Who is good. There’s no question mark because that’s not a question because it needs no answer -not within the context of a perfect God who is totally Holy who just so happens to make the best joke of all, which is pretty much us. God 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. Even though we’re big mammals, we don’t have all that much between our ears and are super simple and act like we’re profound. We are, in essence, simple-minded and incomplete and relatively spiritually incompetent even at our best. Who is good anyway? This time, it’s a question that can be fairly asked on baseline human level. We can talk about goodness easily because we know deep down we’re a horrible person. 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. They’re at least honest about their sins.
Listen, I gave my life to Jesus some fourteen years ago and I meant it. Like, I really, really meant it. I’ll never let go of Him. He’s absolutely fantastic because He lets me suffer and I never blame Him for it -never, ever have and never, ever will. The major point? I’m a believer and nothing more. I’m going to sit under that banner of grace not out of pride or freedom, but because of understanding and need. He is my shield. The least I could do is sit still under His shadow.
One of the most important things I’ve discovered while wandering this country is the universal reality that the lost just seem to be good at sinning and telling us “others” so openly about the nasty things they do. They have no idea what they’re doing, so they can fall off a cliff without even realizing what they’re doing -thus, “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’re doing and have no idea what sin even is. They literally have no idea what sin is! I was one of them. It took touching a diseased tree in California for me to realize what sin was, and I’m not going to go back there again because that was my spiritual burning man and a really bad night that was the true start to a long-term faith story. It was Biblical level reveal and pain.
So what am I getting at? It’s simple, really. Tonight I was looking at a seminary website (you know, that place where they help you get Christian certified). I was thinking maybe I should finally chock it up and go into seminary like my father and the Bishop of Chicago wanted me to. Therein lay the rub. I’m a Christ-follower, which means I follow Christ (hey, it’s a modern terminology I guess) so I must have a natural tendency to want to go do “good”. But while looking at the “terms and conditions” from the behavioral conduct police of a specific seminary, I knew I was already screwed for a go at it. It would clearly require that I let go of my adoration of George Carlin, my reading of Christopher Hitchens, and my absolute liquid joy 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. In all of that I’m found. I’m not divine -not divine enough to even survive seminary. Heck, these schools cost so much that even pennies from Heaven would never pay a single months interest on a “faith-based” student loan. So much for praying for God’s provision with the resignations of one’s future financial freedom by taking on student debt.
My father and mother both rode motorcycles. Dad smoked cigarettes until mom crushed his pack of Pall Malls 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. 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, cut holes in them and put firecrackers inside so I could throw them like grenades exploding in the air. Rebel kid me even ate those apples with their tingling taste of gunpowder. I ran and jumped and made things just to break them. I had a heck of a childhood. That’s the thing I have found again. That is the freedom of living under God’s love.
My parents introduced The Beatles to me at age six and I couldn’t stop listening -I still can’t. I couldn’t believe my ears. There’s nothing “divine” about the song “Why Don’t We Do it in the Road?” 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 any human trying at a grasp toward divinity in the first place. 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 and the chance at pulpit supply. So, that’s why I’m a writer instead and I’m doubling down on that. It’s also why a whole class of people has now stopped reading this very essay.
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 much harder things for decades or died quickly for their cause). These religious nuts proudly stood on the human accomplishments that showcased a life well lived and blabbered on and on about the crowns that lay 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! But you know what? Bah humbug! 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 about our good works. Those are the worst divine people on Earth. No, the Jesus I know reminds me that I am not only His creation but that I’m actually not a self-made man at all -that there is no such thing. Only the cruel and proud can claim they are self-made. 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 bloviating blowhards that brag about their “superhero” Jesus.
The Jesus I know? Fully everything and fully breakable. He was utterly shattered for us, worthless cowards. 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. It didn’t change the world. Yeah, he already got his crown of lies. He’s been bragging about it for thirty years and got his full rewards long before a Heaven that doesn’t give a crap. Nah, 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? He’s the one I’m thinking of when it comes to the brave. Because picking humility is about the bravest thing you can do.
Yesterday night I was at a hockey game in Syracuse. Some kind of state “quarterfinal chapter of the such-and-such” was going on between the two teams (I have no idea what the heck it was 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). It was a packed arena and I was in the back on the top bleacher. I stayed for two hours and watched as kids smashed one another into plexiglass, whipping around and about one another, speeding in turns and circles in the fastest human court-sport on two feet. It reminded me of my days in Minnesota when I’d hang at the ice rink and watch upperclassmen play. My town had two main industries -the world’s largest stockyards and, well, hockey. That’s about it. I played because of popular burdens, but not well. Most of the time when I played I had to hold myself up with my hockey stick, and I always lost. But the point of that night to me was striking. I didn’t want to be at the game -I wanted to be with my kids. I was in a particularly irritated mood because of really crummy circumstances but I was nice to all the fans around me anyway. The game was a lot of hollering and some of the moms said things like, “That’s a bad call ref!” as I looked at them thinking, “You have no idea what you’re talking about lady, but you’re talking so confidently loud about it.” I gave the lady that night pointers for being a super duper crazy over-engaged hockey mom. Not long after the exchange, a moment started to seep into me.
I began to notice two teams with two entire groups of people that supported one or the other -a quick no brainer, but it was a lensing back. I had said earlier to the guy next to me, whose wife was trying to get me to explain why I had a camera, the following statement: “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”. I was a man with a camera. My job was to “lens back.” But the back and forth went back and forth and the game closed out with a score of two to one. It was at “the win” moment. That was where I experienced something I never have in my life. It was so incredibly odd. Half the crowd was cheering and screaming at the top of their lungs -that’s the half of the crowd I was in. The other half was dead silent. In front of us were two teams and one was jumping and throwing sticks and helmets that everyone near me was cheering for. When I looked to my left, the other team on the ice was slow, disconnected -a few were on their knees and one kid was even crying on his belly laying on the ice. I had zero interest in the winning team. Their win was just a small moment on planet Earth. The other guys? They were doing some really interesting things in their heartbreak. That’s what I couldn’t take my eyes off of. They were all close. They were alone and together as one, and there was a clear understanding they’d been beaten from their dream. The feeling of failure was visceral and palpable and the team effort of gratitude for the play was filled with even more earnest gratitude in the knowledge of giving the game everything they had. Because I didn’t have a dog in the fight, I never for one second watched the celebrating and celebrated a winning team. I instead watched the other guys 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. My perception had evolved in a way. Maybe it was my age and that any of those teenagers could have been my son. I don’t really know, but I found appreciation for the players that would never get the recognition and never would be known even by their own girlfriends as “champions”. They’d played their guts out. They would be 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”. That they weren’t blessed? That’s why I’m a player on the losing team and proud of it. Because it’s all just a game, and in the end, who gives a crap about glory days when glory days are set aside for us by a King that lost it all and did so gladly.
Let’s leave divinity where it belongs -in the hands and feet of the only champion there will ever truly be. Should I say His name for ya’? Well, it ain’t Wayne Gretzky. Because as far as I know? Mr. Gretzky doesn’t give a puck about human divinity either.