One Sunday we piled in the car after Sunday school - an event my kids often attend only reluctantly. While it remains part of our ritual, we don’t have a family practice of reading bible stories, praying before bed, or quoting scripture. Come to think of it, we really haven’t taught them much at all about Jesus or God. I did hear one of my kids say “Great glory and Jesus!” in an attempt at dramatic expression. Score one for mom. (I once heard John Dominic Crossan speak to what we “should” teach kids about God. He said nothing really...at most that God is love. But if he had his way, he said kids would refer to religion as something old people do. In other words, we are primed to seek meaning in the second half of life, but many of us have to undo damage done by religion in order to uncover its meaning. So why not just start then, when our minds can wrap around poetry and metaphor, instead of badger our kids about sin and salvation and judgement and God’s will when they are young?) One of my sons once asked when we were driving on 45, “If we got in a car accident right now would Jesus swoop down and save us?” After a long pause I answered that Jesus wasn’t exactly a superhero, that he didn’t have a cape and couldn’t fly as far as I knew. His question made me realize how ingrained our ideas are about Jesus and God. The fantasy of being saved is a big one. I mean who among us doesn’t want to know we will be okay and often create elaborate myths and fantasies about how that could be so? My husband (my own personal superhero) used to wear his Superman outfit under his clothes as a boy just in case anyone needed saving.
I digress. On the Sunday in question, 2 of my boys had black outlined figures of a smiling Mary Magdalene they had colored in. She was cut at the waist with a little brass brad connecting her top half to her bottom half. The brad allowed Mary to genuflect, hands outstretched, from side to side. It looked like she was caught in a rather awkward yoga position, but I think the intent was for her to bend toward the feet of the bradless Jesus cut out, who was the one my middle son brought to the car. When he saw his brothers had moveable figures he had a fit. He threw his Jesus on the floor of the car, tearful and screaming, “I do NOT want Jesus! I HATE Jesus!” (Only at the time he pronounced it Cheesus).
He kept this up the entire car ride home and attempted several times to wrangle Mary Magdalene out of his unrelenting brothers’ hands. When we got home, Jesus stayed somewhere in my car, presumably halfway under the seat amidst snack wrappers and spare socks. It’s not the dryer, by the way, that has your missing socks. It’s my car. Point is, though, Jesus got cast aside pretty unceremoniously. He was immobile and fixed.
Once inside, it didn’t take the Marys long to rip away from the brad, their body halves to separate, and ultimately drift into the trash can. Once the bendy figures were no longer on the scene, Cole spent a good while asking after his Jesus. “Have you seen Cheesus? Mommy? I want my Cheesus back.” His efforts waned and we didn’t look for him again for some days, but I think he fished a brad out of the trash to see if he could give his Jesus some mobility should he be relocated. Later that week we were headed somewhere in the car and Cole gasps in utter ecstasy, “I found Cheesus! Mommy! It’s Cheesus! Ohhhhh! I love my Cheesus!”
The whole episode is a condensed parody of my own Jesus journey. I found you, I hate you, I lost you, I found you, I love you. All the while Jesus, patient and smiling, is right under my seat. For a very long time Jesus was confined to the Bible for me, and the Bible was confined to some extreme magical thinking that I could not take literally but had been given no other way, so I cast it aside. I’m usually not a literal thinker. I am an artist who loves abstractions and visuals and big pictures, but I kept approaching the Bible like this pea brained troll trying to decipher a complex code. I am Jacob, renamed Israel, who grabs God by the heel and continues to wrestle. Eventually instead of reading it, I read people and listened to teachers who can paint it with a broad brush. I can tap out of the ring when I’m tired of wrestling. I’ve picked up other wisdom teachings like the Tao. And here’s the thing...every other book I have ever read I take for what it is. If I read about the Holocaust of WW2 I don’t believe it is still happening, but I know it’s important to understand. If I read the Bronte sisters, I can’t take them outside of the context of Victorian England. Sure they might have been frustrated independent women in their time, but in 1846 they could not yet imagine a woman with pixie hair, black skinny jeans, a priest collar and tattoos because she had not been invented. The Brontes gave way to Nadia Boltz Weber. The Bible gave way to Star Wars.
Yes. I said that.
They both incorporate the narrative of the hero’s journey. The authors of the Bible could not imagine the Millennium Falcon, a mouth breathing masked villain, and a Wookiee with a sash of bullets draped over his shoulder, so they wrote stories about their reality. We are still in the same story: people trying to find their way to the light through the means that we have. We know more now. The earth is round. Gravity exists. Volcanoes don’t need virgins. The cosmos is expansive. We are made of stardust. We are the earth becoming conscious of itself. Our stories evolve. All of them pave the way for us to evolve as well. I am not suggesting we cherry pick the best parts of our stories, rather that we imagine it all belongs inside of its own context. The threads of Truth in all that has ever been are 1) we seek and 2) we evolve.
The Bible is a book of war and pillaging, parting of seas and burning bushes, improbable friendships and betrayal, that culminates in a man who faces the bleakest dark but manages to show us a Way toward the light. Star Wars encompasses intergalactic wars and evil empires, gambling and black market arms deals, improbable friendships and forgiveness, and culminates in a man who moves through absolute despair then dissolves into light particles as he becomes one with the Force. Sorry, spoiler alert.
True Confession: I’m in a really uncomfortable space quoting the Bible. There’s a whole lot of what I refer to as Christianese that is just not in my vernacular. Much of that has to do with Bible verses being strewn about and my associations with Jesus that affirms southern, white, evangelical culture. It is possible Jesus is that...but he also stood with the lepers, the fools, the prostitutes, and the God wrestlers. I’m trying not to squirm out of it and no one but me is choosing to do it, so here I go.
John 14:6 reads, “I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life” (The Message). Just before this, the disciples are like, “But Jesus. We don’t know where you’re going. How in the heck can we know the way?” I wonder if the disciples are being literal: Jesus, please. Just give us the directions to this house with many rooms of which you speak. And Jesus answers them with poetry. “I am the way.” And later, after they plea once more with him (“Just show us, Jesus!”) he says, “Can’t you see? I am in the Father and the Father is in Me.”
Gah. No wonder Jesus Christ is often exclaimed in exasperation accompanied by a palm slap to the forehead.
Maybe the reason Jesus does not give literal answers is because there isn’t one. Discovering the sweetness of “not God, but not other than God; not you, but not other than you” is not a left at the corner, a right by the orange Gulf sign, walk halfway down the block and there you will find the house with many rooms. “The Way to God is in me,” he says, so I deduce The Way to God is also in me. Maybe what Jesus hands us is an invitation to go inside, to look within and greet the fullness of our own being. Once we find that little gem, like Luke Skywalker, we just might dissolve into light and be one with the Force. Meanwhile, I’m sometimes still halfway down the block scratching my head and looking for the house with many rooms.
The Bible in all of its complex history has been used to justify nationalism, racism, sexism, homophobia, slavery....so many terrible things. If pressed I would venture to say most of us think these things unconscionable and not exactly The Way of which Jesus speaks. I’m learning to see the bible for what it is - a collection of writings influenced by the long arc of human culture which is often literal and dualistic. I’m also learning that it has some beautiful poetry and deep nondual teachings. It’s not The Only Truth but it contains many Truths. Between wars, famine, genocides, infidelity, yearnings of the human heart, lots of regulations, passionate love, and so much more, it certainly encompasses the whole of human reality. Seems like it’s just missing some intelligent discourse on evolution and the dinosaurs, but maybe i just haven’t gotten to that part...
I am the way. I am in God. God is in me.
Another version of this type of nondualism is in the Tao de Ching. While “tao” is more or less untranslatable, it means something like the absolute principle underlying the universe that is in harmony with the natural order. Simply put, it is The Way.
Since before time and space were,
the Tao is.
It is beyond is and is not.
How do I know this is true?
I look inside myself and see.
~The Tao de Ching #21, transl. Stephen Mitchell
I’m realizing that when something is true, it is repeated in other forms. This thought alone is leading me back to my sock drawer to fish out the Bible and sift through its inevitable truths, to look at it alongside other wisdom teachings. Everything is in everything. The truth is in everything, as are we. I suspect the way to that truth is to accept that we are already participating in it.