Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (John 5:19-29) transports me to intense conversations I’ve had in and around the hospital the past couple of days, as my sister-in-law Carolyn continues to make an amazing recovery from Tako-Tsubo, aka stress induced cardiomyopathy, which very nearly took her life. Yesterday morning when she awoke we had our first real conversation, as she was getting her voice as well as her thought processes back. What she wanted to talk about was my dad. She kept coming back to the subject, talking about his being a man of the earth, remembering his illness and stay in the hospital, his death. I had already been thinking about Pop a lot, as the day before I had been telling a neighbor stories about his banjo, how the only song he knew, and therefore the only song I knew for a long time was John Henry, and how after he died I learned one more song, Neil Young’s Old Man. The same neighbor, a single mom of a 21-year-old son, told me how my brother-in-law Ron had played an important role in her son’s life, teaching him to play baseball and giving him a male role model. Add to that conversations with Ronnie about what it’s like to raise the incredibly bright nine-year-old, Francisco, and what he’s done to help the youngster process a very frightening week, and you’ve got a themed weekend of talk. Sons and fathers and fears. I woke up today with my friend Bill Baldridge’s song, Manifest Destiny, running through my head. Swing the bat just like your daddy; drive your fears into the sky.
All this is the stuff that sells lots of books for the men’s movement folks, Sam Keen and Robert Bly and others. Joseph Campbell sure made his mark showing how father-son dynamics and the identity crises these dynamics create lead to the archetypal hero journeys that define so much of life for men across cultures. And I suspect that if the men’s movement had been around in first century Judea, Jesus could have sold lots of books. The passage today in John’s gospel is quintessential father-son hero journey material, as Jesus, Son of Humanity, describes some of the dynamics of living with a heavenly Father figure. People who complete the journey, Jesus is saying, find themselves raised to zoe, to life. And those who fail to work it out, whose works are foul (phaol in the Greek), find themselves raised to krisis, to continue the crisis of identity. Thanks to my friend and pastor, Steven Norris, for reminding me in a recent blog of his that the Greek word sometimes translated as judgment or condemnation is the word krisis, ie, crisis. It’s a mistranslation to see Jesus promising a harsh judgment day of condemnation for the foul; there are other Greek words (crimen, katacrimen) that are properly rendered judgment throughout the New Testament. No, this passage promises something else; it points to a recurring dynamic in our lives, a criticial quest to understand who we are and whose we are, that will continue to surface, to be resurrected, time and again, continually throwing us into a crisis of faith and a crisis of identity, until we finally get it and start living the good life.
The word krisis has an interesting etymology. It started out as a medical term, used by the famous physicians Hippocrates and Galen as a “turning point in a disease.” That original meaning has helped me process another part of the themed weekend of father/son male identity conversations, centered around the outcry over George Zimmerman’s vigilante stalking and shooting of the unarmed youth Trayvon Martin. This tragedy and miscarriage of justice reminds me that when you add the discriminating politics of race and class to the gender mix in today’s terrified world, you’ve got the ingredients for a phaol, diseased culture. From the ancient Greek’s point of view, though, these tragedies have the potential to be true crises of culture – turning points in the foul disease of violence and prejudice and machismo. That is the hope Jesus offers, the promise of death to the foul works of discrimination and fear and hate, and the promise of resurrection life to the work of peace and justice in the beloved community. Given that promise, I’d like to imagine that the iconic hoodies, worn by many over the weekend to show solidarity with Trayvon Martin, are in fact symbolic shrouds, prophetically laying to rest deadening cultural expectations in a borrowed Lenten tomb, awaiting the resurrection to a life without hate and fear.
How about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with your friends on Google+, FB, Twitter, etc.