Cosmic Jewish Zombie: Truth and Faith Collide

Posted: September 22, 2010 in Faith
Tags: , , , ,

Today my job brought me back to the Osborn Correctional Facility in Somers, CT near the Connecticut-Massachusetts border for the first time since late 2008. Upon entering the parking lot, I was reminded of a bumper sticker that I took a picture of there nearly two years ago:

I remember my reaction upon first seeing this sticker largely consisted of wanting to defend God. As if the Almighty was somehow in need of assistance from me in the Kingdom’s Department of Justice. But I also found some joy in the creativity of the sticker’s author in manufacturing phrases such as “Cosmic Jewish Zombie” and the absurdity of faith from an outside perspective. I remember my next thought was wanting to find the owner of the vehicle to address each of the sticker’s allegations with a corresponding apologetic lesson. I even thought about doing a series of devotionals with the teens at church that would address some of the myths (and truths) that the sticker proclaims.

But today I realize my initial reaction was largely consistent with a Western cultural response, not necessarily a Gospel response. A desire to confront inaccuracy with “absolute truth” over love. Please understand, I am not saying there are not absolute truths, only that I am sure I have been far more effective at times in communicating my distaste for those in disagreement with me than I was effective at preaching the “good” news. And herein lies a different truth, no one places the above bumper sticker on their car because they have read the Bible and patently found it false and despise Jesus. No, the reality is that those who would put this sticker on their car likely have had negative experiences with Christians and the church, perhaps directly correlated to a cultural belief within the church that to confront people with “truth” is a higher priority than the posture we take with them. That is to say, that somehow we feel God is pleased when we tell people of His supreme authority even if this message is delivered in an unloving manner that would prevent anyone from wanting a relationship with His church.

So what would an alternative response or approach even potentially look like? I listened to a podcast today in which Irish author Peter Rollins told a parable about a Jewish rabbi and a prospective disciple that sheds some light. The story was paraphrased along the following lines:

A young man wished to train under a learned old Rabbi and said, “I wish to learn the wisdom of God, please teach it to me.” The rabbi replied, “You are much too young, come back in ten years.” The young man arrogantly responded that he had studied and mastered various forms of logic and that he was now ready to learn the logic of God. The rabbi responded, “Okay, I will test you. I will ask you one question and if you answer it correctly, you will prove yourself ready to learn.” The young man eagerly agreed to the terms.

The Rabbi then said to the young man, “Two men go down a chimney. One comes out and washes his face and the other one doesn’t. Tell me, which one washed his face?” The young man thought and said, “Well, the one with soot on his face washed up.” The rabbi said, “I told you that you were not ready. The exact opposite occurred. The clean one looked at the dirty one and thought he was also dirty, and he went to wash up. The dirty one, on the other hand, looked at the clean one and thought he was also clean and, therefore, did not go to wash up.”

The young man was not ready to give up and begged for another chance. The rabbi agreed to pose another question.“Two men go down a chimney. One comes out and washes his face and the other one doesn’t. Tell me, which one washed his face?” The young man smiled confidently and answered,  “The clean one looked at the dirty one and thought he was also dirty and went to wash up. The dirty one, on the other hand, looked at the clean one and thought he was also clean and, therefore, did not go to wash up.” The rabbi responded, “Stop trying to be clever. Of course not. The man with the soot on his face had it in his eyes and could taste it in his mouth and see it on his hands. Of course, he is the one who washed up.”

The young man was stunned, but asked for one last chance. The rabbi consented and asked the same question a third time. The young man this time replied, “Well, is it the man without the soot on his face who washes up? But this time for a different reason?” The rabbi chastised him saying, “Tell me, how is it possible for two men to go down a chimney and for one to come out dirty and for the other to come out clean?”

The point of the parable is that the young man was seeking a singular “right” answer, an absolute truth to the question, and the rabbi’s teaching indicated that embracing a life of faith necessitates that there isn’t always a “right” answer to grab hold of. Rollins expounded on the parable by saying that a life of faith is a journey of transformation, a shared life of belief, ritual and belonging. If we’re always solely focused on finding the “right” answer, perhaps we’re missing the point of the growth that occurs in the context of the shared journey.

What if we were able to adapt a posture of humility, an attitude that perhaps we don’t have everything figured out? Yet in faith still confidently proclaim Jesus as Lord? What if  I was able to see in that bumper sticker not a person in need of correction, but an opportunity to share in the wonder and mystery of the good news of Kingdom with a fellow created being? I don’t have this all figured out, but I’d like to believe that embracing a communal journey of transformation in Christ would make us an attractive people to the world. Perhaps even to the extent that nonbelievers who do not understand or agree with our theology wouldn’t feel it necessary to place bumper stickers on their cars to advertise their dislike of the church. What do you think?

Comments
  1. Jackie Brown says:

    Your words were just what I was needing to read this morning. Thank you, Josh.

  2. Mary says:

    Josh, you have an incredible skill in writing! Loved the “dad time” post. =) My tears were welling up…lol

  3. April says:

    Playing devil’s advocate a bit here, just to be able to communicate a point if I can 🙂 Having some difficulty putting my thoughts accurately to words.

    I find that sticker to be an opportunity rather than an insult. Sometimes it’s helpful to view yourself from an outsider’s point of view. Fully understanding your beliefs helps you to become stronger in them. I don’t believe in the logic of blindly following anything – politics, trends, friends, faith – we all must be educated and confident in the choice before committing to something that can be life changing. You must truly understand what that change means to you, to those close to you and to your life.

    Accepting that, by modern standards, the stories of the Bible are somewhat ludicrous may help deepen your understanding of their true meaning (she turned into a pillar of salt? Really? Have you ever seen someone turn into salt? A burning bush that wasn’t consumed and a man who rose from the dead? In all of written, documented and and confirmed history have these actions or any similar verifiable miracles been witnessed?). Having a devil’s advocate brings out points to consider that may have been missed otherwise. If your faith is truly strong and held in love then it will not be threatened by the disbelief of others, it will be strengthened. If the doubt (or as I suspect this sticker is an example of, humor – being able to laugh at yourself is important) of others causes you to feel defensive I would think on why that is. Do you feel that He needs defending? Or is it yourself that needs the help?

    As an outsider to the church, I have experienced many reactions to my wavering faith. Some feel the need to immediately save me, as though cramming their beliefs immediately into my head will correct my obviously flawed thought process in some sort of twisted miracle cure. It served to repel me, strongly. I want nothing to do with people who are so rigid in their beliefs that they feel the need to force them on others to the exclusion of their own personal truths. That is not love; it’s domination. How would you feel if someone, on hearing about your beliefs about abortion, gay marriage, the death penalty or any other very strongly emotional issue immediately strove to “correct” you to their side? I have also had faith offered to me gently, with consideration, as a tool that may be helpful. That received a much better reaction. When He is offered as salvation rather than chains you can expect there to be more interest. I am willing to learn and to explore when faith is a gift and not a burden. Be wary of offering it as sarcasm though, that can be just as destructive as ordering someone to love. We all must arrive at the conclusion it is the correct choice for us ourselves. Truly valuable faith, the kind that runs soul-deep with your very blood, is a journey that ultimately must be taken alone. Yes, there will be many along the way pointing us and helping us along, but the decision to accept it into your heart is your own. Anything less is nothing but a meaningless shell in the end. Seek to direct those looking for a guide, not wasting your time and energy trying to push those who are not ready or willing to walk that path. I believe that’s how we show His love – when others have reached the decision to open their hearts we’ll be there to show them the way to let Him in.

    Thank you, for sharing the story on the rabbi. I agree, embracing the fact that we don’t have all the answers is the very best way to get along with – and have a chance to help – the masses. I am wise enough to admit my own ignorance. Until God Himself gives me the answers I refuse to believe that humanity could possibly possess all of them. The very best we can do is to follow what our hearts say is the truth and hope that the distortion of mere human interpretation hasn’t warped it too badly. I have found that every faith I have investigated offers a few fundamental core aspects – taking care of one another, living a life of love and compassion, morality (though what that constitutes varies drastically). I will not fault any system of teachings that encourages people to become a better citizen. I believe that a truly loving God would approve of any faith that leads people closer to Him, even if they’re not necessarily aware that they’re following His teachings.

    On a somewhat related topic, have you read about the Nacirema? I remember being presented this article in high school and immediately recognizing the topic. It was funny though, watching the reactions of my classmates. Everything from humor to offense and defensiveness.
    https://www.msu.edu/~jdowell/miner.html

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