As is my custom, a few years ago I found myself in a heated exchange with someone over the nature of belief, God, the Bible, human origins, and whether or not the Office was going to make it post-Michael Scott (it did, but with a limp). You know, the core tenets of the Christian faith.
In the midst of this discussion, as we circled round and round and round both giving up and convincing one another of nothing, I was struck by the hilarious sadness of the situation, this is what the Christian faith has ultimately become: fodder for pointless debate, narcissistic blogging, hate speech, and tense Christmas gatherings involving arguments between your secular-Jewish uncle and Fox News watching grandparents.
Which brings me back, after what probably resembled a George Michael 45-second-thought-blackout, both to the original conversation as well as the only card I’ve learned to play whenever I find myself in a game of theological chicken:
“Why believe in any of this? What’s the point of it all? What has believing in these truths rather than those changed about how you shop, eat, live, mow your lawn, vacation, wash your socks, and treat your neighbors in this world (rather than the one coming after it)?”
Now, since we’re likely having a one-way conversation with one another over the internets, I’ll answer first and you can follow up later.
Mine, obviously, begins with a first date:
setting: The Carmike Theaters on Millertown Pike
car: a 2001 Pontiac Grand-Am
car color: champagne (or “gold” for the uninitiated)
AC: smells faintly of exhaust
jeans: carpentered as always
movie: The Ring
palms: extra sweaty
arms: obviously quite heavy
conversation: somewhat stilted, quiet, self-deprecating, overly concerned with movie theatre, car, and outside temperatures.
total time spent together: 3 hours
total time spent in direct communication: 20 minutes
Honestly, it’s hard to believe that almost 11 years later we’re not only married (almost 6 years now!), but are also co-parenting a child together. (Granted, our “child” is a 14-month-old pug, but I’ve seen every episode of Teen Mom 1 on Netflix, and based on my extensive research over a weekend 2 years ago, pug ownership and child-rearing have way more in common than one might imagine. Everyone ties their toddlers to bike racks outside Chick-Fil-A, and encourages them to poop in their neighbor’s yard right?)
Lindsay and I have survived earthquakes
tornadic activity (thanks only to Todd Howell)
leaving the Southeast for California
420 square foot studio apartments cooled by only one window unit
3 hour family budgeting sessions
changing at least 2 flat tires
returning to the Southeast from California
working full-time at a Baptist Church in a small town
and one of the longest dry spells in University of Tennessee Football history.
I realize now, after looking back over the list, that much of this would never have happened without Lindsay. Now, I don’t mean this in a J.J. Abrams style time-travel episode where removing one person from a particular timeline shakes the foundations of human history: Todd Howell and Viva Laughlin would probably have happened anyway. No, what I mean is that without this particular relationship with this very particular person much of what I now refer to colloquially as “my life,” would be categorically different:
like in the sock washing, grocery shopping, neighboring sorts of ways.
I heard one time that love isn’t actually the meaning of life, but is instead the light by which we discover meaning in life.
I don’t remember where I heard that*, but for me at least, Lindsay is what enables me to find meaning, purpose, and hope bubbling up in the world around me. She’s the light providing enough courage and clarity in the murky darkness of confusion, struggle, and annual disappointment each fall at the hands of the Vols, to continue loving others, my family, my friends, God, and even myself.
In short, I believe in and love Lindsay because she’s that which allows me to believe in and love everything and everyone else.
(*NOTE: I now recall where I “heard” that, it was on a $1.29 card at Walgreens I got for my mom a few years ago on Mother’s Day. YOU’RE WELCOME MADRE!)
This is also the very same reason the Office managed to survive the departure of Michael Scott (however painfully at times) without completely coming off the rails. Because the beauty of the Office wasn’t found in characters who overpower our screens with bombast, beauty, success, or superpowers (which is precisely why Robert California was so toxic for season 8), but ones that remind us all that life wherever we find it is humming with story, and wit, and complexity, and struggle, and divinity.
This could be why, after the credits rolled on the series finale, I sobbed for 45 minutes on the couch while clutching my confused and increasingly more agitated pug.
This could also be why I did not shed a single tear at the conclusion of Man of Steel, despite Warner Brothers’ repeated efforts to compare Clark Kent to Jesus (*cough* they aren’t the same *cough* Jesus died *cough* Superman never will *cough* the movie was bad *cough*).
I believe in the Office because it’s helped me to believe in life, not just in spite of, but precisely because of all its small and seemingly insignificant mundanities.
For some time now, many of us have been told that “having faith in God” naturally requires the end of many other beliefs we’ve found meaningful, good, true, and yes, even beautiful. In this story, the word “God” actually marks the death of new beliefs rather than their genesis. And, much like a late night infomercial, this god’s religion plays the role of a ruthlessly upbeat foot soldier laying verbal (and sometimes extremely physical) waste to all other competitors in an effort to become the sole source of meaning, purpose, and relational flourishing in your life.
So for 3 easy payments of $39.99…
In the 4th book of the New Testament known as the “Gospel of John,” Jesus begins referring to himself as “the light of the world”.
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
I would argue that what we discover on the lips of Jesus isn’t yet another competitor desperately waiting in line for the scarce resources of our religious fidelity, but is, counterintuitively, a self-disinterested invitation to see the holiness whirring about wherever we find ourselves standing at the moment. Because light, rather than demanding our attention and appreciation, instead, in a quietly patient if not confusingly generous manner, allows us to focus our energies more intently on everything else around us.
In my experience, the “light of the world” (whether it be named Lindsay, Michel Scott, or even Jesus) has been just that, a way of finally encountering the world and all its naked pain, brokenness, beauty and endless possibilities, clearly,
maybe even for the very first time.
So, to finally come back around to the initial question, I believe in Jesus specifically because he’s helped me to believe in the sacredness of every other sock and tree and conversation and cup of coffee and republican and 9 season television show and relationship and democrat and self-important blog post and even the church itself (in all its limping stiltedness and half-hearted strivings).
I believe in Jesus because he’s the only way I can muster enough strength to believe in anything and anyone else.
So may you, in all your mundane and seemingly insignificant conversations, in your failing faithfulness and first date awkwardness, and yes, even in your wounded agnosticism, bumper-sticker Christianity, and erudite atheism, find that when you turn on the light it manages to fill the room you’re standing in with clarity and a soft glow.
I call that glow, “God”;
you may not.
But I guess the name’s not really the point of the light.
The point is quietly celebrating its warmth together.
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