This Easter, Remember the Carpenter

(John Andrews in the Denver Post, April 16) For irony, it’s hard to beat the bumper sticker: “My Boss is a Jewish Carpenter.” Some carpenter Jesus was, his hands not pounding the nails but pinned by them, his only remembered woodwork the criminal’s cross he died on. Nor was this sawdust preacher well-born; the Jews have been cruelly marginalized for ages. Who boasts of their boss anyway? Bossing others is much preferred. Being your own boss is better still. But that’s the Christians for you. They believe life is about serving, not ruling, and the one they follow on the path of service is that rejected rabbi whose death and rising Easter commemorates.

Even the verb on the bumper sticker has a twist. Christians worship Jesus as their king who “is” alive today and seated at God’s right hand, not just a great moral teacher who “was” important long ago. How un-modern of them. How stubborn and strange.

Strange the belief may be. Yet there is evidence of its power to change lives and improve our world. Roy Hattersley, a hard-boiled skeptic with the British Guardian, conceded this after Hurricane Katrina. “Faith does breed charity,” he wrote last September. “We atheists have to accept that most believers are better human beings.”

The Salvation Army and other organizations prominent in disaster relief, Hattersley noted, “almost all have a religious origin and character. Notable by their absence are teams from rationalist societies, free thinkers' clubs and atheists' associations -- the sort of people who not only scoff at religion's intellectual absurdity but also regard it as a positive force for evil.”

“Good works… are most likely to be performed by people who believe that heaven exists,” the Guardian columnist concluded after giving more examples. “Faith comes with a packet of moral imperatives that, while they do not condition the attitude of all believers, influence enough of them to make them morally superior to atheists like me.”

Disregard of Christ’s moral imperatives is all too common, admittedly. He himself warned that failure to love the least among us would earn his professed followers hellish consequences. Hypocrisy by white Christians in [an African country] moved [name censored for his protection], a tribal prince in that poverty-ridden land, to establish a movement called the Enemies of Jesus. His blunt indictment on my radio show last Sunday was painful to hear.

[This man's] story took a dramatic turn, though, when evangelist Dick Day won him over with love, reasoning, and the Josh McDowell book “More Than a Carpenter.” [He] converted to Christianity, formed a vision for his country’s economic betterment through moral renewal, completed a business degree in Texas, and now plans to run for president of [that country].

Similar transformations are occurring at our own Burlington prison, according to my friend Ed, who was sentenced there for embezzlement. When I mentioned watching “The Passion” on DVD to begin Lent, Ed wrote that he has seen 200 fellow inmates “give their lives to the Lord” after seeing that movie. “Brokenness can be a huge step toward accepting the righteousness of Christ,” he explained.

My friend added that before his crime, he sometimes wondered which role in the crucifixion story was his – Pharisee, soldier, disciple? Now, Ed wrote, “I know I was one of the men on a cross next to Him. I’m just thankful I finally recognize the Son.”

Jailhouse conversions don’t all last, it’s true. But Chuck Colson’s did. I worked with both him and John Dean in Nixon’s Watergate White House. Thirty-four years later, Colson continues doing worldwide prison ministry under his self-styled “life sentence” from the Jewish Carpenter, while Dean keeps chasing headlines, now at Bush’s expense. Which man chose the better boss?

Of course headlines are heady for us politicians and pundits, forever propounding and posturing. Easter calls for less of that and more of the Christian self-knowledge of Chesterton, who replied to a newspaper survey on what’s wrong with the world: “I am.” To set the world right, the awful rough places in me (and maybe even some in you) need heavy planing. Millions believe the Jewish Carpenter is the man for the job.