Many times in my life, I've stood at the very edge of the precipice and anxiously stared off into the void. When I was a lot younger, I would sometimes maniacally laugh or scream the lyrics to Savoy Brown's Hellbound Train. I don't really know if I just wanted to hear an echo, or just a disembodied voice yelling back, "Enough already! I get the point."
In my later life, I've went back and stood there with the likes Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Christopher Hitchens, and Soren Kierkegaard. We didn't talk a whole lot, but it was nice to have a little company. Most of my friends and loved ones were too busy to make the trip, either making a living, supporting a family, doing their own thing, or just screaming and complaining about shit.
I never stood there with Jesus though, a fact that has bothered me no end.
Recently my daughter and one of her friends created a podcast that specifically deals with issues related to grief. One day, while I was listening, I heard them both make what seemed to me an all too perfunctory dismissal of Christianity.
I wasn't offended. I was saddened. I understood where they were coming from though. Over the course of my life, I have wrestled mightily with both angels and demons to try to wrest some kind of firm belief system from this crazy thing that we know of as life.
I was saddened though because such a comment seems almost obligatory, and is now such a part of modern culture that it is as almost common as annoying television commercials.
More importantly, it reminds me just how negligent I was in providing my children with any kind of spiritual guidance. I love my girls, and I hate to think about how badly that I failed in this regard.
And I don't mean that it was my job to tell them what life means; they have to discover that one for themselves. I just want to spare them as much as possible from time spent standing on the ledge and staring off into nothingness.
And if that don't work, at least be close enough to wrap my arms around them and say, "Ain't it a pretty sight though? Look over there at that cloud. It looks kind of like a beautiful princess riding a unicorn." Like I used to when they were small.
The problem was that I struggled so much with trying to extricate my own self from despair that I have a very deep-seated need to go stand there with my own dad, so he that he could tell me, "Shit, son. That void ain't nothing. Me, you, and Jesus, we'll build a damned bridge cross that sumbitch." But, my Pop died a good while back, and mom is in a wheelchair and needs all the faith that she has to stare across that void herself.
I was only around ten or eleven years old when my Sunday School teacher told our class that we would all burn in hell unless we had accepted Christ and repented of our sins. I had a bit of a problem wrapping my head around the concept that I was going to be barbequed in perpetuity for a preadolescent lust for my elementary teacher and stealing penny candy.
Jesus gets a bad rap nowadays. And it ain't so much his own fault as it is ours and those evil sons of bitches who throughout the centuries have tried, with some success, to use his life and words to feather their own nests or gain notoriety and power.
It is our fault because we would rather watch stupid people doing stupid things or complain about how bad we got it than look for answers in the void. We flee from funerals as fast as our legs and automobiles can carry us and run to the nearest barroom or television set to wash the taste of clarity out of our mouths and the image of our own mortality out of our minds.
Most of us spend so little time getting to know ourselves that we depend on actors/politicians, professional athletes, and celebrities to tell us who we are. This statement utterly encapsulates our current world. Modern culture aims no so much as to point the way toward transcendence but serves to distract and entertain us, so we don't notice the obvious madness in the eyes of all the performers, the slime trail they leave behind them, or the grease stains and the ripped seams on their costumes.
In the year 325 A.D., The Roman Emperor Constantine convened the council of Nicea to get a grip on the religious situation that was causing a lot of argument throughout the Empire. The Council ended up placing the political needs of the state ahead of the spiritual needs of the citizens. At the time, the Church also betrayed its own stated mission by placing itself into the yoke of political necessity. Nicea was also where Jesus was deemed to be divine.
A lot of the religious dogma and doctrines that have emerged after that fateful council has been at times somewhat tainted both by the idea that man's spiritual needs are secondary to his material needs, and by those who occupy religious authority's need to support and justify the decision to place itself into the secondary position of the political hierarchy and thereby creating the inference that they rule over spiritual seekers rather than serve as true servants to their spiritual needs.
There has to be a fundamental truth that underlies all existence. In mythological sense Jesus is that truth (And I'm talking in terms of essential meaning and not as a children's tale as they have us believe about myth.) In Christ's trial and crucifixion, the two principal power players were Pontius Pilate (the State) and the Religious leadership of Jerusalem (also the State).
Pontius Pilate made a great show of finding no fault in Jesus. Still, it was he who made the fateful political decision to let the religious leaders handle it. The religious leaders, in turn, acting on the belief that Jesus threatened their own authority, appealed to the mob for justice. The crowd chose the criminal Barabbas over Jesus. If that's not an event displaying great mythic import, I don't what is.
Both political players displayed little hesitation in their willingness to suppress and even murder the truth in order to preserve political authority and then brilliantly manipulating events so that the ultimate blame fell upon the ignorance of the mob.
And there's the rub. People who ignore Jesus's words about forgiveness and loving their fellow man, or his admonitions against storing up treasure in the material world, might as well be standing in that courtyard picking their nose, flicking the boogers on their buddy, and screaming their fool head off for the release of Barabbas.
Too many people nowadays would scream their heads off at political rally or at a church meeting thinking that their chosen God of the moment will solve all of their problems. And far too few understand that our problems will never be solved without some knowledge of the fundamental truth that underlies existence.
Next time, I go to stand at the edge of the world to stare off into the void with Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Hitchens, I'm going to invite Jesus along and see if I can get them to strike up a conversation. He don't say a whole lot, but what he does say is truthful, and I think they'd be impressed by his demeanor.