COMMENTARY: Thank you, Jesse

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c. 1999 Religion News Service

(Dale Hanson Bourke is publisher of RNS.)

UNDATED _ Part of my weekend was spent studying the Puritans. I did so not because I have an ongoing thirst for knowledge but because my high school son needed help reviewing for a test.

I should confess right now that the Puritans did not fascinate me the first time around. But reading about them this time provided some fresh insights.

The Puritans, as you may recall, weren’t doing very well in England. They criticized the king and the church and were persecuted for their efforts.

When they came to America they discovered a land of plenty, free of disease and persecution. They were free to practice their faith and pursue their economic dreams.

But instead they began to poke into one another’s business and codify their faith into some pretty simple rules. They became what we now know as puritanical.

I really enjoyed reading about the way the Indians dealt with the Puritans. Believing that they were called to save these heathens, the early settlers preached up a storm to the Native Americans who promptly affirmed their conversions. The Puritans were thrilled to see how well their holy efforts paid off.

Then the Indians told the Puritans their own story of creation and magic and asked the settlers to affirm it.

Horrified, the Puritans realized that there had been no conversion at all on the part of the Indians, just an early form of political correctness. The Indian custom was to never disagree, just listen and affirm.

After several rounds of such frustrating negotiations, my guess is that the Puritans would have welcomed a conversation with the likes of Jesse Ventura.

Jesse would have told them where to put their tenets and they would have known for certain that their preaching had not touched his heathen soul. Jesse would have exposed their hypocrisy, challenged their holier-than-thou attitudes and maybe even derailed their mission. If Jesse had been around, they might never have had the energy to launch the Salem witch trials.

The early Puritans could have used a guy like Jesse Ventura to shake them up, and so could the established church of today.

The true church is never hurt by people who speak out against it or even persecute its members. The church is far more diminished by people who politely agree and then go back to doing their own thing.

Unfortunately many of us who are part of established religion really are like the Puritans. Just as Jesse said, we are guilty of being weak-minded and using religion as an excuse to stick our noses into other people’s business.

It’s so much easier than truly living what we say we believe.

Instead of getting mad at Jesse, we should be taking a harder look at ourselves. Do we truly live lives that are worthy of respect, even when people disagree with us? Do we associate with other churchgoers to justify living a comfortable life when the Bible calls us to something far more radical? Are we mostly fat and happy instead of hungry for God?

Personally, I’m glad Jesse Ventura voiced his thoughts about organized religion. He only said what many non-churchgoers in this country really believe. Instead of criticizing him, those of us who are part of organized religion should thank him for his candor.

And then we should ask God to help us mind His business. My guess is that the Jesse Venturas of the world would be far more drawn to folks who practiced more and preached less.

It may be too late for the Puritans. But those of us still living out their legacy could use some shaking up.


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