April 13, 2016

Jesus is a Chaos Muppet

I’ve finally figured it out. Jesus is a chaos muppet.

Bear with me. For those of you who are uptight about taking the Lord’s name in vain, I’m not really suggesting that Jesus is a muppet, not in any literal sort of sense. Though there is apparently a Muppet album of songs from “Jesus Christ, Superstar.”

If you haven’t read Dahlia Lithwick’s delightful treatise on Muppet Theory, you should. Here’s the basic idea: we can understand humanity by dividing everyone into two categories: order muppets and chaos muppets. If you are a Sesame Street fan, think of Bert and Ernie. Or even better, Bert and Cookie Monster. Bert craves order. Cookie Monster wreaks havoc. If you’re more of a Muppet Show fan, then of course Animal would be your prototypical chaos muppet.

Ever since my own family became acquainted with muppet theory, we have engaged in a lively, ongoing, all-ages debate about who is who in the family. When my spouse -- an order muppet if ever there was one -- is out of town, and I am struggling to get out the door in time to get my kids to school, I can hear the older one muttering, “Chaos muppet!” It’s all relative, of course. I generally do get the kids to school on time, but not with the sort of precision that my husband manages. There’s an element of uncertainty, a return trip for a forgotten phone, a detour in search of misplaced glasses or keys. No one really breathes deeply until we arrive at our destination. I’m not saying I’m not a chaos muppet, just that there are muppets far more chaotic than I.

Jesus, for example. I may lose my keys, but Jesus turns things upside down. He requires things of us that go against our better judgment, especially when it comes to our more annoying neighbors. He makes the scribes and Pharisees (order muppets!) very nervous by refusing to be predictable and delighting in undermining the rules. In his finest hour, he commits what I once heard the late, great Robert McAfee Brown describe as “the ultimate act of civil disobedience.” The Romans execute him, and he refuses to stay dead. A total chaos muppet. Just ask Pilate. Or Herod. Jesus comes on the scene, and despite everyone’s best efforts to contain him, chaos ensues.

I think this is good news. It has to be right? I know that Jesus is good news, so the chaos he brings with him must be good news as well. I know it sure doesn’t always feel like it. Yesterday, I found myself in the midst of one of our periodic church-kitchen disputes. The order muppets in the room wanted me to make and enforce clearer rules and divisions about who could be where and when and doing what. They made no secret of their concern that their chaos muppet rector was just going to let everything turn into a free for all. I wanted my parishioners to work things out and come up with peaceful real-time solutions while finding some joy in the growth of our community. Even chaos muppets like a nice peaceful solution that doesn’t require rector intervention. What we all had instead of the peace and order we wanted was the Jesus-y chaos of real muppets of all sorts learning to share space, to make room for one another, to communicate across language and culture barriers, to trust in a world often defined by scarcity that there is room for us all. We had a lot of imperfection and pretty limited counter space.

Jesus suggests giving up our claim as the best way to stake it. He suggests death as the path to life. He suggests turning cheeks and going extra miles and loving enemies and generally abandoning common sense. He promises a deeper peace, but at the price of the easy peace most of us long for.

Total chaos muppet! Happy Easter!

Anna Olson’s new book Claiming Resurrection in the Dying Church: Freedom Beyond Survival is full of stories about a motley crew of order and chaos muppets in a real congregation who are moving beyond trying to survive and instead trying to live faithfully.

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