You Can Have It All?

Because I was speaking to a gathering of pastors yesterday my Thinking Day is making an unusual Tuesday appearance. Perhaps I can think a little bit online.

Saturday morning I saw some Christian television (I was on my way to ESPN College Game Day and came across it. Strange how I feel the need to qualify why I was watching Christian television). Anyway, the star of the show was promoting a new sermon series, “You Can Have It All.” Included in the package was a book entitled, How To Be A Millionaire God’s Way. Whatever.

A little bit later I remarked to Peri, “Did you know you can have it all?”

She replied, “What, my empire of dirt?”

That was a classic comeback!

For those of you who don’t know, Peri was quoting Johnny Cash (who was quoting Trent Reznor!) in his famous and devastatingly beautiful song, Hurt.

In part the lyrics go like this…

What have I become?
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know
Goes away in the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

But to get the full impact you really need to see the video that Johnny Cash made of this song shortly before his death. You can view it as his own requiem.

Here’s a YouTube of Hurt.
(The fact that this has been viewed over 13 million times says something.)

Part of the point being made in Johnny Cash’s retrospective version of Hurt is that what we are taught to consider as “having it all” — fame, fortune and the like — in the end is an empire of dirt. So the video communicates an older and wiser Johnny Cash with a kind of sad disregard for the tokens of fleeting success. What really matters in the end are the transcendent realities of redemption (thus the images of Christ and the cross) and human relationships (the cameos of Johnny’s wife, June). In redemption and relationship is where we find the meaning of life. Not in our empires of dirt.

The Hurt video is an absolutely brilliant piece of art and profound philosophical statement.

Saturday night I dreamed I was riding in a car with Mother Teresa on a busy street called Self-Help looking for a place to pray. Yes, I really had this dream.

This is the latest in a series of dreams I’ve had that seem somewhat related.

A few months ago I dreamed I was looking for the faith of Abraham. I would ask people, “Have you seen the faith of Abraham?” I looked for it at a Christian conference and in a Christian bookstore, but I didn’t find what I was looking for. Finally I wandered into a Barnes & Noble bookstore and in the back of the store I found Abraham quietly weeping over a collection of tattered prayer books. The Abraham in my dream looked just like Abraham Joshua Heschel.

A few weeks ago I dreamed I was in Zurich, Switzerland shopping for shoes with Karl Barth. He was looking for shoes too and trying to explain some of his theology to me. He turned out to be much more personable than I expected.

On Monday I was still pondering what it might mean to be riding in a car with Mother Teresa on a noisy street called Self-Help looking for a place to pray when Jason Upton sent me a selection from Abraham Joshua Heschel. In part it said…

We define self-reliance and call it faith, shrewdness and call it wisdom.

It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid.

It is an inherent weakness of religion not to take offense at the segregation of God, to forget that the true sanctuary has no walls. Religion has often suffered from the tendency to become parochial, self-indulgent, self-seeking.

It has often done more to canonize prejudices than to wrestle for truth; to petrify the sacred than to sanctify the secular. Yet the task of religion is to be a challenge to the stabilization of values. Religion is not for religion’s sake but for God’s sake.

And so now we have an insipid self-indulgent religion that tells people “you can have it all.”

Nothing new there. That’s pretty much what the snake said in the garden. You can have it all.

The truth is, we just don’t need it all.

But in our brokenness we seem to think so.

The idea that we have to have it all to be made whole is a symptom of our deep human brokenness.

And when this broken notion becomes enshrined in our religion it is particularly sad.

As Bob Dylan observes in License To Kill

Now he worships at an altar of a stagnant pool
And when he sees his reflection, he’s fulfilled.
Oh, man is opposed to fair play,
He wants it all and he wants it his way.
Now, there’s a woman on my block,
She just sits there as the night grows still.
She says who gonna take away his license to kill?

Who is the woman who sits there as the night grows still asking her question?

Mother Teresa? The praying church? Perhaps you?

You can have it all.

This is not something we should say to one another. Especially not in the name of Christianity.

You can have it all.

This is what we should say to God.

Remember what Jesus said…

If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find your true life. And how do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul in the process? Is anything worth more than your soul?

If we try to have it all, we lose it all. Our soul included.

We weren’t meant to have it all, and the craven pursuit to have it all will distort us into something we were never meant to be.

Salvation of the human person does not come by acquisition or achievement.

Even if the the evangelists who “gargle in the rat race choir” make it sound like it is so.

And it’s not found on the busy boulevard called Self-Help — no matter how popular it may be.

Keep looking for a place to pray.

Because the salvation that is the restoration of our soul is found in on-going encounters with the living Christ.

Encounters that resulting in losing.

Losing the false, empire of dirt building self.

And then finding.

The true self.

The true self who has it all by simply being.

Being what we were meant to be: Imago Dei.

This is the salvation of the human soul.

Iesus Hominum Salvator