Telephone Jesus...

The moment God is figured out with nice neat lines and definitions, we are no longer dealing with God — Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis

I've not been writing a lot here since I started my CPE residency at the Cleveland Clinic because, well, if I did, I might never stop writing. In verbatim presentations, encounters with patients, and individual supervision, the fact is I have a lot of work to do. While this work might seem daunting, it only becomes so if I think there's an actual endpoint to reach, a final destination of sorts. The fact is we never stop growing. We never reach perfection, not on this side of the eschaton. But in the meantime, there is still growth I must experience, evolution, movement. One area of importance for me this year seems to be my thoughts on and feelings about Jesus. Despite the study and writing I did in seminary, I feel I'm pretty lost when it comes to the Son of Man.

And so, I enter a new leg of the journey, one in which I hope to re-encounter the Living Christ. Even just saying these words, I recognize a certain cynicism, a palpable hostility, a recognizable doubt. I thought I came into this program feeling pretty good about Jesus. I thought I could articulate who Jesus is, why he came, how he loves and works. I thought I knew the crux of his ministry. The truth is that whatever box I thought I had to contain my Jesus-ology is either empty or in shambles. I don't know which one it is, but I hope this year brings some clarity and certainty.

Remember playing the game "Telephone" when you were a kid? Remember the differences that often showed up between the origin message and the one you heard from the last player? What if you got to hear the original message from the original sender? How would that feel? 

Growing up, I was raised to believe that the Bible is the "inspired" word of God. More often than not, that meant believing that Bible in its current form is God's literal word. Perfect. Inerrant. Infallible. Now, it's been several years since I believed this doctrine. However, truth be told, I think I threw the baby out with the bathwater. In debunking Biblical inerrancy, I dumbed Scripture down to  a mere children's tale, an archaic history book that has become a means of obtaining power over the masses and creating mindless drones. But this is far from the actual state of things.

There are those who read the Bible at face value and still manage to do so in ways that help them to live good lives, lives filled with love and compassion and a desire to see the world changed and made better. There are also those whose reading of Scripture lead them to think that there is an "us" and a "them". There are those who never worry about the context or genre or language or editing or redaction of the Bible and still manage to come up with ways of living that are pretty damn fantastic. Just as there are those who pay so much attention to these things that the Bible holds no Truth for them — it's just a story.

The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly — Søren Kierkegaard

I must confess my sin: I am no closer to knowing the crux of the message behind the Bible than those I accuse of using it to make me into the "other" whom they must either fix or condemn. I was not there to hear its original message be whispered from God's lips into man's ears. I did not know the heart of the first one to hear that voice and utter it aloud to the next person or write it down on paper. This does not mean I should throw it out as an irredeemable work of fiction that can teach me nothing about the Creator or the Christ. Instead it means that I must open my heart and mind so that the One who spoke it might speak to me, reminding me how deeply and wholly I am loved, and of how I am called called to be a channel of that love, letting the message of it spread through me into those for whom I care, preferably without my getting in the way of it.

Sure, getting to know Jesus by way of the Bible might feel like a game of telephone: the original message might often feel lost in translation. But I have to hold onto some home, some faith, that God can still reveal Godself to us through it, no matter how stubborn we are, how harder we fight to get in our own way. I have to believe that God can get past the static and dropped calls and interference so that we might experience the Creator, the Christ, and the Spirit as fully and deeply as possible this side of the New Creation.


photo credit: Jon Burnell via Flickr