I washed off the wilderness but not the wildness, the dirt that untamed my soul.
We pressed through thorn and spiderweb, darkness and rain, to the palace and to the feast, as any lumpy bed and paltry meal would be for such weary wanderers as we.
We swam through the green, roots and rotting logs our steps into the clouds. The sunset found us on quartz boulders, Shining Rock in the shadow of Cold Mountain. No postcard vistas for us, only glimpses through the mist with joy! There is no majesty without mystery.
…But Don’t Let That Stop You From Going to the Movies
“There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
“It’s all been done before.” (The Barenaked Ladies)
Only One has ever made anything truly original and new. All stories are mere shadows of His Story. Our best stories mirror aspects of that story: the beauty of creation, the bitterness of the fall, the joy of redemption. Even if a story only captures one of those aspects, it can be beautiful simply because it rings true, however tragic.
Shakespeare himself realized that all the good plots were already taken. What happens in his plays might not be original, but how always is. That gives me hope. A good story matters, even if I already know the ending. And I can let myself off the hook as a writer, since every what I might say has already been taken, I can focus on the how
If you doubt whether this principle is true, think of every movie made in the last ten years. Some have been overt ripoffs. Eragon = Star Wars – Awesome + Dragon. Seriously! If you want a good laugh, follow the plot parallels: farm boy gets secret message from captured princess, the bad guys kill his aunt and uncle, and torch their farm, forcing him to follows a magical mentor who sacrifices his own life when farm boy rescues the princess, so that he can save the day in an epic dogfight. It’s a good thing I love dragons.
Which brings us to Harry Potter. If the what of Harry Potter isn’t original (Matrix + Lord of the Rings + Little Orphan Annie), what’s all the big fuss about? The how! Her plots are page turners, to be sure, but J. K. Rowling’s true success is in her character development.
(Don’t worry. I haven’t read the last book or seen the movie yet, so no spoiler’s here.)
Harry is a complicated guy. He’s a loner, a leader, and a friend, these attributes ever in tension with each other. Orphaned, ostracized by his surrogate family, ever-threatened by the forces of darkness, and untrusted by the media, Harry has always had to fend for himself. He makes independent decisions, which can be impetuous and even rebellious. Harry is unafraid to pursue what he knows to be right, no matter what those in authority say.
Because of this, his peers look to him as their captain in the unseen war against the forces of darkness. Though his anger problem and independence often get in the way, he has developped a loyal cadre.
But it is Harry’s friends who ultimately define him. They are his by chance, by choice, and by that inexplicable magnetism that draws them all together. Quite often, he does not deserve them. But, no matter what, Ron and Hermione stay by his side. Harry is not afraid to cooperate, usually, but his friends make sure to help him even when he doesn’t want it. They would give up their own lives for each other. Since birth, this is a boy who has been protected by love, and that is the most beautiful thing of all.
That is what we really want, isn’t it? To be reminded that life is worth living outside the norms of society, that there is something worth fighting for, and that the love of friends always makes a difference and is always worth dying for? We long to hear a new voice sing that same old truth to a new generation, and that is exactly what J. K. has done. Read on!
“We’re right and we’re the only ones!” shout the Pope, the Baptist preacher, and the cult leader in unison across the trenches.
Then, at Starbucks, in the classroom, in the locker room I hear, “All religions are equal.” Equally right, which means equally wrong, so live it up.
What if there is a third option? What if all of us are wrong, but some of us are less wrong than others?
What if only one person has ever had it 100% right: Jesus. The only human who has ever had a true understanding of reality, of God, or of anything else. Hold on, He was God. The rest of us are finite and screwed-up. But Jesus offered to bring to God any who would follow Him.
Christ saves, not any church, Roman Catholic or otherwise. For some of us, like my best philosopher friends, following Christ means becoming Roman Catholic. For others of us, it means becoming irreverent renegades. Or Baptists.
Different Christian groups, with their different emphases, offer different aspects of the truth about Christ and His teaching: love, grace, the awesomeness of God, the importance of His Word, loving the poor and the oppressed, community, tradition and history, and the reality of how messed-up we are all in this life, etc. If we only turn to our traditions, and not also to their Source, we’ll leave out important aspects of the Truth.
I see in other religions aspects of the truth about God also: the peacefulness of Buddhism; the discipline of Islam; the wild diversity of Hinduism; the restful rituals of Judaism. But I see also important differences. In every case, God is either less of a Person (Buddhism and Hinduism), or less personal (Judaism without Christ; Islam). But do other religions lead to heaven? That is the difficult question facing all Christians today.
I offer a strange possibility which should offend people on both sides of the debate. I think that we’re asking the wrong question. Does any religion lead to heaven? No.
No religion leads to heaven. God leads to heaven. He does so through Christ, but many times the -ianity (or the -ians) gets in the way. Religion — our beliefs, our practices — these are all means to an end: Him. There are many false ways, some in and some outside of Christianity, but only one Shepherd. Many who have correct beliefs, but who did not trust Christ, will be in hell (James 2:19). Is it possible that many who have incorrect beliefs, but who trust Christ, will end up in heaven? I think so, for who among us can claim a 100% understanding of God? I am saved by Who I know, not by what I know. But is it possible to trust Christ without knowing that it’s Christ? I don’t know. But I need to love, listen, speak, and pray as if every moment counts toward that end.
It Happens. You Might As Well Enjoy It.
Oh, the wonders of poo! I’m not talking about some bizarre fetish. I’m talking about pure, simple childish enjoyment of both the product and the process of doin’ the doo. Maybe you were 2, or 4, or 20, but chances are you used to talk about poop alot and for whatever reason you stopped. Why? Okay, so your parents made you. Is it possible that they were in the wrong?
Sure, we throw around “crap” and “shit,” with the occasional clinical “fesces,” but those are usually metaphors and exclamations in reference to miscellaneous unpleasant things. Why?
Poop is amazing. The sight, the sound, the smell should all be occasion for laughter. The color, the texture, the mystery. “I ate that?” Scripture is silent on such things, but I can’t help but think that poop makes God laugh, too. Somehow we in our up-tight neo-Victorian embarassment stopped laughing. We started taking ourselves way more seriously than God ever intended us to.
“I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:17) You might not smell like fish and b.o., like the first disciples, but whether you intend to or not, you still smell like poo at various points throughout the day.
The next time you go, I challenge you to reflect, to ponder the amazingness of the moment, and to give thanks to the unmoved Mover.
And when it is amazing, find someone you love, and tell them about it.