Rector's Blog: But Through Me
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When I was 14 I got into an argument with some other kid’s mom in youth group. She brought a video to our Sunday gathering about how Rock music comes from the Devil and made us all watch it. At one point, the erstwhile documentary displayed The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album and pointed out that, among the many celebrity cutouts adorning the classic cover was a once-famous occultist. This, you see, alongside the strange sounds the later Beatles albums featured, was proof of their demonic influence. It’s important that I tell you I’m not making this up. This happened to me.
Mercifully, the video came to an end. This mom stood up and looked at us triumphantly. To this day I am not sure why she was even there: Maybe our Youth pastor was out sick? Because he and I used to listen to the Ramones together, so I knew he wouldn’t be buying this. She asked what we thought. I was a demonstrative kid and could barely contain myself. “I hated it,” I said. Her face told me she was not expecting this. “What did you hate about it?” she asked, and I was so glad she asked because I got to tell her I hated all of it. I said, “I listen to a lot of those bands. I listen to the Beatles. I don’t do drugs. I don’t worship Satan. I’m Christian.”
She was unfazed. “But just imagine,” she continued, “what your relationship with Jesus would be like if you were listening to Christian music instead?”
I said, “If Jesus wants me to listen to Christian music instead, he should make it not suck.”
This is when I was disinvited from the conversation.
I know there are some Christians that think pop culture is bad, evil, maybe even demonic, and I know that they are very vocal, but most of the Christians I have known in my life have been more open. They are able to see the value of the secular alongside the spiritual. Me, I think I’m more on the radical side of things. I don’t believe anything is secular. I see Jesus all over the place.
Speaking of the Beatles, I remember when my dad slipped into a coma and I thought he was going to die. I was in California and he was in Maine, and it would be at least 24 hours before I’d be able to get to him. The only comfort I could get that day was in the George Harrison-penned Beatles song “Within You Without You.” It had long been my least favorite song on that album, but for some reason it popped up now and wouldn’t let go. It was so simple and emotionless, and I heard George intone, “You’re really only very small and life goes on within you and without you.” Should that have comforted me? I don’t know, but it did. I heard Jesus in that song that day.
I got back to Maine, and he stayed in that coma for a couple more days. Windchill made it 30 degrees below zero, and I was driving back and forth from his house to the hospital, and it was George Harrison again, this time singing, “All Things Must Pass.” I did not know if my Dad was going to live or die, but I heard this long-haired British Hindu Hippie tell me this is the way of things and I believed him. And I heard Jesus that day.
I want to be clear that I’m not using Jesus’ name metaphorically in these situations. And this might be an odd idea for you, but bear with me.
There’s a moment in Jesus’ ministry when he says, “I am the way and the truth and the life: no one comes to the Father but through me.” The prevailing interpretation of this text is that Jesus is saying you can only go to heaven when you die if you are Christian. And that is very odd to me. In fact, I don’t buy it. Because that’s not what Jesus says.
In the story, Jesus knows he’s going to die very soon. And on the night before he’s killed, he gathers his closest friends together to share a meal. He spends a great deal of time seeking to comfort them. He tells them he’s going to the Father and that at some point they’ll join him. And their response is how will we join you if we don’t know the way there? Let’s stop here for a moment. This is not a theological question: It is a heart wrenching plea from someone who loves Jesus and is scared to not see him again. This is don’t leave me, friend, because I won’t know what to do, and I won’t know how to find you.
Jesus’ response is the now famous, “I am the way. And the truth. And the life! No one comes to the Father but by me.” Now this is where people usually stop the quote, except it’s not at all where Jesus stops speaking. We cut Jesus off mid-sentence. It’s a thing Christians like to do. “Nobody gets to Father but through me,” Jesus says, and then he continues, “if you know me you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and you have seen him.”
I don’t know if you can hear that the way that I hear it, but when I hear this I don’t hear Jesus as the doorman you’ve got to befriend in order to get into the heavenly nightclub. I hear him saying to his friend, you don’t need to worry about finding God. You already know God. You have experienced my love. If you have experienced my love, you have been in God’s presence.
And now I’m going to say a very Christian thing, and it might make you uncomfortable. I believe every time you experience Love, that’s Jesus. Every time you realize something true and honest and real and wise and beautiful, that is Jesus. And I don’t mean it metaphorically or symbolically. I literally believe it’s Jesus. I believe in Jesus, and I believe Jesus works in the real world this way. And I don’t think you need to believe in Jesus or be Christian for Jesus to be working in your life. I believe Jesus was working in the songs those days. When Jesus says he’s the way to the Father, he’s not saying you need to believe all the right things about him to experience God. He means that he is the one who is facilitating your connection with the Divine. He is at work within the love that you know. Jesus is always working to draw you closer to the love for which you were made.
I do not need you to believe that. It’s completely fine with me if you don’t. I say it only to say that I believe a proper Christian worldview does not need everything to be Christian for God to be present and visible in it. I can see Jesus in a Hindu pop song, in an atheist Jewish friend, in some Hollywood movie, in a meme some friend sends me, in my kid’s teacher. Nothing is secular. Everything has the capacity to show the work Jesus is doing to bring you closer to the One who made you. Love finds you, and that’s when Jesus says, “You already know God.”
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