Living among the tombs

April 1, 2012

“I have to believe in miracles and the possibility of resurrection.” —Raymond Carver, American writer (1938 – 1988)

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PORT ANGELES, WASHINGTON — It’s nearing Easter and I’m at a cemetery on the ocean. It reminds me how fine it is to be irreligious and irreverent and have a healthy toast while doing it.

Now, the Scripture doesn’t say if Jesus took some of the Cabernet Sauvignon that He passed around before He was led to his death. Just that He was called a drunkard, apparently for hanging around scruffy folks who might have walked clumsily with a little something in a brown paper bag.

Of course, it’s not only drink that got Jesus into trouble. Or loose women, like the longhaired harlot who cried at His feet and wiped them dry with that beautiful hair. It was His general attitude that He knew it all, (which, we know now, He did) especially in regards to the darkness in human hearts.

The older I get, the more I see this darkness in the form of misguided religiosity. It’s something Jesus had a special anger for, which is why religiously motivated enemies were the ones who killed Him.

We don’t celebrate this aspect of Easter much, Christ’s victory over skewed religion. But I can’t help but think of it while at the gravesite of Raymond Carver.

That’s because this favourite writer of mine wrote about the sorts of people who Jesus would have hung around with. Carver, in fact, was one of them.

A long-time alcoholic, it was only after a near-death experience when he found new life as a sober man. He called those last 10 years of life his “gravy.”

His epitaph says, “And did you get what you wanted from life, even so? I did. And what did you want? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved of the earth.”

I’m thinking of it all while on a study leave from my home in Uganda, where many believers think that looking proper—with those pressed pants or that right skirt and hair just-so—shows your godliness.

Don’t get me wrong. Ugandans are among the warmest people imaginable. But God’s love also radiates through people who don’t look so good, ragged people who are cracked and broken. In fact, it’s often that brokenness that lets God’s grace shine through them.

In the title short story of his Pulitzer-winning book “Cathedral,” Carver writes about one such character, a hard-living, pot-smoking narrator. He has an unusual interaction with an old man, a blind and bearded widower who, in many ways, sees life clearer than most.

Never thought anything like this could happen in your lifetime, did you, bub? Well, it’s a strange life. We all know that,” says the blind man.

And it is a strange life. Carver is a writer unknown and unappreciated by much of the Christian community. Yet he writes, I believe, more poignantly about the human condition than virtually anyone else in our more recognizable faith circles.

He once said a writer doesn’t need to be the smartest fellow on the block, but rather someone who can “stand and gape at this or that thing—a sunset or an old shoe—in absolute and simple amazement.”

There’s a profound simplicity in this, one that sees the wonder of life. For my money, that’s the faith I’ll take.

We can live a different way and strive for outer appearances without concern of what’s happening inside. But Jesus called this living like whitewashed tombs. And those tombs stay closed forever.

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April 1, 2012 • Posted in ,
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