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The Smoking Puzzle

I am currently playing French horn in the orchestra at a local Baptist church. The show is a musical called "Two From Galilee," based on a novel by Marjorie Holmes about the love affair between Mary and Joseph. Last night was the opening and we have seven more shows over the next two weekends. The music is glorious, the acting quite professional, each performance will be in front of a full house and the enthusiasm is high.

The front of the church is one long platform from wall to wall, and the entire space is filled with an elaborate set. Beautifully constructed, it is a multi-level representation of Nazareth/Bethlehem with doors and windows and stairs, a carpenter shop, an inn, etc. Quite impressive.

The tickets are free so, of course, there has to be a commercial. A man stands up at the end of the show and preaches a ten-minute sermon. At one point he says something like, "We believe that the story you just watched actually happened to real people in real time many years ago. And unless you believe in the man into whom that baby grew, you will never get to heaven."

It occurred to me that it was just as true for people to go home and tell their friends, "I just saw the real Bethlehem, and the people from 2000 years ago were there dressed in their original costumes, and I actually saw Jesus as he looked when he was baby." Anyone who said this would be regarded as ridiculously naive and gullible.

Let's not make the show anything more than it is - drama, pretend, metaphor. As art it has a powerful message about constant rebirth and the renewal of hope. As history, it is as flimsy as the cardboard out of which the set was constructed. It looks substantial, but it's all fake.

The Christmas story is drama, pretend, metaphor. It is myth. It never happened in history. It is a beautiful story made up of pieces of previous religious traditions. It has a message which is valuable for the human race. But when that message is distorted into a demand that we swallow it all as literal history, then we do violence to the concept of a loving God.

The DaVinci Code hints at the idea that there is a smoking gun to be discovered, one fact or artifact which will prove that the entire Christian tradition is based on myth, on a religious lie. But I realized that the smoking gun is not really a single thing; it is a puzzle consisting of many things. God has revealed the truth to us, but it is up to us to put the pieces together. They include things like:

1. resistance to the idea that 3/4 of God's people are going to hell because they belong to the wrong religion;
2. Jesus' statement in John 16:12 that he has much more to tell us;
3. an examination of all the religions prior to Christianity which speak about God being born of a virgin, dying and coming back to life;
4. an acknowledgement that, even in religion, things like virgin births, walking on water, changing water into wine, and raising dead bodies to life just don't happen;
5. an understanding that all religions are different spiritual languages, and all are authentic within their own context, yet incomplete;
6. a vision of the divine love, grace and unlimited forgiveness which truly characterize God, freeing him from the angry and judgmental image which Christianity has created for him.

These and many other pieces of the puzzle will finally help us to see that, while the Christian story does not work as history, it does speak to us as divine drama. And when we get its metaphorical message, we will finally be able to give up this childish claim that "our religion" is the final truth. Only then can we comprehend that there is still much more yet to learn about the nature and the plan of God.

Make this puzzle your gift to your friends this Christmas. It may be the most challenging puzzle they have tried to solve.

Posted 12-03-06

Copyright: John W. Sloat 2006