Since my dad discovered his music in 2007, Paul Thorn has been one of my favorite theologians. Songs like "800 Pound Jesus" remind me of the unfailing friendship of Jesus Christ, "a bigger man than you or me." I like to study the story of Pentecost in Acts alongside "Mission Temple Fireworks Stand" and its Holy Spirit fire. I wrote a blog post last year about his song, "I Hope I'm Doing This Right"--a favorite prayer of mine. Paul Thorn's songs are honest, real, and creative. They always make me think. Usually, they make me laugh, too.
One of the greatest laughs from Thorn came to me while driving eastbound on barren Highway 84, a south Mississippi road peppered with Apostolic and Baptist churches. My destination was a pot of coffee, round tables, and a mandatory gathering of preachers. The sixty-mile drive with nothing but music as my passenger was exactly what I needed on that fall day. Little did I know that a theology lesson would come between the towns of Roxie and Bude.
"Here's some new music from Paul Thorn."
The deejay's announcement found me fumbling to turn up the volume.
My family reunion is going on today
My relatives have all flown in from places far away
As we sit there eatin' chicken, it hits me like a truck:
I don't like half the folks I love. *
I don't know what I was expecting Paul Thorn to say, but it wasn't that. I laughed and slapped the steering wheel. He went on to sing about how difficult people can be, especially family members. No matter how much we dislike each other's actions, we can't help but love each other.
The book of Genesis reminds us of how complicated families can be: jealousy between siblings, arguments over land, a conniving father-in-law, deception around inheritance, sisters vying for a man's attention, etc. And this is Jesus' family! His ancestors were one, big, dysfunctional family who didn't really like half the folks they loved. Why would God choose to join the mess of a family?
There are many ways to answer that question. Perhaps one is that God wants for all of us to become his family.
In God's family, the body of Christ, we aren't always going to like each other either. Fires of conflict will start, and some will burn out. We'll disagree and let each other down. No matter what we dislike, we are still called to love. A question I often hear is one with which many of us struggle: how do we love someone who has wronged or betrayed us?
That's a love that only Jesus Christ can put into us and demonstrate through us. It's a love we can only give to each other after we've received it from God. Even with his love working through us, the struggle to like each other will still be present.
In this world we live in
This I guarantee:
We all need more tolerance
To get along peacefully.
But I'm not as nice as Jesus.
And I really am fed up.
I don't like half the folks I love.*
Perhaps loving begins with accepting the fact that we'll always struggle with "liking." Perhaps we'll love best when we admit to God that we need help with the loving. Perhaps we'll realize that no matter how much we hurt each other, at the core of our being is a desire to love and to be loved. Let's start by receiving God's love through Jesus Christ. Let's take time to laugh at how far short we all fall of "being as nice as Jesus." Let's try to love, even when we don't like it!
all good things to each of you,
* "I Don't Like Half the Folks I Love" is on Paul Thorn's album, Pimps and Preachers. Yep, that's the album title. You can find the complete lyrics at this link. To read more about Thorn, order his music, or view his artwork, visit www.paulthorn.com