Between Two Worlds Day Two
“Rejection, loneliness, and fear.” “The wild beasts of the church.
“Intuitive ‘power, God thing, and Chakras.” “The Power of Myth.”
Those were a few rich phrases by you yesterday that drew an old memory that still feels surprisingly fresh in my soul. The memory could easily be titled “When Jesus Met Joseph.” But before you assume that I am about to regurgitate the Christmas story two months late I need to tell I am not speaking of Joseph, Jesus’ father. No, I am speaking of Joseph Campbell, the famed professor and anthropologist and subject of the 1988 Power of Myth video series.
In 1993 I was nearing that sacred Christian holiday we call Christmas. I was pastor of a church that was showing some aging and had hired me to start reaching out to younger families. Being 33 years old I felt I had a pretty good handle on those younger families since I was part of one myself. A week before Christmas I was published in a local newspaper column where I retold the story of the virgin birth of Jesus through the lens and the language of Joseph Campbell’s mythology. I redirected folks away from the questions about whether it really happened and pointed them to the underlying message of the story to speak to the profound and delightful dance that exists between the human and the divine.
What I didn’t know was that I had exposed the presence of two worlds, two separate worlds that I didn’t know existed. Two things happened. First–new families flowed into the church tripling our Sunday school from 15 to 45 in a short two month window. “Wonderful,” I naively thought. “I am doing exactly what the church asked me to do.”
But a second and more startling thing happened.
A petition floated around to have my ordination stripped for committing heresy. I had questioned whether Jesus actually, in reality, historically and factually was born of a woman who had not had sexual relations. I thought by making the mythological case I was making it clear than not only was Jesus human and divine, but that the story points to the essential nature of all humanity–that we are in God and God is in us. We are a wonderful, complicated and mysterious blend of spirits of heaven and earth. But the subtlety seemed to be lost on my accusers. I had to go back before a presbytery council and defend my faith.
Twenty years later I still grieve. Not because I was metaphorically burned at the stake, but because I still hurt for all those people who responded to my creative re-contextualization of the Christian faith. I still shake my head in disbelief that a church that suffers annual decline would actually turn people away for entering the faith through another door. I wasn’t even promoting a different religion or secular values. I was only describing my rather traditional Christian faith in terms that I felt my contemporaries could understand and appreciate.
I don’t think I have ever let go that experience. In some ways my pilgrimages have been attempts to still find a way to bridge these two worlds. Or maybe the pilgrimages have been attempts to enter into the new emerging spiritual world resigned that Joseph Campbell and Jesus will never be able to be in the same building again. What I do know is that my heart still grieves and my soul still aches for those people and for the church.
What am I missing? Why are these two worlds not able to co-exist and even celebrate each other?