My wife, Mariko, has shared beautifully about the rainbow of love of her multi-ethnic experience. My rainbow of love experience is a bit different, and it breaks on through or rather past Jimmy Fallon’s impersonation of Jim Morrison of The Doors singing “Reading Rainbow.” The only books Morrison ever inspired me to read were those by the likes of Friedrich Nietzsche, Aldous Huxley, and Arthur Rimbaud.
I grew up in a strong Christian home and received Jesus into my life as a small child, but rebelled against what I would call “Churchianity”—a lukewarm and bourgeois Christian faith—during my high school years. The life and lyrics of Jim Morrison were significant forces that shaped me during this time. Even today, I appreciate Morrison for seeking to follow his convictions wherever they would lead him—perhaps even seeking to “break on through to the other side” through death.
After a few brushes with death and nihilism and the death of a friend, I came to realize after high school that what Jesus said was true at a very personal level: the thief comes to steal and kill and destroy, but Jesus has come to give life to the full (John 10:10). The potency of Jesus’ words woke me up after attending the wake of that late friend and I gave my life to bearing witness to Jesus who broke through death to the other side through his resurrection to bring us fullness of life. I went from being intoxicated with reading about the life of Jim Morrison to being inspired to follow Jesus from taking to heart the words of the martyred missionary Jim Elliot, who wrote of the Christian life in his journal: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
Churchianity would have us try to hold onto our comforts at all cost whereas Christ’s church always calls us out and beckons us to take up our crosses, die to our comforts, and find our comfort through union with him and those shaped by the crucible of Jesus’ reconciling and life-fulfilling love. Fullness of life in Jesus involves being reconciled to God and one another. That is a tall order, especially in an alienated world where people who are different than us and who view us as strangers appear strange and ugly, as Morrison sang. It is very hard to find sanctuary in a world like this, where everyone who is different appears to lock you out and you return the favor.
We all need to be called out from our comforts that isolate and alienate us. We all need to be called into community, where we are no longer strangers and where we can find a home among friends who, whether or not they are like us, really work hard to love us. I am grateful for Irvington Covenant Church, where we are being called out from strangerhood today as members of this body. Irvington Covenant Church on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Portland, Oregon is committed to offering reconciliation rooted in Christ where those who were once strangers—“those who are other”—can now become friends. Our church is a grand experiment—not with drugs and alcohol—but with tenacious love.
What brings us to Irvington and keeps us here is not its call to be Facebook friends, but friends in the biblical sense. Biblical friendship entails more than “likes” and “shares” and hanging out with those who belong to the same fraternity. It entails personal sacrifice and building community with those least like you. Through faith in Christ we are baptized by the Spirit into his death and raised through the Spirit into the fullness of his resurrected life so that we can break on through comfortable lives to his all-comforting love that gives us the courage to become what we already are—one in the rainbow of Jesus’ love—in community.
In the song “The Soft Parade,” Jim Morrison claims to have gone to seminary school. While I doubt he did, I undoubtedly did. Morrison claims to have heard in seminary that one could petition the Lord in prayer—a claim that he rejects. When I was back in seminary school, I also heard of petitioning the Lord in prayer. Now as a seminary professor, I speak of petitioning the Lord in prayer to make us one in view of Jesus’ prayer: “I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:23). I want to believe with all my heart that I can petition the Lord to make this prayer come true. Irvington Covenant is a church I have always admired from afar. From afar, it is known as a beautiful experiment in race reconciliation. Certainly, it is beautiful. However, it is also very messy. Irvington Covenant—this beautiful and messy experiment—is not centered in a psychedelic supper but in Scripture and the Lord’s Supper, which beckons us to our Lord who got messed up to make us one.
The rainbow of Jesus’ messy, beautiful love (rather than Jimmy Fallon’s Jim Morrison’s “Reading Rainbow” or Levar Burton’s own rendition of “Reading Rainbow”) calls us to imagine and invest in the biblical vision of a world in which there are no divisions between Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free (Galatians 3:28). It calls us to envision and inhabit a kingdom that will appear in its fullness, where people of every tribe and tongue and nation will worship and commune together at the throne of God and the resurrected lamb (Revelation 7:9-10). I am grateful that our church is willing to take the risk and inhabit the Scriptures together and travel to that throne whose rainbow of promise and providential, holy love assures us that God will bring us through trials and tribulations (Revelation 4:3). Our story is still being written, as we find sanctuary here to ride through the storm and journey home.