Twists and Turns

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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On Easter Sunday in 1970, John Michael Tebelak went to church. He left depressed and later said he felt the dry liturgy did more to keep the stone rolled in front of the tomb than celebrate Jesus' resurrection. During those days of flower power and free love, many young people Tebelak's age turned away from traditional religion. Instead of turning away from the Gospel, he turned it into a rock musical.

When I saw Godspell in the early seventies, I wasn’t a Christian, but Tebelak’s efforts to breathe life into the Gospel touched my heart. Some of the songs were poignant. Some told their lessons with humor. One of my favorite pieces was a vamp-type spoof, “Turn Back, O Man, Forswear Thy Foolish Ways.” The song didn’t make fun of repentance. It showed how silly our evil ways can be.

“Turn” is one of the strongest verbs in the Bible. The biblical version of turning is a two-way action—for God and us. God has choices and so do we. “You turn us back to dust, and say, ‘Turn back, you mortals’” (Ps. 90:3). Our physical safety and emotional health depend on God’s turning in our direction. “Turn to me, and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted"(Ps. 25:16). Our safety and health depend on our turning from sin. “Turn my eyes from looking at vanities; give me life in your ways.” (Ps. 119:37) Furthermore, when we turn toward God and sense his turning toward us, we turn toward our fellow beings. The prophet Malachi foretold signs of the Gospel: parents and children would turn their hearts towards each other (Mal. 4:6).

In the impoverished country of Sierra Leone, children are as valued as they were in the days of Jesus. During the civil war, thousands of little boys were kidnapped and turned into child soldiers. Under the influence of drugs, they carried out the bidding of their rebel commanders, killing, raping, and maiming. At the end of the war, it was hard to repatriate them to their villages. Most of their parents were dead. The rest of the villagers feared them. To help these boys, an innovative priest used a Gospel story of the turning heart.

In village dramas, he had the boys act out the parable of the prodigal son. At the climax of this West African Godspell, the boy would use the prodigal’s words to turn the heart of the village fathers. “Father,” these boys begged, “I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” And the village patriarch would respond, “This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” (Luke 15:11-24).

Which direction is your heart pointing? Towards whom does it need to turn to do the will of God? At the end of the parable, Jesus tells us the outcome of turning in the right direction: “They began to celebrate.”