The day before the day before NYE 2017. I haven’t had a lot of time to be reflective this past week. I chose to take on some contract work to help get down the debt that was accrued to get us moved into the new house. In some ways, it feels like we’ve been moving non-stop since July of this year. And if you throw on Greek intensive class and all of the nonstop studying before it, it seems as if we’ve been moving non-stop since leaving Waco in 2016.
It’s been hard to let go of the idea that I was made for something special on this earth–for something “more than” “just” being a father and husband with a decent, middle class job and house in the suburbs. Somehow, I’d gotten it in my head that I was special beyond the special my parents thought I was. Hence, the many attempts to go back and try to have a career doing things that I thought were extraordinary–like, politics (as in, a campaign manager or some such, not necessarily a politician), being an EMT, a mathematician, a pastor. Of course, those are extraordinary careers where the people who live in them get to perform their professions outside of normal office times and spaces.
Somewhere in the process of going deeper into the training or exploration for each one of these and others, I came to the certain conclusion that I was more or less putting on a suit that didn’t fit me. What’s more, I was abandoning a dedicated search for the Truth in favor of living out a truth. Even this wasn’t necessarily a bad or wrong thing to do–many people do it all the time. But, I couldn’t sustain the amount of “fake it until you make it” required of me. Perhaps it is mathematically impossible to be someone who is completely happy with who they are. Inevitably, they must sacrifice some aspect of Selfhood in order to get one great thing done. Does this mean that I am, at heart, a lazy coward–both too lazy to follow through with my quests for change and most certainly too fearful of how much I might actually end up changing?
Does this aspect of myself need to be eradicated before I die if I hope to become something bigger and greater than a fearful, small man tentatively stepping out of the shadows long enough to enjoy light and heat before deciding he’s gotten burned too much? Probably.
I probably …
I probably need to do this or that, but will I overcome my demons before death itself greets me and takes me where it will?
The prognosis is not good. In some ways, I am no longer nearly as fearful and cowardly as I once was. But, I am so much lazier, and even more to the point, I can palpably sense the inertia of the downhill slope to death grabbing me every time I try to get up and be active mentally, spiritually and physically.
What’s more, when I am able to work myself up to a kind of sustained or prolonged state of activity and focus, I tend to become almost manic, in that I can’t stand even the slightest distraction or imperfection or life problem getting in the way of the thing that I am focused on. Needless to say, it really isn’t sustained for very long–merely sustained relative to my general states of incoherence and inattention.
It is much easier to come home and pop open a beer and surf the news and watch TV than it is to come home and try to write a novel, paint a painting or solve math problems. Naturally, the beer doesn’t help with mental acumen, liveliness, and sustained focus. I’ve been saying most of the year that I’m going to stop drinking as much once I get past X, Y, Z, but then, along comes X1, Y1, Z1…or what have you.
What I’m looking forward to: a time this year where I am out of the recent debt, past the soul-sucking work I’ve taken on to get us over the hump of new expensive house and two moves and new car–a time where free time in the evenings and on the weekends is all mine again. Then, initially, a clearing of the mental space. After this, I take everything I read, study and think about slowly, with an eye to having a solid understanding of mathematical and physical concepts, even if I’m mostly still at an undergrad level when I die. It’s more about having a mind that doesn’t go completely to pot–and the same with my body–than trying to accomplish anything of great note.
The message of Love and Peace as it has come to us via Christ, filtered through millennia of hypocrites and flawed individuals who did their best to be true to Christ’s conception of love. This vs. the peace/love message of the Beatles/John Lennon. The appeal of Lennon to so many people of the past three generations (Boomer, X, Y). Mostly, though, it seems thin, shallow, like a bumper sticker slogan. Christ seems to be connected to a Truth that lies beyond knowledge, feelings, senses. Lennon’s truth is simply one of this particular blip in human history, which is why he is so appealing to atheists, who have forsaken anything but surface truth. Someone so far removed from any real Christianity will find it so easy to slip on over to a shallow, tinny truth that was packaged neatly for them. Real Christianity, of course, has come down to us in spite of, not because of, most practitioners of it. That is what makes it so amazing–not because hypocrites blasted it into the ears of meek parisioners, but because the message lives and breathes underneath the work of men.
Of course, Lennon himself was a hypocrite. He treated his first wife and son like shit. In today’s climate, he would have long since been tossed in the scrap heap of terrible men. So, of course, he was a product of his own time and place, as is his truth. As we move farther away from that time and place, Lennon’s truth seems utterly one-dimensional. Yet, Christ’s truth is continually revived by generations of new believers, some for better, some for worse. It goes without saying that it is too early to say for certain that John Lennon couldn’t be turned into a Christ after so many generations of mythmaking, but it seems unlikely. As he was part and parcel of his music and the time period of fashionable youthful rebellion and an unpopular war, much of the truth of wanting love and peace, Lennon-style, is lost on a generation raised to celebrate and not question anyone who chose to fight and die for country, and a generation much more in harmony with its parents.
How, exactly then, is Lennon’s truth different from Christ’s? Didn’t both call for love and peace? Sort of, but not exactly. Lennon spoke out against war on a global scale, but struggled in his personal relations with others to be a consistent man of peace. Jesus was very much the opposite–he gave clear instruction on how to treat the other in a face-to-face, interpersonal sort of way, and left the business of making war or peace at the global level to the Ceasars and Pilates of the world. Lennon told us that all we need is love, but failed to define that love in any meaningful sort of way–was it brotherly love, neighborly love, erotic love, love of kin? Just Love, that’s all you need, man. Jesus told each of us to love your neighbor as yourself. In other words, “here is how to love your fellow man in an ordinate fashion.” The love proposed by Lennon and others like him from his generation could be inordinate, and spin out into possessiveness, or become meaningless and purely sexual. I think the same thing could be said about his peace, too. Imagine all the people living for today, yoo-hoo. But how? Just imagine it, and it will be so? Or, perhaps, we need to start with our own right relations with ourselves, our families, our neighbors. If we are violent toward them or treat them ill, then how can we turn around and march for global peace?
Is this really a critique of Lennon? It isn’t precisely meant to be. I am more trying to consider how large numbers of people, both Christians and Atheists, get excited or almost spiritually moved by a song like Imagine. To be fair, in the two thousand years since Christ left the earth, the world is not a better place than it was in his day. There are more people who have access to amenities that kings of Jesus day only dreamed about, but there are also more people in the world today, period. I’m also trying to get to the bottom of why Jesus’ teachings mean so much more to me than John Lennon’s music and ideas. This is ultimately about why one moves me deeply and continues to nourish me as such, while the other seems hardly more profound than any other pop singer of the past sixty years.
We also have scant little information, if any, about who or what the historical Jesus was. For all we know, Jesus could have been far worse than Lennon, though I for one don’t believe it. My primary argument is that in spite of how heavily Lennon appears to have influenced Western music and thought throughout his career and since his death, that influence appears to diminish with each generation, even as they discover his music and appreciate it aesthetically–they fail to connect with Lennon the way the Baby Boomer generation did and does. This is probably for the best. Frankly, one Christ figure is more than enough.
I should also state that I have plenty of unanswered questions for/about Jesus, too. For someone who was purportedly God’s son and so powerful and mighty, even in his given mission while on earth he seemed to cut things off too quickly. I can’t help but ask: was three years of ministry really all you could handle? Doesn’t a quick, martyr’s exit at 33 seem a bit more convenient than hoeing the hard row of decades of aging and suffering that many of us are destined to do? And, why was so much of Jesus’ words delivered in this cryptic fashion, clearly full of exasperation at why no one could understand what he meant? It is always preferable for me to learn from someone who can speak in a clear, straightforward fashion, no matter how unbelievable what they are saying might be. To constantly speak in riddle, parable, metaphor and allusions to other things and then sigh and bemoan the lack of understanding of your disciple seems like the perfect behavior of a cult leader who doesn’t want to show his cards.
In spite of the shortcomings I find in the Bible, the concept of a hard kind of neighborly love being the place to start in making your world better is one that has stuck with me and continues to give me more food for thought than simply “all I need is love.” Loving someone who loves you first or who you know will love you back is easy. Every time Obama said “I love you back” during his first campaign when someone called out “I love you” made me think of this. Did Obama ever say “I love you back” to someone who shouted out to him: “you suck” or “I hate your guts?” Probably not. Loving someone back in spite of who/how they are is something no one has ever done perfectly, with maybe Christ being the exception. It may very well be that all I need is love–but, am I able and prepared to give and use that love when I am sorely mistreated? Most likely not.