Tuesday, July 17, 2012

It's OK that we're mostly wrong.

A few years ago, while on our family vacation, we started one of our days at the pool. My son was only just four at the time, and his swimming prowess was yet to be fully realized. With his blow-up arm floaties rendering him stuck in a perpetual scarecrow impersonation, Ian jumped in and climbed out of the pool in a non-stop circuit for at least an hour.
At one point, I decided to add to the thrill, throwing him from his armpits straight up into the air from the water. This helped him achieve far more altitude that his meager post-toddler jumps could pretend. He was hooked, which meant, of course, so was I. As the minutes ticked by, the principle of diminishing returns demanded that I throw him higher and higher and higher. Each time he came up out of the water coughing, burping and laughing through a web of snot. And always he came up begging for more. This, if you weren't aware, is what pure joy looks like.

After a toss that was aimed for the overhead lights of the indoor pool (a toss that had to wait until mom and other responsible adults were distracted with other things and looking away) Ian plunged into the water, coming up gasping and laughing. This throw was so much higher, even I thought I better check in.

"You okay buddy?"

"Yeah!" Ian hacked, smiling.

And that's when the most magical thing happened. Ian caught his breath, looking at me with his chlorine-reddened eyes and said, "Daddy, will you marry me?"

I started to laugh, but was fortunately able to stop at a smile.

I recently heard of a woman describing, in her self-proclaimed not-a-Christian way, that she had become aware of some "mysterious force" at work in her life. She was overwhelmed by it. The Christian she was speaking to was certain she was referring, in her own way, to the Holy Spirit, but remained quiet, never suggesting such, choosing instead to listen.

I watched a friend talking to someone that quoted a bumper sticker to express their view of their experiences and how they thought God was involved. They weren't aware of how ubiquitously known this bumper-sticker phrase was. The saying was so cliche that it bordered on trite. Additionally, it was probably untrue of God if you chased the thought down a few degrees. But however overfamiliar and potentially "wrong" it was to my friend, it was obviously loaded with fresh meaning to the other. My friend nodded and said "wow" as the person spoke his heart.

If Jesus had come to take the time to correct people on every errant view of God, he wouldn't have been crucified until he was old enough to be Yoda's grandpa. Instead he loved and gave his life long before he'd been asked to teach at a local seminary, consenting to tell stories by lakes without telling people what the moral of them even was. Think how many times people said something about God or others, and all the Christ would do was grin and listen. Think how utterly wrong everyone sounded to the incarnation of Wisdom. It must have been a daily, hourly occurrence. Think how often he had to let an idea slide, not because he was tired, but because he loved the person more than the exactitude of their theology. To give people the precise reality behind the anthropomorphic idioms men and women had been clinging too in order to understand the divine would have blown their brains out of their skulls. Jesus, it seems, was more interested in a messy life well spent than a precise doctrine well preserved.

Smiling at my son, I realized that he wasn't throwing out a random phrase for a laugh. He was overwhelmed in the moment with love. He couldn't conceive of life being any better than that moment in the pool with his dad. And on impulse, in his very young mind, marriage was the most connected, sacred relationship he could think of. Who it was for, when it was applied- all of that- he couldn't comprehend. He just knew he wanted to tell me he loved me, and always wanted to do so, in a way that couldn't be taken lightly. I hugged my son as tightly as his frame would allow and said, "how about I do even better; I'll be your daddy forever." He smiled, wiping snot from his nose, sturdying himself as I prepared to launch him toward the ceiling once again.

I'm convinced that though his expression was out of place and inaccurate, it wasn't wrong. And I'm convinced God sees both the religious and irreligious in their sincere attempts to grasp life and its Source the same way.

If faith in God is about precision, then it's always going to be about perfection. And perfection is unobtainable within something referred to as a "faith". The church becomes a holy fool's errand. This, I have found, is how religion becomes irrelevant to the world; it fixates on its own belief structure and exactness, obsessing in various measure about its adherents'  rightness, yet never achieving what it declares is its objective. It can't. Faith is an embracing of mystery, not the decoding of it. When religion doesn't get this, it chases its own tail ad infinitum at the expense of the messy reality outside its stuffy halls.

So take heart. The very life of Christ, un-argumentative as it was, (and only corrective with religious folks who say they had eternity cornered) is inviting you past the impossibility of ever being accurate, and to simply, walk humbly with him. With him, with each other.  We will learn, unlearn and be flat out confused by some things along the way. But we will love and be loved. And that's as precise a doctrine that we can expect to make.

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