Tuesday, December 19, 2006

My Jesus Problem and Christ the Thing

Reposted from Best of the Fray

In this two-year old conversation, Fritz Gerlich questions how, through the ancient and contradictory accounts of his life and work, one can know Jesus. Montfort responds with a poem about the omnipresent Christ. They continue back and forth and they come back, as always, to the Fray.

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Subject: My Jesus problem
From: Fritz_Gerlich
Date: Dec 18 2004 6:48PM

It never ceases to astonish me how little feeling committed Christians have for the texts upon which their faith is allegedly founded. It seems obvious to me, and always has, that the man portrayed in the four canonical gospels is either (a) mad, (b) a Zen roshi, or (c) an incomplete and possibly scrambled portrait. (This perception is enhanced, by the way, if you turn to uncanonical gospels, like that of Thomas. The Jesus of Thomas actually does sound amazingly Zen.) It is very hard to connect one thing to another in this jagged, abrupt personality full of brilliantly-lit prominences and shadowy clefts and craters. He constantly makes enigmatic statements he refuses to explain. It is even said that he intends to baffle his listeners. If so, he succeeded brilliantly with me.

He rails against colleagues of his own tradition, seeming to invite their antagonism. When they question him, he gives answers that are flippant or trivial--or refuses to answer. He several times seems indifferent to his own family, if not hostile. He commands the impossible, like making mountains throw themselves into the sea, or forgiving someone 490 times. (Seriously, now, if somebody let you down 489 times, would you really feel able to give him another chance?) He commands the gruesome, like putting out your eye or cutting off your hand or eating his flesh. He believes the end of the world is coming, and very soon; he seems almost to relish the violence and terror that event will loose upon the world. In our time, such empirically unfounded obsessions are considered amusingly eccentric if not symptomatic of mental disturbance.

Yet side by side with these dark extremes are bright flashes of someone very different: a man who seeks out the lowly and despised and treats them with respect, a man who enjoys the company of children and calls for their protection, a man who demands justice and mercy in place of empty words and rituals. The Beatitudes alone earn this man a permanent place in religious history.

Christians resolve this fundamental contradiction in Jesus by saying, in effect, "Well what do you expect? He was not an ordinary man. He was the Son of God." Since Tertullian, in fact, Christians have exploited the deep chasm running down the middle of their founder by arguing that either he was mad, or he was exactly who he said he was--no other possibility. They're betting that since you know they believe in Jesus, and they're not mad, you'll feel reluctant to conclude he was a madman, and therefore feel compelled to admit the truth of his claims (as interpreted by Christians). Since it doesn't fit their apologetic needs, Christians never suggest you consider the possibility that he was neither or both. And, of course, they don't admit the possibility that we simply can't know who Jesus actually was, historically or theologically.

Whatever Christians say theologically, as a practical, devotional matter, they in fact treat Jesus as someone who can be known personally, like a best friend. This is a common "witnessing"-type statement, which I certainly have heard, and you probably have, too: "I came to know a man named Jesus." Similar statements have been multiplied ad infinitum in various ministries and popular publications, especially in America. Everybody in the world has a standing invitation to come up, shake Jesus' hand, and get to know him. The implication is that, at some level, you can relate to him as you would to another human being.

I was raised in a devout Roman Catholic home, and never questioned my faith until late adolescence. But the disturbing contrasts in the character of Jesus were evident to me as a child. (Contrary to a persistent Protestant myth--current even today, I find--Catholics do read the Bible. I had to memorize long passages throughout elementary school.) I addressed my prayers to God the Father, God up in Heaven, who was safely abstract. I could imagine him as benign, understanding and consistent. (I was, of course, ignoring all those Old Testament episodes of Yahweh raining fire and destruction on various peoples for no reason other than that they were in the Jews' way.) I could not imagine Jesus in terms like "consistent." The textual evidence proved he was the very opposite. Jesus looked to me like a flake. I couldn't understand where he was coming from, as we said in those days, and I did not feel safe with him.

My reading of the gospels, of course, was not the view sponsored by my church. When I was growing up, the Catholic church tended to portray Jesus in two predominant ways--and then turned selectively to the Bible for passages to support those portraits. Where I went wrong was in thinking that the texts as a whole were meant to inform us about the personality of Jesus. According to the church, that was the church's job.

The first favored Catholic modality for Jesus in those times was "Christ the King," the glorified risen Christ awe-ing the world with his resplendent majesty. Such a Christ was left deliberately ambiguous. Was he benign or dangerous? Was he going to judge the world (the same world that crucified him) in a merciful or a just manner? According to theology, both, depending on one's works--but that was no help to a child, or anybody else, since to feel assured of one's salvation was presumption. This Jesus (or "Christ," as Catholics, at least then, preferred to call him) was a sphinx--somewhat like the Jesus of the gospels, actually, but far less damaging from the PR standpoint, since this Christ didn't go around saying bizarre stuff, but just stood there looking majestic. Problem was, this Christ also got a tad boring (especially in the rather threadbare Catholic iconography of the time), once you tired of wondering about the Last Judgment. At least Jesus in the gospels worked miracles and told stories.

The other image of Jesus then current in the Catholic church was the Italianate suffering Christ whose image still decorated a great many older churches and was still churned out on a great many holy cards. This Jesus was generally shown either kneeling in the garden of Gethsemane or hanging in extremis on the cross. In either pose, his face was twisted into an expression of great suffering and his eyeballs were grotesquely pointed at the sky. (Ever wonder where Mel Gibson's idea of Jesus originally came from? Now you know.) This suffering Jesus was much more popular with women than men, and with older women rather than younger women. There was little in it to appeal to a feisty lad about to make his way in a competitive world. And although he is still very much in vogue in Latin countries, he seems to have faded gracefully away in the United States. Even Gibson's resurrection of Suffering Christ is careful to keep him away from pathos and weakness. He suffers manfully, like an action hero should.

Which causes me to reflect that one kind of Jesus was not common among American Catholics in my youth: the one I came later to call "team-captain Jesus," the hale, hearty, handsome Jesus, good-naturedly calling one and all to join him in the Kingdom, which appeared to be some kind of especially neat parish social at which everybody wears gospel-type robes. This is the Jesus who puts his hand on your shoulder, or tells a joke, or even plays a game with children. There is more than a hint of the athlete about him. This Jesus struck us--or me, anyway--as a Protestant image. Catholics of that time didn't by any means despise Protestants--"ecumenism" was very much in vogue--but we did think that their team-captain Jesus lacked dignity. Catholics did sometimes portray Jesus as a young, healthy man--but with more reserve. He was not given features and gestures that would make him seem too familiar. Usually, he was shown with his right hand raised, to signify authority. Because, to Catholics, he was always first and foremost "Christ Our Lord," the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. He was man, all right, but since he was not cursed with original sin, and since he also possessed a divine nature, we should understand that his humanity wasn't anything we could aspire to. He was more unlike us than he was like us.

I'm wandering from my point: none of these various Jesuses stands up to the entirety of the disturbingly enigmatic individual of the texts. Now, it was to be many years after I left the Catholic church (and all other organized religion) that I realized that the discontinuities and contradictions of the gospel personality might be, at least in part, textual artifacts. They might result from different traditions descending from the contemporaries of Jesus, haphazard borrowing between traditions, bad translation and careless copying. Even later, I came to understand, from writers like Elaine Pagels and Geza Vermes, that the early church was in fact riven with doctrinal and organizational differences, in which the embryonic scriptures probably became a weapon. This means that they were written to advance a particular view or interpretation of Jesus against a competing one (particularly true, in Pagels' opinion, of the gospel of "John"). All of these factors interacting could have produced the disturbing atonality of our present texts.

A great many Jesus scholars start from exactly the premises summarized in my preceding paragraph. They take the texts (all of them, not just the canonical ones) as primary evidence, supplement them with whatever other historical or archeological knowledge they have, and try in that fashion to limn the "historical Jesus." Geza Vermes' The Changing Faces of Jesus is an excellent example, from the perspective of a scholar superbly equipped to see Jesus in the setting of the Judaism of his time.

Yet Vermes, like all other such scholars, finds that the textual evidence simply cannot be harmonized. To produce anything approaching a coherent picture of a single individual in a known historical setting, you find you have no choice but to throw out parts of texts in order to base your conclusions on others. You can make very persuasive arguments sometimes. Some gospel passages, like the famous concluding verses of Matthew ("go and teach all nations") can be proved to be much later textual additions. But the emendations can't be limited to a handful of obvious cases. Vermes treats the Fourth Gospel as theological speculation, not history, and he repeatedly casts doubt on the reliability of passages in the other gospels, often on the grounds that they are inconsistent with other evidence of Jewish belief or practice in Jesus' time. Other New Testament scholars do something similar, except that they tend not to agree with Vermes or with each other on which passages are reliable vs. unreliable.

It seems to me that there is an insuperable methodological problem in trying to construct a picture of the man Jesus. If you simply take the textual evidence as it is, all on one level so to speak, then you end up with my childhood problem: either no coherent picture, or a coherent picture of a bizarre if not mad personality. But if you start with an assumption that Jesus had a coherent personality, one that would have made intuitive sense to us if we had known him, then you have got to start throwing textual evidence out. And while there can be stronger and weaker reasons for each such emendation, the fact that most scholars weight these choices differently suggests that no set of them will ever be widely persuasive, leaving nonspecialists with the suspicion that they are being presented with Jesuses who simply fit different researchers' preconceptions about who he must have been or should have been. As great and honest a scholar as Vermes is, his book left me with exactly that feeling--Jesus was a badly misunderstood hasid, because that is the kind of Jesus Vermes is equipped to relate to. Jesus was indeed a hasid. But he seems to have been an unusual one, and it is more likely than Vermes admits that he looked beyond the boundaries of the Judaism of his time.

Theologically derived pictures of Jesus, such as those I sketched above, claim to be faithful to the textual evidence while presenting a coherent personality. Such claims, as far as I am concerned, are fraudulent. Theology proliferates many inconsistent images of Jesus and simply says you have to believe in all of them, or at least not expressly disbelieve in any your church happens to favor. If the resulting Jesus appears to you to be refracted through an hallucinogenic lens, well, that's where faith comes in. You aren't supposed to understand, just believe.

In recent years I have grown closer to Jesus. I read the gospels often, still perplexed by much, but unwilling to reject anything. This is not, heaven knows, for reasons of faith, but simply because I don't have any qualifications to make such decisions and I fear any I made would be arbitrary. The game, for me, is to understand Jesus as the gospels--uncanonical as well as canonical--portray him.

This seemingly hopeless effort, though never successful, turns out to be strangely un-Sisyphean. I don't ever think I understand Jesus, but I sometimes think I see him as a faint figure far ahead on a road I also walk. I get glimpses of who he could have been, what he might have seen that I cannot see. He (or the textual accidents that created him--it doesn't matter to me which, since I'm certainly not expecting Jesus to "save" me) intrigues me rather than frightens me now. He repeatedly challenges me to question my assumptions about life and people, about good and evil, about what it means to live and die. Since I realized many years ago that the universe is about questions not answers, I feel at home with Jesus in the same way I feel at home in the wilderness: it's my home precisely because it's not familiar.

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Subject: If you meet Jesus on the road, kill him
From: Montfort
Date: Dec 19 2004 12:53AM

Your problem isn't with Jesus but with your perception (you and I and everyone else, we're Buddies in Misperception). And you're relying too much for your perception on your reading of these self-contradictory texts (forgive me if I restate something you already stated -- I confess, I scanned...). Those pesky Gospels -- written by people who lived after The Fact, handed down and translated and interpreted and edited to suit the times and circumstances, until finally there's precious little illumination left.

Well, actually that's all the illumination there ever was; everything else is chaff and dross and flotsam and jetsam and bagasse (yeah, I know -- redundant and meaningless, like most of the Bible, if what you're looking for is illumination).

Jesus isn't a personality; he's a fully realized human being. And you're just like him, only you don't realize it. That's what he's telling you, only you don't realize it. You're on the right track in your recognition of the Zen in him. Besides the Beatitudes, which (along with the Golden Rule) I've always held to be the fundamental tenet not just of Christianity but of all religion, all Jesus ever really said was things like I am the way (holy moly! He's the Tao Te Ching, too?), I am the life, I am the truth -- stuff like that. The crucial core of the human galaxy, the simple basic truthwaylife that, if you realize it for yourself, relieves you of the tiresome burden of having to make yourself live by the Beatitudes, because then the Beatitudes become like...


Another thing he said: You know where I'm going, and you know the way. -- John 14:4. He's not imparting knowledge. He's trying to wake you up! You're also the way, the life and the truth; you're just too befogged to realize it.

The Zen master would conk you on the head with his staff, then ask you an unanswerable nonsense question, and conk you again when you get it wrong. Koan -- it even sounds like a conk on the head, doesn't it? Jesus was a little kinder, I suppose, but we don't really know, do we, because the Gospelizers all had agendas -- spin doctors without borders.

Jesus doesn't want you to look at him as if he were outside you and you outside him; he wants you to look through him, with his eyes. There's no meaning to him -- ascribe meaning to him and you've already pulled the blinds down. Don't look at him in the context of biblical bagasse -- this-that-this, walker on water, scourge of the money-lenders, raiser of the dead, loaves and fishes, foot-washer, crucifyee -- but at what he says he is: the way, the truth, the life. No wonder you see him as the Fool on the Hill -- all that wack stuff you correctly posit and intuit is right on the money, and all of it is misperception. There is so much he could possibly be:

Red Jesus Green Jesus (ver1.6):
a Chr[ist}-Mass P{oem]
by Solipsis

Green Jesus
Red Jesus
Christ with glistening forehead eye
Christ the lord-robot of infinity
Christ the flea
Christ, the vine
Jesus, the abstraction
Jesus, the visible
Jesus, the symbol of turmoil
Christ, the symbol of completion
Jesus, the Ankh
Christ, the Swastika
Jesus, the tetraskelion
Christ, the luminous orb
Jesus, the Knot
Christ, the Soliton
Green Jesus
Red Jesus
Christ the tower of Babel
Christ with anti-grav boots
Christ the teleology salesman
Christ, the Movie
Christ, the forgotten
Jesus, Lucifer's arch-enemy
Christ, the great lucifer
Christ, the man
Jesus, the woman
Skeleton Jesus
Cigarette smoking Jesus
Whiskey drinking Jesus
Jesus, the beer
Mutant Jesus
Black Jesus
Black Panther Jesus
Jesus, the X-man
Christ's Mass = 47nanograms
Christ's Mass = 47billion terragrams
Jesus, the feather bearer
Christ, the Dove
Jesus, the bird man of Easter island
Christ, the bird man of Alcatraz
Christ, of Christmas Island
Jesus, the bird language of Easter Island
Jesus Atahualpa
Jesus of X-mas
Christ of X-tian
Jesus, son of X
Triple X Christ
softcore jesus
soft-shelled jesus
Crustacean Christ
Devil-fish Jesus
Green Jesus
Red Jesus
Psychedelic Jesus
Mushroom Jesus
Acid Christ
Sci-fi Jesus
Grey epileptic Jesus clones
in pentecostal orgy
electrodes on their nipples
heads shaved
gene-sequence series #'s
tattooed like holocaust victims
on their wrists
nurses videotape the event
for blasphemy-porn enthusiasts
in tight black rubber nun's habits
wearing crystalline thorn-crowns
and ice-pick sharp
stainless steel crucifixes
dipped in tetrodotoxin
Bondage Christ
Whipping boy Jesus
Christ with pierced tongue
Prince Albert Jesus
green jesus
red jesus
Christ hangers for your cashmere sweaters
for your new sportscoat
for your FILA sweat jacket
plastic Jesus
supermarket Jesus
Christ in a bottle
little Jesus abandoned in a shopping cart
cartoon Jesus
Christ-sticker on a blood-red lava-lamp
big fat tattooed Jesus
Jesus, the mexican wrestler
Christ, the ladder of abstraction
Eesa, the dishdash wearing savior
Jesu, the green alien baby fetish
green Jesus
red Jesus
Giant Christ knocking on the U.N. building
Jesus Manson locked up in heaven/prison
God staring teary-eyed at dead "indians"
Ghosts like cheese in the fridge
packed and fermented
Jesus the Psycho
Jesus the Madman
Jesus the Criminal
Christ the misapprehended
Christ the misunderstood
Dead Christ
Undead Christ
Christ the Vampire, by J.G. Eccarius
Christ the Zombi
Christ who would not die
Corpse Christ
Rotten Jesus wind
Jesus, the Lycanthropic divinomorph
Jesus, the tomb dweller
Jesus, the fermented
Jesus, the leavened
Christ, the foot
Jesus, the head
Christ, the arisen Necromancer
Jesus, the critic-hero
Christ, the revolutionary
green Jesus
red Jesus
Christ of Arvo Part
Christ of Penderecki
Christ I love to listen too
Christ the great Satan of Tonalism
Dissonant Christ
Christ, The Composer
Christ the bloody one
Christ the blood letter
Christ the Mayan Royal
Christ the Android
Christ the Heavy Metal Star
Christ the extreme athlete
Christ the Guitar God
Jesus, The Slayer
Jesus Harquebusier
Christ, The Knight
Christ, the Decomposer
Christ, the electric savior
Jesus, the typewriter
Christ, a form of technological innovation
green Jesus
red Jesus
Santa Jesus Claus Satan Christ Mary
transgendered Jesus
homosexual Jesus
big-breasted Jesus
anal-sex Jesus
stripper Jesus
Christ, the cock-ring
Christ, the pornostar
Gay Jesus
Lesbian Jesus
Long-dong Jesus
Double-dong Jesus
Heterosexual Christ
Jesus, the Lover
Jesus, the ladies' man
Casanova Jesus
Supernova Christ
Gentleman Jesus
Sir Jesus of Christhamshire commons
Neighborhood Jesus
Jesus the city
Metropolitan Jesus
Christ, the Cannon
Christ, the Canon
Christ, the Artillery
Jesus, the bullet
Christ the child of sweet grace
Christ the Indian Saint
Christ the Mormon
Christ the beloved
Christ, the transcendent
WW1 Jesus
WW2 Christ
Viet Cong Jesus
WarChrist, Jesu of angry blood screams
Attila, the HunChrist
meditating Jesus
Jesus Pbuh
Yeshua Christ
Jesus, Sixth Ray of Devotion and Idealism
Christ, the Jew
Christ, the Aramaic controversy
Christ, the planetary Avatar
Christ, the penniless bum
Jesus, the King of the 79,000 heavens
Christ, the Jedi
hungry Jesus
BBQ Jesus ribs
Christ the icon of failed dreams
Christ the irony
Christ the beauty of fragile human understanding
Christ the mistake
Christ the gentle unreasoning of the mad animal
Christ the poor
Jesus the little man of the poor
Jesus the savior
Jesus, the long-haired buddha of the Levant
Christ, the glowing monkey
Jesus, the wishing well
Kissing Jesus
on the mouth
tasting the red wine
he speaking Aramaic
over you
you see his woolen robe
his scarred feet
you feel love
like a diamond bullet
through your skull
you hear a faint Hindi cinema
sweet and high-pitched
you realize
Jesus is a Hindu
and has his fierce aspect
like any other god
he takes you by the hand
Let's go
an ocean of milk
opens before you
you are walking with Jesus
across the ocean of milk
and you can hear nothing
but Lata and Mukesh
Jesus has warm hands
the milk is calm and vast

merry Christ-mass..


If you meet Jesus on the road, kill him, because meeting him means you're seeing him as separate and distinct from you. The biblical Jesus, the historical Buddha, I don't care -- you see him on the road, whack the sucker. He's not real. He can't be hurt, and you can only wake up.

What he is, you are; that's what he's being trying to tell everybody for 2,000 years. He's no savior; he's an alarm clock. What do you do when the alarm clock finally wakes you up? Whack that summabitch, toss it out the window, you don't need it anymore, from now on you can wake up on your own.

You know the way.

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Subject: Litany of Christ the Thing
From: Fritz_Gerlich
Date: Dec 19 2004 5:07PM

Neat poem. locdog would like it.

But you're addressing a problem I didn't raise and don't have. I'm not looking to Jesus as savior, buddha, prophet, gate, or anything like that. He's not my "alarm clock." I don't think I'm asleep. I'm as awake as you are.

Jesus was a man whose life & death, from what little we can know about them, puzzle me. I find I often like to say things, think of things, in his words--in part, I admit, because those words so clearly refute the legion of imposters who claim to speak for him.

You're presented me with a Hinduized Jesus who has no visible link to the strange hasid who led his little band around Lake Genesseret and eventually to Jerusalem. He may have seen something most men don't, but if he did, he had trouble spitting it out (and that, of course, was compounded by men & history), so all we have are a few tantalizing clues. It's that very specific, historical figure who interests me--not Krishna coming on a cloud.

I think he saw something like what you say in your post, but I also think he saw that men are as they are, must live and die where and as they find themselves. (Did it ever occur to you nobody asks to be himself?) Since that is the stuff of my daily thoughts, I seek the company of those who seem also to have known it.

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Subject: RE: Litany of Christ the Thing
From: Montfort
Date: Dec 19 2004 6:29PM

Sorry if I misread you. Your references to Thomas (who journeyed to India, supposedly) and Zen and "enigmatic statements" got me going in that direction. You also said that although he was a Hasid, he seems to have been an unusual one, and it is more likely than Vermes admits that he looked beyond the boundaries of the Judaism of his time. So how is my rendition, which you say bears more resemblance to a "Hinduized" Jesus, so very different from yours? (I don't know where the Hindu stuff came in; I wrote mainly with the Zen Buddhist slant you yourself introduced.)

For me, your main "problem" (your word) was this: If you simply take the textual evidence as it is, all on one level so to speak, then you end up with my childhood problem: either no coherent picture, or a coherent picture of a bizarre if not mad personality. But if you start with an assumption that Jesus had a coherent personality, one that would have made intuitive sense to us if we had known him, then you have got to start throwing textual evidence out.

Now since you announced this as your Jesus "problem" I thought I'd weigh in with the perception problem. (BTW, note that I included myself among the misperceiving, and did not mean to imply that I'm "awake" while you're not; if you're only as awake as I, you do indeed have a problem).

I also said I think you're on the right track given your references to Zen and such. And you yourself say that Jesus challenges your assumptions -- i.e., your perceptions -- about reality and conduct. I said the same thing in a different way. I think maybe you interpreted my reply as a put-down; I didn't mean it that way at all.

In fact, we have much more in common than you may think. Leaving out the Jesus reference (simply because I don't include historical figures in my cosmology), I could have written this myself: Since I realized many years ago that the universe is about questions not answers, I feel at home with Jesus in the same way I feel at home in the wilderness: it's my home precisely because it's not familiar.

Exactly. That is indeed our home, but I think we see it as unfamiliar because our perceptions are limited, by religious and cultural conditioning, and by choice, sometimes because we don't know there is another choice. If someone asks me about my religious beliefs, all I can say is, "I guess I'm a mystic. For me, reality is a glorious, miraculous mystery." From all those engimatic, badly translated, contradictory texts I've had to take a few precepts that I find can stand scrutiny, and what I'm left with is indeed something very Zen-like and Tao-like -- the epitome of mystery.

You might not define yourself this way, but then I'd say you're defining yourself as a mystic without the word "mystic."

Where I think you do go off the track is with this statement in your reply to me: I also think he saw that men are as they are, must live and die where and as they find themselves.

I'm not Catholic; is this the Catholicism talking or something? Because it seems overly passive and fatalistic, not to mention grim, hopeless. I think this view is the polar opposite of what Jesus taught.

But then, maybe I've misread you again.

* * * * *

Subject: RE: Litany of Christ the Thing
From: Fritz_Gerlich
Date: Dec 20 2004 12:26PM

I read over my response to you and realize that it came out much more curt & critcal than I intended.

First, I was (like others) kind of bowled over by your post. I'm not just saying that to make amends; the thought really did cross my mind at the time that it was a much better piece of work than my own toppost, and well worth reading on its own merits, whether it was responsive to me or not.

My references to Thomas and Zen were meant to indicate my openness to different ways of looking at Jesus as a man. In other words, if he had similarities to a roshi, we shouldn't feel shy about pursuing that thought (ignore the rising chorus of the Damned In Christ you hear in the background).

But I, at any rate, am not ready to vault into mysticism, at least in the mode you present. I have my own version of such things, but as you can see it's austere to the point of being contentless. I realize that Hinduism and like traditions hyperproliferate images in the hope of transcending all of them, but the method is so foreign to me that I suppose I react negatively to it.

So I wanted to make clear that my own perception of Jesus is not as any kind of mystical gateway (whether I kill him or not--I get the allusion), but as a human and historical puzzle. But I didn't mean to devalue your views or your writing, which greatly repay reading completely apart from what I was trying to express.

Whatever similarities may exist between Jesus and other traditions and methods, I feel I must always remember that he was a first century Jew whose main aim was to do something within his own tradition. Exactly what is the mystery.

I really did enjoy the poem. I've given a lot of thought to the need for blasphemy to stay in touch with what the blasphemed symbols are supposed to point toward. This poem was a very neat exercise in blasphemy. I copied it and will sooner or later find somebody else who will enjoy it. I was only being half-ironic in saying locdog would like it. I think he would be able to appreciate it, but maybe that's not the same as liking.

* * * * *

Subject: there is so very much about you to like
From: Montfort
Date: Dec 20 2004 2:36PM

* * * * *

Subject: Not what some people say. I live alone
From: Fritz_Gerlich
Date: Dec 20 2004 3:12PM

for a reason.

* * * * *

Subject: I've said the exact same thing
From: Montfort
Date: Dec 20 2004 9:22PM

about myself, in exactly those words -- I live alone for a reason -- for the past 35 years, I dare say considerably longer than you and in a more barren way. And the reason is the same, too. And so I'm at a total loss to explain the very recent upheaval in my life, which I thought was more or less finished and I was just marking time and occupying space until I got brave enough or substance-crazed enough -- and I was working diligently on both, and sometimes I actually have the temerity to miss that.

Odd, how what's happened to me so beautifully matches my world view. Odd, and because it's odd, it's logical -- it's fun being a mystic, kind of like strolling through the hall of mirrors in the Crazy House on the Santa Cruz boardwalk. You just never know, and it's an enthralling ignorance. Whether a circumstance is bad or good, planetary or utterly personal, I find myself having the same reaction: WTF?

Odd, too, that because I write, and I write what I feel, and I write on the Fray, that this etherlife is where I would meet a few people who somehow found ways to reach me, whether intentionally or not -- I'm thinking in particular of Shiva, whom I haven't seen lately, and Judah Ben-Hur (also MIA), you, Juno, Ferlinghetti, Paul Guest, Joshua Hanson, Michael Zbigley, Ted Burke, MsZilla, and some others whose posts as well as their responses to mine got right into me -- and that one of them would actually end up entering my life in a way I can only describe as grace. And this grace could depart my life at any time with no help from me.

You know, I'm not a believer in an ultimate anything but the mystery (and since it's a mystery, what kind of belief is that?), but I say this with every ounce of feeling and truth in my being: God bless you, Fritz.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

This is probably my favorite BOTF conversation — one of the first I read there. I remember happening upon it when it was more than a week old and wondering if I'd stumbled onto hallowed ground. Not because of the subject matter, exactly, but because people were having this conversation at all. It seemed that I'd found something vital, something essential to my being, and I hadn't even known I was looking for it.

I've reposted it here without permission. If anyone objects, I’ll remove it.


switters said...

That's a classic. Epic. Thanks.

Dawn Coyote said...

It makes me nostalgic for a gentler time when we all actually listened to each other over there. Like all nostalgia, this memory is probably distorted by some rose-tinted hindsight, or merely by the initial blush of discovery. Still, I'd say that a certain level of attentive interaction has gone from the place. Probably not forever. I expect a re-population of native species will eventually foster fruitful discussion once more.

august said...

Montfort was consistent in his appreciation of the beauty of things he did not understand and in his recognition that he did not understand them. It used to come up on Poems Fray quite a bit. Josh Hansen (for example) would write a poem that was tough to parse, and Montfort would say that he loved it even though he didn't get it.

That insight is the closest I come to mysticism. I do think it is fundamentally important -- to writing, reading, science, religion, whatever -- that we pay as close attention as possible, that we have some sense that we won't get it exactly, that we try to be as precise as we can about our ignorance.

Thanks for reminding me.