Jesus, Zombie-Fighter and Prince of Paradox

Last night I dreamed I was inside a half-razed cathedral. Parts of the ceiling and walls had been destroyed. Dozens of icons were clustered together at one end of the nave, stoic and forgotten. From a distance they seemed beautiful and valuable. I knew the church was slated for demolition and decided to take some icons with me—to save them. But upon closer inspection, they were misshapen, garishly painted, and made of coarse, crumbly plaster. I searched among them for one that I recognized or might want—specifically for Mary—but they were ugly and unfamiliar to me. My husband used a chisel to remove a mosaic of Christ from the floor, and we took that.

When I woke, I knew the dream was a metaphor for my present relationship with the church. I used to sit in church during Vespers and weep. I loved being there. I wanted the inside of my heart to be like that, hushed and holy, a place where even the shadows were blessed. I loved feeling like I was part of something, that I was connected to the other people there, even if I didn’t know their names or speak their language.

Now when I go it just feels…like nothing. Even when it’s nice to see old friends and the homily is good, the feeling I used to get—that I’d stepped into some kind of current sweeping me toward god—that’s gone. I know the church hasn’t changed—the Orthodox Church’s whole deal is that it never changes. It’s me. Whether or not I desired it, my spiritual perspective continued to evolve.

To wit: right now, I really can’t get down with the notion that Jesus was the one and only son of god. So when I sit in church and observe all the pomp and circumstance, I can’t help but think Jesus would be face-palming it if he were there.

Christians, IMO, have made an idol out of Jesus. It calls to mind a horde of zombies, staggering arms-out towards “braaaaains.” Only instead of brains, it’s Jesus. The Savior. The Son of God. There’s a reason the Bible is chock-full of stories about people and idols. Humans like to worship stuff, and idols are easy. They’re portable and adorable and mascot-y. Idols don’t challenge your worldview. They don’t cause you to think about yourself. All you have to do is placate their demands (whatever you perceive those to be) and work yourself up into a frenzy on holy days.

That’s how church seems to me. Like people just chanting and waving some smoke around so they can have an emotional catharsis or feel obedient. I can’t help but think that everyone’s missing Jesus’s message, which was often riddled with paradoxes and not straightforward at all — which to me indicates that he wanted people to think about what he was saying, to really give it some consideration. Take Luke 17:21. “Nor will people say, ‘Look, here it is,’ or ‘There it is.’ For the kingdom of God is within you.”

What is the kingdom of god, anyway? It sounds like something that god would be in control of, a perfect place where everything is just and groovy. So that couldn’t be Earth, right? It couldn’t be our present conflict- and disease-addled reality. But that seems to be exactly what Jesus was suggesting. Moreover, he said it’s inside of us, not at church (or temple, or mosque), and not in the afterlife. When I read that passage, I’m like, Please, Jesus, elaborate. Tell me how to get there, how to understand that, how to live in that kingdom.

But Jesus didn’t. He couldn’t. His message wasn’t a set of instructions; it was a clarion call, a warning—more smelling salts than Google-map. The zombies of Jesus’s time were the same as they are today: blind and mindless followers, out for themselves, devouring their neighbors. Jesus was like, Yo! Wake up! Zombies are coming and they will infect you! Find the kingdom, get inside the gates, it’s your only hope!

That’s how it seems to me anyway, at this particular moment in time. I’ve accepted the changeability of my perspective. After all, Jesus himself said to Nicodemus, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” I miss church because I miss how easy it was. I miss being part of a faith community. But I don’t miss god—I can’t, because it’s all around me, all the time. It’s inescapable. I just have to open my eyes and look.


2 thoughts on “Jesus, Zombie-Fighter and Prince of Paradox

  1. Take it, if you will, from someone just a little bit older than you and who has been Orthodox all of his little bit older life: this business about the Orthodox Church being unchanging can be a bit misleading from the pews. Indeed the dogma of Orthodoxy does not change (although we have surely come to understand it better over the centuries), but the corporeal churches are subject to all of the caprice of transient humanity you’d care to find anywhere else. Perhaps, of course, you are more concerned about dogma than about people or their transient church “politics,” although you do seem (despite your references to seeing familiar faces in the services) to be critical of Pharisees in your midst.

    Let me offer you this too related to that last word. In the verse you cite from Luke the Greek word for within, ἐντός, also means amidst, and it is cognate to a Greek noun that means armor or arms. The Kingdom of God is within us, but we are also clad with it and armed with it, and our fighting accoutrements are largely constituted of the Church. Not just a parish, a group of Orthodox persons whom you know, or the rituals in the Divine Liturgy, but the φρόνημα of the Orthodox faith.

    I’m sorry to read that this has turned out to be difficult for you. You have read my own writings, and so you know well that I, lifelong foolishly proud Orthodox who I am and whatnot, have been burned by an Orthodox parish or two and have had no tiny degree of conflict with fellow members of our beloved Church. Like Nikodemos, though, I cannot tell where the spirit comes from or whither it goes. The Lord lets us into the Kingdom by invitation, and He also permits us to suffer a great many travails on our paths to the banquet. I wouldn’t presume to know why He has permitted you to experience things as you have. I am, nevertheless, sorry for this moment of yours. Sorry that it leaves you so uncertain, and—permit me this too—concerned about where it might lead. But, in any case, your candor about it is to be respected.

    I hope you will continue to write of your spiritual travail, if for no reason other than to be able to remain informed of how you are working this out, my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Virgil, thanks for your very kind and thoughtful remarks, and for taking the time to read my stuff.

      I think you have an advantage not just in being “a little bit older” as you say, but in being a cradle Orthodox. It seems to me that growing up “inside” of a religious practice gives one the luxury of casting off or disregarding the practices or specific beliefs that don’t make sense to one on a personal level. (I’m not saying this is what you’ve done — I couldn’t possibly know — only that this is a liberty I’ve observed in other so-called “cradle” Orthodox.) It’s like picking and choosing elements of your culture. For example, I was born in Texas but I don’t wear cowboy boots or Wrangler jeans, I don’t listen to C&W music, and I can’t two-step (well). I do, however, cultivate bluebonnets and enjoy barbecue.

      However, as a convert to Orthodox Christianity — an adult who has made a reasonably informed decision to buy into something — it seems more like I have to be whole-hog about it. Why convert if you disagree with chunks of a system?

      I converted because I’m an aesthete. I dig the music and the incense and the art and the whole vibe. I also didn’t like being excluded from the Eucharist. I wanted in. There are other reasons too, having to do with my ego and identity, which I will cover in an upcoming post.

      But you shouldn’t worry about me too much. For the first time in a year, I’m actually feeling pretty relaxed about things. I went through some pretty heavy grief and existential crapola, but I’m on the other side of it, feeling groovy.

      Liked by 1 person

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