Last Friday night I was driving across town to a dinner party. Alone. Melancholy was the self-indulgent vibe of choice. After all, I was nursing a few emotional challenges:
My wife is literally on the other side of the globe.
I’m a (temporarily) single dad of 3 living in borrowed housing.
My Peyton Manning jersey is now a throwback antique.
I know there are serious pressing global issues to address, but cut me some slack. I was relishing in some good ol’ fashioned self pity, and I had just the soundtrack to complete the party: Neil Diamond’s Greatest Hits Volume 2.
This is my go-to album when I need to feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Neil Diamond was the first live concert my parents ever took me to when I was a kid, and this cassette tape played non-stop in their brown 84 Cadillac during a majority of my pre-teen years. I can still smell the new leather as soon as I hear the intro to “Hello Again.”
I didn’t choose Neil, Neil chose me. The smoky tones of his vocal styling forever intertwined with a simpler and safer time in my life.
I really like Neil Diamond.
We all have our Neils. Things we like or don’t like. Preferences and opinions. Traditions and culture. Things that help us enjoy or make sense of this life. But sometimes we try and attach spiritual mandates to these personal positions, and that’s when things can get weird. We split churches. Engage in holy wars. Give cynics their ammo. We grieve the Father.
My brother-in-law developed a little chart he shared with his church awhile back that might make this a little clearer.
On the outer ring are opinions and preferences. Everybody has them. And that’s OK, everybody can and should. Styles of music, political leanings, style of decor, architecture, food. You like it because, well, you like it.
The middle ring are traditions and culture. These are, in essence, shared opinions and preferences. We tend to find like minded people with like minded tastes and interests
But in the center are the essentials. The things that really matter. Unfortunately, human beings are really good at trying to make spiritual essentials out of our opinions and traditions. Mandates of our preferences.
We all do it. Old school or contemporary. Conservative or liberal. Young and old. Rich and poor. Big and structured or small and organic. Obama or Romney. Paper or plastic.
There’s room for a massive mosaic in the Kingdom of God. A melting together of endless opinions, preferences, traditions, and cultures around the ultimate of essentials: Jesus Christ. Don’t miss Him while you’re out lobbying for your Neil Diamond.
You can hear my entire message on this topic by clicking here: EncounteRespond–The Essentials. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.