Go Figure

John 9:1-17

“This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”

“The phrase “in Christ” cannot be understood correctly without recognizing that Christ was already the source of our being as the one “in whom all things were created.”  -Morgan Guyton

So, I want to share the outcome of a really convoluted and intuitive mental process; a process which I decline to describe in any sort of detail. It’s just something that my mind does, and it’s been doing it more and more reliably in the last few years.

The starting point of this process was my increasing frustration with my own attempts to describe the fallacies underlying modern evangelical or fundamentalist Christianity. I suspected that there was a real heresy imbedded in the idea that God punishes for sin, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I still can’t.

The end result was the discovery of a blog by a guy named Morgan Guyton, a Methodist pastor and the director of a body called the NOLA Wesley Foundation at Tulane and Loyola University in New Orleans. He also writes books and articles for all sorts of publications.

My mind keeps jumping back to a scene from the movie “Risen” in which the resurrected Jesus tells the Centurion, “You’re paying attention to the wrong things.” (it’s probably not an exact quote.)

That’s the thing though. I mean, it’s really the thing! I might have just figured it out, this minute.

If I’m paying attention to the same thing that the fundamentalists are, even for the purpose of trying to refute it, then by golly, I’m paying attention to the wrong things too!

There was something else that Guyton said, in a blog post entitled “A Response to Bill Maher’s Comments About God”— “The reason I believe Jesus is the Son of God is not because I think Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell, and all the other Christian apologists have made a slam-dunk case for Jesus that only idiots wouldn’t agree with. (omitted text here) The reason I believe Jesus is everything the Bible claims about him is simply because I have encountered the living resurrected Christ in my personal life.”

That’s when the penny dropped for me, at least part of the way. I’ve said that exact same thing to explain why I am a Christian even though my personal philosophy is much more aligned with Buddhism. My eschatology is permeated with notions such as Ursula LeGuin’s “The Other Wind” and Lao Tzu’s “The Great Tao”, and I don’t really believe in ‘pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by”.

I constantly struggle with how to respond to hostility, hatred, contempt, mockery, and scorn whenever I encounter it in person. The funny thing is that when I was a police officer it didn’t bother me as much. I think that was for two reasons. One, it wasn’t aimed at me personally, it was aimed at my uniform. Two, I had a job to do, and the job was the thing that kept me balanced. I couldn’t waste energy on the abuse when there was something that needed to be done, and it was my responsibility to do it. I think that maybe that is my essential problem these days. I don’t have a “job” to do. Maybe it would help if I could figure out what my “job” is.

You’re probably thinking that I’ll never get around to talking about the resonant phrase I chose from the readings for today, but bear with me. It’s all about that convoluted, intuitive process which doesn’t lend itself to being explained. It’s about the thought process that made those Pharisees make up rules about who was “from God” and who wasn’t. I can sort of understand their problem. They needed workable criteria; they needed somebody with authority to endorse Jesus. They had no clue how to go about making up their own minds about anything.

An encounter with the Living God was the impetus for my conversion, just as it was for Guyton. No matter how many books I’ve read, or how much my theology evolves, that simple fact remains. It just sits there, not wobbling,[1] quietly breathing the Spirit into my life.

I’ve felt the impulse to retell the basic story of Jesus in bare, plain, literal language for a long time now. The reason that I’m feeling more and more driven to actually do it arises from my daily observations of how people’s filters work. People’s filters are what generates inept behavior, like driving off a cliff following GPS navigation on their phones;  people’s filters are what produces the odd phenomena of being unable to read the simple meaning in the words of a sentence.

The main thing that’s been holding me back is my long experience with the reality that it doesn’t matter what anyone says. Logic and reason just can’t compete with emotion-driven convictions. So why even try?

That brings me back around to the experience that led to my conversion. Logic had nothing to do with it. Reason had nothing to do with it. It was wordless and indefinable. The only way that has any hope of coming close to describing it is through the use of metaphor and poetry.

So it can’t be about re-phrasing the story of Jesus so that it’s more logical and reasonable. That would definitely fit the case of ‘paying attention to the wrong things’.

Lao Tzu talked about “straw dogs”—

“in one translation Chapter 5 of the Tao Te Ching begins with the lines "Heaven and Earth are heartless / treating creatures like straw dogs".

Su Zhe's commentary on this verse explains: "Heaven and Earth are not partial. They do not kill living things out of cruelty or give them birth out of kindness. We do the same when we make straw dogs to use in sacrifices. We dress them up and put them on the altar, but not because we love them. And when the ceremony is over, we throw them into the street, but not because we hate them." [2]

So, it’s not about “The Gospel Story.” It’s not about “Being Saved From Sin.” It’s not about power. It’s not about trade-offs. It’s not about following the rules. It’s not about anything you can get out of it. It’s not about belonging to the Christian Club. It’s not about doing what God says because he’s an abusive parent who will chain you in the basement if he doesn’t like the look on your face, or the tone of your voice. Nope. Those are the filters. Those are the straw dogs. If you pay attention to them you are missing the boat. If I pay attention to them, then I’m missing the boat.

Instead, I think I’ll catch the boat!

St. Brendan’s boat—

The little tiny one made out of twigs and mud.

The one with no paddles and no compass.

I’ll drag some straw dogs aboard to use for ballast.

I’ll hang on to the gunnels in the storm-surge

and remember never to spit into the wind.

Out in the middle of the empty ocean,

I’ll pull some straw out of one of those dogs

and line the bottom of the boat

to keep my butt out of the bilge water.

Morning and evening, I’ll look out

across the limitless water and say,

“What have I got myself into?”

and old Brendan will say, “________”.

Then I’ll roll my eyes and say,

“Go figure.”

[1] “Above all, don’t wobble.” Dōgen Zenji
[2] Wikipedia (referencing “straw dogs”)


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