Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (John 8:21-30) transports me, with the help of Lynn Redgraves’ voice, to the wonderful world of Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart, a young-adult/child book built around the other-worldly talent of a bookbinder named Mortimer Folchart. One of the great perks of having an elementary school teacher for a wife is being introduced to these fantastic books, which always seem best to me if I can find a recorded version, read by someone with a British accent. In this particular book, we discover that Mortimer, aka Mo, aka Silver Tongue, has the ability to read characters right out of a story into real life. He never knows how it happens, or when it will happen, or which characters will suddenly appear out of their world into his. Unfortunately, the first characters to emerge are villains. This sets him and his daughter Meggie out on their long adventure to avoid these treacherous folk and also to discover a way to bring Meggie’s mother back, as Mortimer had also read her out of the real world and into a story. Another character to emerge is Farid, a young boy out of The Arabian Nights. We learn to imagine what it must be like to be transported from the ancient Middle Eastern world of desert sands and camels to the modern world of Europe. When riding in a car, Farid can only say, It’s just a dream; what else could it be? Everything looks wrong, false, weird, like in dreams. Now we’re flying, or the night is flying past us, or something. . . Later, when eating in a cafeteria, the boy stares out the window onto a city street. His eyes could hardly decide what to follow first. His head moved back and forth as if he were watching an invisible game and desperately trying to understand the rules.
I’d like to hear Lynn Redgrave read today’s passage from John’s gospel. The premise of the passage isn’t all that different from Inkheart. Jesus is talking with his followers, explaining to them that he is going away to a place they cannot go. Seeing their confusion, he tries to explain, You are of this world. I am not of this world. It’s as if Jesus had been read into their world out of the pages of a story, and in fact, that’s how the Bible tells it. He was read into this world by the prophets, who foresaw a Messiah coming on the horizon. Or, the way Luke tells it, he was read into our world by the Holy Spirit, who overshadowed a virgin named Mary one night. However it happened, Jesus arrived on the scene with a word for the world he found himself in, a word of judgment and mercy – a condemnation of this world’s system, and a hope that one day human beings would have eyes to see the new world breaking in around them. His disciples were watching him closely, desperately trying to understand the rules he was playing by.
We don’t have to enter in the world of adolescent fantasy literature to understand the idea of people moving between worlds. For 35 years soap opera announcer Bill Wolfe introduced an afternoon drama by telling the audience, We do not live in this world alone, but in a thousand other worlds. We express this idea all the time in normal conversation; we move between worlds – the virtual world, material world, world of work, real world, dream world, wide world of sports, Disney World. The world in this sense means a structure, a culture, with a set of rules, a set of expectations, a set of accepted behaviors. In one world you might slide down a mountain of snow and fall over a ledge to an agony of defeat. In another world you might walk down a sunny street shaking hands with a life-size Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck. In one world you might compete in a dog-eat-dog mighty-crush-the-weak environment of corporate greed. In another you might document your every move for the social network world to see, or play fantasy sports. Or you might read yourself into the world of Jesus, a world of sacrificial love, of welcome for strangers and release for prisoners, of contentment and sharing, of transforming relationships. After Mo’s daughter Meggie had endured the first of their daring encounters with characters from another world, she sat sipping lemonade, thinking, Normal life seems improbable, unreal. Such is the experience of those who encounter the other world’s Jesus. Dare to follow his radically strange Way. and normal life will forever after seem improbable, unreal.
How about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc.