Who is good. That’s not a question because it needs no answer within the context of a perfect God who is wholly good and wholly holy, holy, holy. Yes, He gets that joke, and no, it’s not blasphemy because God who is totally Holy made the best joke of all, which is pretty much us. He bothered to make a species that would bother to make more idiots through an idiotic process that’s a whole lot of fun. He made us all rabbits.
But, who is good? This time, it’s a question on a human plain. We can talk about this one. We know we’re horrible people. We know we do terrible things. We know that we try to be good and just can’t be. But, the people we call “lost” seem to have an edge on us good ol’ Christian folk. Listen, I gave my life to Jesus some fourteen years ago and I meant it. Like, I really, really meant it. And I’ll never let go of Him. He’s absolutely fantastic because He lets me suffer and I never ever blame Him for it. Never have and never will. But one of the most important things I’ve found is that the lost just go at it with their sin and tell you and have no idea what they’re doing and so they can fall off a cliff within even realizing what they’re doing -thus the line “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Jesus said this because there’s a whole class of people that have no idea what they are doing and have no idea what sin even is. I was one of them. It took touching a diseased tree in California for me to realize what sin was. I’m not going to go there again because that was my spiritual burning man.
So what am I getting at? It’s simple really. Tonight, I was looking at a Seminary website and thinking, “Maybe I should finally chock it up and go into Seminary like my father always wanted me to and the Bishop of Chicago wanted me to.” And therein lay the rub. I’m a Christ-follower, which means I follow Christ (hey, it’s a modern thing I guess) so I must have a natural tendency to want to go do “good”. While looking at the “terms and conditions” of the behavioral conduct police, I knew I was already screwed. It would clearly require that I let go of my like of George Carlin, my reading of Christopher Hitchens, and my absolute adoration of Led Zepplin and classic 70’s rock. I think I’m just too bad to be good and too good to be bad. I’m not lost, I’m found. But in that I’m found and not divine.
My father and mother both rode motorcycles. Dad smoke cigarettes until mom crushed them in his political science class. They were engaged a week after I think and they’ve been married over fifty years. That’s a win for endurance, loyalty, and honor. But the point is, they raised me as a kid that was allowed to be wild and break things and experiment. I made mud pies and actually ate the mud. I took apples and cut holes in them and put firecrackers inside and threw them like grenades as they exploded in the air. I ran and jumped and made things just to break them. They brought The Beatles into my ears at age six and I couldn’t stop listening -I still can’t. There’s nothing “divine” about “Why don’t we do it in the road?” And that, my friend, is why I can’t go to seminary. I’d love to, but to resign my humanity to be seen as some kind of leader just really showcases what’s broken about the expectation of human concepts of divinity in the first place. Man, I’d love to be a pastor, but I can promise you I’d accidentally say “fuck” at some point and blow the whole degree. So, that’s why I’m a writer.
Sure, I’m a pastor’s kid. Sure, I grew up in the church, was a choir boy, acolyte, went through catechism and first communion and didn’t have my first kiss until age sixteen, but I’m not a prude. I know what I like and I go get it. That’s just the man in me. It was the boy in me too. I wasn’t a bad boy, but I wasn’t divine. I was just plodding along and trying to make Art and friends and experience cool things. It is this year, 2019, where I have finally made my choice to give people who think they’re divine a piece of my mind.
I’ve been around some horrible people in my life, but the worst I’ve ever met were religious, and they were family -and not my family. They sat around tables and pontificated about their heroism and servitude in foreign lands (albeit for less than a year when other missionaries did decades and died). They proudly stood on their human accomplishments that showcased a life well lived and that crowns were waiting for them in Heaven. They made it clear that there was no need for any help because they had Jesus. Oh, boy did they have Jesus! The Jesus I know is not their Jesus. The Jesus I know isn’t made of plastic. The Jesus I know has no expectations of us other than to love Him and love people. The Jesus I know is the one who made it clear that there is nothing, literally nothing we can do to win His love or earn it or brag -those are the worst divine people on Earth. No, the Jesus I know reminded me that I am not only His creation but that I’m not a self-made man and that there is no such thing at all. Only the cruel and proud can claim they are self-made men. That’s not reality. We are a creation of all the people we’ve ever known or met -all the teachers, the strangers, the pastors, the friends, the lovers, the brothers, and sisters. The things these people taught us and showed us are what made us. And that is why I cannot stand the religious and I cannot stand the bloviating blowhards that I’ve seen brag about their superhero Jesus. The one I know? Fully everything and fully breakable. He was utterly shattered for us. If that doesn’t make your knees buckle, you’re probably like the guy who sits at his table over dinner with his children and keeps talking about his six-month stint in Africa like it really changed the world. Nah. It didn’t change the world. You already got your crown, buddy. You’ve been bragging about it for thirty years and got your full rewards already. The guy I saw on the street earlier today that was brave enough to hold up a sign for help on the side of the road is the one I’m thinking of.
Yesterday night I was at a hockey game in Syracuse. Some kind of state quarterfinal chapter such-and-such was going on between the two teams (I have no idea what the hell it’s all about because I was just charged to film the game and I know nothing of sports -except baseball, which is the best sport in the world, ever, ever, ever, ever.) It was a packed arena and I was in the back on the top bleacher. I stayed for two hours and watched as these kids smashed the heck out of one another and sped around in the fastest human sport on two feet. It reminded me of my days in Minnesota when I’d hang at the ice rink and watch upperclassmen play -it was a hockey town that I lived in and I played but not well. Most of the time when I played I had to hold myself up with the hockey stick. But the point of last night to me was striking. I didn’t want to be there. I was in a particularly irritated mood because of really crummy circumstances, but I was nice to everyone anyway. The game was a lot of hollering and some of the moms would say things like “That’s a bad call ref!” and I would just look at them and think, “You have no idea what you’re talking about but you’re talking so loud about it.” I gave them pointers for being engaged. And that’s when it started to hit me.
I started to notice the simple and obvious idea that there were two teams and two entire groups of people that supported one or the other. I had even said to the guy next to me, whose wife was trying to get me to explain why I had a camera, the following “I don’t have a dog in this fight so I’m not for either team.” They were so disappointed that I was sitting in “their bleachers” and I wasn’t for “their team”.
The back and forth went back and forth and the game closed out with a score of two to one. But it was at the “win” moment where I experienced something I have never in my life that was incredibly odd. Half the crowd was cheering and screaming at the top of their lungs and that’s the half of the crowd I was in. The other half was dead silent. In front of me were two teams and one was jumping and throwing sticks and helmets and that’s the team everyone was cheering for. And when I looked to my left, the other team was slow, disconnected, a few on their knees -one even crying. And I had zero interest in the winning team. Their win was just a moment on planet Earth. The other guys? They were doing some really interesting things in their heartbreak. They were close. They were both alone and together. There was a clear understanding they’d been beaten but that it really was a team effort, and because I didn’t have a dog in the fight, I never for one more second watch the celebrating team. I instead watched the other guys that had lost like a hawk.
When the people started to clear out and I threw my tripod over my shoulder, I thought about who I was that night. I’d evolved in a way. I found appreciation for the ones that never got the recognition and never would be known even by their own girlfriends as “champions”. But they played their guts out. They were the forgotten ones. They would get no trophy. They would be on a roster, but one markdown from it “meaning anything”. They would be the team that didn’t make it to the best seat in the house. I guess you could say, they weren’t the divine ones.