Mirrors Of Dangerous Grace

In today’s reading from Bread and Wine, Walter Wangerin writes of mirrors – those tangible glass and silver ones that show a cropped reflection; and then those that exist more as metaphor and hide nothing. He references relationships as mirrors – when we wrong someone we love and we see our worst selves reflected in their pain.

Wangerin writes of mirrors of dangerous grace and our need for them ipo_2016-04-05-17-26-59n order to heal.

That’s a powerful word picture, and a compelling concept. The unexamined life is not worth living – so said Socrates. For examination, mirrors are required. But the challenge of a reflection that reveals those things we’d rather not see looms large for most of us, who seem destined to secretly wonder if we’re enough in a hundred different categories. An examined life found wanting leads to places we’d sometimes rather not go. Sometimes it’s easier not to look.

But I am. Looking, that is.

And I have found an interesting mirror. It’s a Hulu show called The Path. I’ll say in advance that the F-bomb is tossed about quite freely, so my tacit recommendation of this show is qualified for that reason (I’m still a good bit old-fashioned in that regard). I’m going to defer to Wikipedia to offer a concise overview:

The Path is an American television drama series {which} portrays members of a fictional religion known as Meyerism. Eddie Lane lives in Upstate New York with his wife Sarah and their two children, Hawk and Summer. They are all members of the Meyerist Movement, which combines aspects of New Age philosophy, shamanism, Christian mysticism and Utopianism with a few elements of Sufism, Tibetan Buddhism and Freemasonry ritual. Eddie returns from Peru, where he had undergone a spiritual retreat designed to advance him further up Meyerism’s spiritual ladder. Unbeknownst to his family, while in Peru, Eddie experienced a revelation which causes him to question his faith in Meyerism. Meanwhile, Cal Roberts, a friend of Sarah’s and one of Meyerism’s top leaders, is looking to expand their influence and deal with the imminent death of their founder, Doctor Steven Meyer. – Wikipedia

That’s the gist of it. The characters are very well-developed and the dynamics of both the actual family and the ‘church family’ ring true. I have found it to be incredibly compelling, and on my day off it’s not unusual for me to absorb two or three episodes in a combination of binge watching, laundry, and house cleaning. And as I am prone to do with any good story I encounter, I find myself drawn into the scenes; it’s not difficult to place myself right in the middle of it all, with emotional engagement that goes far beyond entertainment.

With this show, it’s often uncomfortable. I’ve given a tiny bit of thought to some of the personal feelings that bubble to the surface and to the powerful draw I feel towards some of the characters. But mostly, I’ve turned off the screen and looked away. But it stays with me, and the discomfort never completely abates. I have wondered why.

Today, I have a name for this; The Path, for me, is a mirror of dangerous grace.

I see so much of what is deeply familiar to me in this story of people who are passionately the_path_s01_stilldevoted to a belief system, one that is based on goodness and light, on decency and undeniable experiences. There is a powerful commitment to family, a longing to do right by those who are broken and marginalized.

There is, also, an inescapable tinge of evil lurking around the edges. Corruption bubbles up, beckoned by power and lust and desire. Lines are crossed and beliefs challenged and carefully constructed worlds begin to fall apart.

There are so many angles to this for me, past the part that is purely entertainment and a well-crafted television show. The Path as mirror refracts bits and pieces of familiar history to me in the family drama, the fundamentalist all-or-nothing faith, the semi-blind obedience to a charismatic leader. But the reflection that catches my attention most in this current season is the one that suggests something I’m not very comfortable with.

The way I see this story of well-meaning but misled believers in ‘The Light’ might be the very way a large part of the population sees me.

The believers in The Path are a group of people who claim allegiance to a man most have never met, one who says he has seen – and climbed – a ladder in the sky, one that allows believers to connect and communicate with ‘The Light’, which further develops the theory that all people are damaged by their past and their mistakes, and that personal enlightenment and development leads true believers to bring about healing to humanity, the environment, and the entire world. Taken at face value, it’s not difficult to scoff at these nonsensical  and somewhat ridiculous beliefs and naive passions. Of course, it helps that the filmmakers give us enough back story to undermine a good bit of the sincerity of the leaders – but, all the same, the very premise of these people basing their entire lives on a well-meaning but somewhat farcical fairy tale, hanging odd wood carvings of all-seeing eyes in their homes and pledging total allegiance to the movement – well, of course none of that is true. That’s just silly. Obviously.

Isn’t it?


I am a believer, a follower of Jesus. I claim allegiance to a man I have never met, but one whose gathered teachings, passed down through generations, tell of his connection with the all-powerful creator of all things; this man said that by believing in him, followers can live forever. He promised that a mystical spirit would reside within those who believe in him, guiding them to all truth and righteousness. He and his followers firmly believe that a future day is coming when this present world will end and a new kingdom will emerge. He died, but he came back to life, and then essentially disappeared, leaving instructions for his followers to tell everybody about him.

……..

And there it is. Despite years of tradition and institutions and an entire culture – behavioral, artistic, economical – built around the Christ, when you stand back and look at the bare bones of it, one might say, Well, that’s just silly. Obviously. 

That’s a dangerous mirror. It feels dangerous to type the words, even.

But there is truth there – let’s be honest. I know many people, some who may be reading these words even now, who are kind-hearted, good, loving humans – good people who reject this faith that I hold. And for me to bury my head in the sand, condemn them as ‘lost’, see them as ‘other’, draw lines that divide and exclude, or think myself better-than – well, that feels a lot like a refusal to look in the mirror.

And if I refuse to look, I forfeit grace – dangerous though it may be.

As easily as I dismiss the silly notions of nonsensical faith in a supernatural ladder that prompt a group of people to live righteous lives of help and sacrifice – well, how easily do others do the same as they peer into the lives of those of us whose faith and philosophy revolves around Jesus?

If this were a debate, of course, we’d bring in historical accounts and the veracity of the Bible and all sorts of other evidence for God; but comparing apples to apples, I can see it. And considering our current political and cultural climate in America, is it any wonder that people looking at the public, private, political and personal lives of followers of Jesus might feel the same sort of derisive pity that I feel when I watch the followers of The Path in a fictional television show?


I believe. For a variety of reasons, my faith is secure. I am confident in saying that humans need a center from which to operate in society – a moral, ethical compass, a narrative that makes sense of the world. We need a philosophy of life, and if one is not handed to us or adopted from some other source, we’ll come up with something ourselves at some point. I believe that Jesus was real, and I believe that the basic theological doctrine of Christian faith is true. This is the choice I have made.

Interestingly enough, the older I get and the more I let go of binary ways of categorizing everything in life; the more I open myself to an identity and an experience of God that is all-encompassing and ever-present and often unexpected; the more I shift perspectives and freshly read the scriptures; the more I am willing to relinquish what I have been taught that I must believe in order to be safe – as all those things shift within me, the more powerful and solid my faith becomes. The more fullness I feel. And within comes an understanding that a world that would scoff at Christian faith because it can appear at times as baseless and empty as an episodes of a television show is not my enemy.

Mirrors reflect truth – especially relational ones. Accepting, embracing, and then acting in truth requires respect. And I believe it is possible to live in a firm foundation of faith while simultaneously loving and respecting those who do not embrace that faith.

The scriptures tell of an encounter Jesus had with a religious scholar; he asked a somewhat loaded question, because the church leaders who held power and position were interested in derailing Jesus as his influence grew. Hoping to trip him up, the scholar asked, Which command in God’s law is most important? Choose, Jesus. Elevate one over the other; pick a side.

But Jesus refuses to play divisive games. He opts for the high road. The one I follow, the one whose story I believe, the one whom I have experienced in supernatural ways; this Messiah replied with words that I embrace and lean into, a center from which my actions and attitudes ring with truth and reflect what simply must be a basic foundation for any human life:

Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence. This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: Love others as well as you love yourself. These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them. – Jesus, Matthew 22.37, The Message


Don’t be afraid to take a hard look in a real mirror. Grace is worth it.

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2 thoughts on “Mirrors Of Dangerous Grace

  1. I also love how Jesus follows this up when he is asked “who is my neighbor?” and then tells the parable of the good Samaratin. Jesus does not say love your neighbor as yourself if he is the same as you or holds the same beliefs as you or is your friend. In fact, Jesus points out that the one who truly loved his neighbor was one who would have been considered an enemy by most. Finally he follows up with….”go and do likewise”……In this day and age of ugliness toward each other, maybe we should “go and do likewise”….

    Like

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