We’re not in Kansas anymore

The Council of Jerusalem some 25 years after Jesus Ascension changed the Church! Yesterday I stumbled on a reflection by Chuck Tanzola, Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore. It helped me better understand its significance.

In the 1939 movie, The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy said to her dog at one point, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

It’s a phrase that has come to mean that we have stepped outside of what is considered normal; we have entered a place or circumstance that is unfamiliar and uncomfortable; we have found ourselves in a strange situation. (That sounds like life in 2020 in the era of Covid.)

Unlike in the movie, however, we cannot close our eyes, click our heels three times, think, “there’s no place like home,” and return to the normal, familiar and comfortable.

We’re not in Jerusalem anymore

The Jerusalem temple would not be destroyed until a few decades later. The question that confronted the early Church was, did a non-Jew Christian have to adhere to the practices of Judaism? In a sense, Paul was the first leader to realize that figuratively they were not in Jerusalem any more.

Before we go any further it is important to point out that Saul prided himself on being one of the strictest Pharisees. But on the road to Damascus Jesus challenged him to think beyond Jerusalem. Then Paul gradually realized the meaning of so many of Jesus’ sayings that the kingdom of God was within and not limited to life centered in the temple of Jerusalem and the 613 commandments.

Peter was slower to grasp that. Even when he did, he did not always realize the implications in terms of table fellowship. Paul raised the question of an old approach but got nowhere until Peter had a vision. Then, Peter understood what Paul was saying.

It took another century for people in the streets of “Jerusalem” to realize they were no longer in “Kansas”. Over the centuries there have been similar turning points. St. Thomas Aquinas was censured for grappling with the questions raised by the discovery of Arab philosophers. We are still unpacking Pope Leo XIII’s response to “the new things’ (Rerum Novarum) and Vatican II’s “reading the signs of the times”.

The common thread

The common thread that runs through all this is that each generation struggles with its concepts of a God that is too small.  Whenever we think we have God figured out we come face to face with our limitations.

In the garden we thought eating of the tree of life would answer everything. At other times we worshipped a variety of the golden calf. We multiplied commandments, thought God judged us primarily by dietary laws or temple practices.

Jesus came along as the Word made flesh to show us that our god was too small, modeled after powerful rulers who demanded sacrifices.

We know from the Acts of the Apostles that even though God’s Spirit was poured into their hearts they struggled to change their way of thinking about God and community, to wake up to the implications of being a community of God’s children, sisters and brothers of one another.

Pope Francis remind us in “Laudato Si’’ that everything is connected and in “Fratelli Tutti’” that everyone is connected.  God dreamed that we would wake up and grow up to love every one and everything as God loves.

That means recognizing we are not in Kansas anymore. We are in God’s grand kingdom.

How am I doing with the challenge to recognize how my God is too small?

Click below for an audio version of the Vincentian Mindwalk