Highlight of my day today was the morning devotional with Paul McCusker, VP of Resource Development at Focus, of which I’m a tiny cog. He is Episcopalian by choice, if you can believe that, and seems to be pretty proud of the fact (I’m just kidding of course). I think mostly he flaunts his liturgical credentials so he can quote from Macabees and wish people a happy Epiphany and stuff. But that’s just my jaded Evangelicalism talking.
But this morning, Paul talked about the traditional story of Christ’s birth, pointing out a few new things I hadn’t thought of before. You know, when Mary was visited by Gabriel and complimented and told she would bear the promised messiah, she was barely old enough to drink, or drive her own donkey. Imagine sitting there being told you’re going to have a baby by God. What are you most likely thinking? I mean, after all the fear and disbelief and pinching yourself, you’d probably come to think, “Wow. I must be something. I’m not going to have to worry about a thing anymore.” Right? Not in a million years would you be thinking, “Gee, I hope this means God is going to allow the governor to force us to travel a hundred miles to have this baby in a dirty stable among strange shepherds and a couple goats.”
And beyond that, this one birth predicates the slaughter of thousands of Jewish children, basically all the ones that Herod could find. Talk about a Merry Christmas. We don’t really sing about that around the egg nog bowl. In some way, I think it makes a weird sort of sense that the holidays are so often tinged with a bit of melancholy. The light of the world came in, but the darkness came in too. It even seemed to increase. While that little coda at the end of The Passion of the Christ with Satan being placed in the pit is a nice thought, it didn’t really happen, did it? It might have been a symbolic victory Jesus won, but it’s not all honky dory. We’re still getting darker and darker here. And what’s weirder, we seem to have a pretty dark God. Who among us is closer to understanding this principle of heaven: “To those who have, more will be given. To those who have not, even what they have shall be taken away.” What kind of mixed-up God are we talking about here?
In this sick and twisted world where many, if not most have already given up, we Christian writers have a difficult task. We can’t afford to be afraid to be seen in a dirty stable. We have to accept the darkness that comes in with the light—that’s right, accept it. I’ll come back to that. Walker Percy—another Christian artist who preferred his faith with a strong orthodoxy—has a quote I like. He said, “My next novel shall be mainly given to ass-kicking for Jesus’ sake.” He asked, “Why does man feel so sad in the twentieth century? [And] how does the Christian novelist set about writing, having cast his lot with a discredited Christendom and having inherited a defunct vocabulary?” As the article in Marrs Hill Review #20 asks, “How do you tell the story of redemption when nearly everybody lost interest a long time ago?”
Percy believed American Christians had become passionless, and “terminally nice.” The America I see certainly bears this out. It often seems in this world that the haters are the only ones truly alive. But it does no good to hate. For a time, I hated modern American Christendon. In my weaker moments, I revert back to it. But when I see that the God who was willing to prove His love in such demeaning ways, loves even the ones who don’t understand him, the ones who can’t accept that ineffable mystery, I feel inspired that I can accept them too, unselfishly, and unqualified. It isn’t only the “lost” who are lost.
And the last thing I want to say tonight is that I don’t think it’s possible to extract the mystery from the knowing, the doubt from the faith. Everything is interwoven in this mixed-up God universe. It’s dirty and chaotic, and somehow more majestic because of it. It’s a mystery how we can express love and hate at the same time, but it’s no less true that one without the other may not be possible. Maybe love is given greater life by the implicit loathing of the selfish part that’s retained, the resulting struggle against that, and the ultimate realization that neither is inescapable. Reciprocal and opposed, but neither can exist in a vacuum. I don’t know, I’m just thinking out loud. Maybe we have to have both, have to be both, in order to speak effectively to the truths of this created disorder. Can we accept the chaos as part of the whole?