor Dan Blocker of television’s “Bonanza” series, and in my life as the home of one Allen Eaker.  Allen was then the 17 year old son of Kenneth and Ann Eaker, cotton farmers and faithful Southern Baptist members of the First Baptist Church there in town.  
Allen possessed genuine clean-cut All American look, and might well have passed as Opie Taylor’s near adult twin brother from Mayberry RFD and the Andy Griffith Show.  Quickly, upon our moving into the community, were Allen and my older sister Melissa introduced to one another, and they began dating soon thereafter. This reality made him a relative fixture at our home during the weekdays, and allowed my friendship with him to flourish.  Allen became an older brother figure to me, a protector for me at school, and a mentor in guitar playing, as he was himself a very skilled musician.
One of my memories of Allen playing guitar was him sitting in our living room and strumming my Conn Classical guitar, singing: “I don’t care if it rains or freezes, as long as I got that plastic Jesus sitting on the dashboard of my car…”.  To see and hear Allen sing the words brought laughter to all of our faces instantly.  Just those few words…even without the remainder of the song, the absurdity, and idolatry of the message was obvious to us all.  Some tiny reproduction plastic image of the Son of God was not going to shield anyone from any mishap or misfortune.  That wasn’t how the presence of God, and power of God worked. Even I, at 15 years old knew that.
The Song
Plastic Jesus is an (I suggest – quite irreverent)American folk song written in 1957 by Ed Rush and George Cromarty that was inspired, it seems, by a religious radio station in Del Rio, Texas around the same time.  A religious fanatic is said to have run the station and used its outreach to sell various products which he claimed all had magical healing properties.  
In 1967, actor Paul Newman is seen singing Plastic Jesus in the role of Cool Hand Luke, in the movie of the same name, while playing a banjo in a dark scene where he has just learned of his mother’s death.  An isolated lyric from Newman’s performance includes the words:
“Going ninety I aint scary
Cause I got the Virgin Mary
Assurin’ me that I won’t go to Hell.”

The relevancy of Plastic Jesus might possibly be in the consideration that it is a window into the world of bitter skepticism held by angry unbelievers, or perhaps more tragically – a window into the misplaced faith of persons who miss the intimacy of a legitimate relationship with our Lord Jesus, trading it for an artificial guardian God, who out of his righteous love, won’t condemn anyone for anything they do wrong…because they are good people.  God is their “get out of jail free” card.  All too often, in this case, when this “protect me, prosper me” God fails to measure up, he is abandoned altogether…never having been experienced in reality or proper context.
The Reply to Plastic Jesus
So, what is the antidote to the bitter water of Plastic Jesus?  How do we respond to the ignorance…the naivete of faith so shallow that an ant could wade in it without getting his socks damp?  What is the proper response to angry skepticism that rolls its eyes as we bow our heads to pray in restaurants, or mocks our belief in (their words)a fantasy God?  Certainly, we must strive to engage in dialogue rather than in debate.  But overarchingly, we must seek to live out our faith legitimately, and authentically. I submit the following three scriptures as examples of where to start:
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Luke 10:27 “He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’””
Micah 6:8 8“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walkhumblywith your God.”

And these, dear friends, are to be practiced and lived.  Not simply preached.  Amen?

Heavenly Father, may I, like Paul be crucified daily so that Jesus may be seen alive and living through me.  Help me to live and love this day humbled and honored to bear your name, and empowered to serve and represent you as I walk this earth.  Let me seek and serve not the plastic Jesus, but the one of flesh and bone, who laid down his life for the sake of the whole world.  Amen.

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