Monday, August 19, 2019
This is the third installment in a seven-part thought experiment, in which the myth of Sisyphus collides with the gospel of Jesus. Read chapter one, along with an explanation of the project, here. Read chapter two here. If you find yourself starting to stan Sisyphus, read my "Triumph of Sisyphus" here.
Before too long there was a group of us. The overseers didn’t know what to make of us—we climbed up the hill and back down every day, but we did so freely, with no back-breaking labor to slow us down. Sometimes we helped other people with their boulders; sometimes we convinced others to join us. Fairly often, as was inevitable in this line of work, someone would be gravely injured while pushing the boulder, and he would walk up to them and whisper something or rest his hand on their wound or even just look in their direction, and they’d be suddenly, miraculously healed! The first time we saw it happen I was dumbstruck. By the seventh or eighth time I had come to expect it, but I never wasn’t awed by it.
Everyone we talked to, he repeated what he said to me: This is not how it’s meant to be. There’s a better life for us. He would help us find it. He’d say it and people would look from him to us, as if to ask if he was telling the truth. We would nod our heads, eyes wide, every time. It occurred to me every now and then that he hadn’t actually taken us anywhere—we were still on that same hill every day—but even so, this really was a better life. Everything about it was better: I had friends, I had work that I could do that wouldn’t kill me, I had a soul that was healing from the damage that I didn’t even know had been done to it. Futility festers, it turns out. It takes a while to get to the root of it and flush it from your system. But I could tell I was better. Life was better. I believed it.
Eventually, in the eyes of the overseers, he ceased to be a curiosity and started to be a threat. Those boulders weren’t going to push themselves, and more and more people were walking away from the work and taking up with him. I remember the first time I heard one of them speak. He had just healed someone, midway up the hill, I think, and in an unprecedented move a group of overseers had tromped down the hill to see what he was doing.
We were all celebrating. This woman’s hand had been crushed, and then suddenly, it wasn’t.
“She can get healed on her own time,” the voice announced, with the same conviction I always heard from him.
We all looked at her, this angry overseer, with shock and fear. What could she do to us? What would she do to us? We hadn’t been doing our work for some time now; maybe today was the day it caught up to us.
Tune in for chapter four, wherein Jesus has strong words for the overseers and challenging words for everyone else.
Monday, August 05, 2019
This is the second installment in a seven-part thought experiment, in which the myth of Sisyphus collides with the gospel of Jesus. Read chapter one, along with an explanation of the project, here. If you find you can't get enough Sisyphus in your life, read my "Triumph of Sisyphus" here.
I had a lot of coworkers, but not a lot of friends. None of us had much energy to talk, to begin with, and while our work was the same, it didn’t overlap. I saw those other boulder-pushers as competitors for the affection of the overseers and whoever oversaw them: Surely someone out there has the power to release us from this work, to end this torture. Better me than them, I thought.
Then he showed up.
Right there next to me, just the latest sacrificial lamb to the unrelenting work. Turns out he was a little chatty.
“This is not how it’s supposed to be,” he declared. That’s really the only word for it. I don’t know how he mustered up the energy for anything beyond a grunt, but he said it with force, conviction.
“Yeah,” I responded. I didn’t have the energy for more. I was impressed, but I also didn’t want to get distracted. Maybe today would be the day I’d be delivered.
“Work,” he continued—turns out he was just getting warmed up—"is meant to mean something. This work is an exercise in futility. Seems like it’s designed to tear up your soul.”
Seems like I was in a conversation. I slowed my pace a bit so I could engage. All I could manage was, “It certainly tears up your body.”
“Why do you keep doing it?”
That stopped me short. He seemed to think I chose this life. I glared at him and returned to pushing. This conversation, I decided, was over.
“There’s a better life for you. Trust me. I can help you find it.”
I tried pushing harder, moving faster. Why should I trust him? I just met him! He was the competition, and this was the work. I wasn’t going anywhere.
And yet even as I tried to get away from him I kept turning his comment over and over in my mind. What if there was a better life? Should I trust him? Could I trust him? He spoke with such authority—he seemed to have something specific in mind when he talked about a better life.
We reached the top and our boulders slid back down the hill. Given how distracted I’d been, I was surprised we made it to the top. I started off down the hill but he grabbed my arm. “Follow me,” he said.
I surprised myself when I did.
Tune in next time for chapter three, wherein we see a movement begin to grow and the powers-that-be begin to act.
Monday, July 29, 2019
I write an occasional newsletter (quarterly when I don't forget) to friends and family about my life: music, books, work, and getting older. I'd love to send it to you if you're game. What follows is an excerpt from the summer 2018 issue.
TWEET THIS: We are people of a place no matter how transient we are, and we are sojourners no matter how long we stay where we find ourselves.
Monday, July 22, 2019
Some time ago now I had a hankering to revisit the myth of Sisyphus. (You can read that here.) I enjoyed the exercise, although I'm sure some of my friends and loved ones found it too dark for their liking; some probably started to worry about me a little. But the myth of Sisyphus is inherently dark. It's probably less a myth than a fever dream, the sort of nightmare one wakes up from not with a bang but a whimper, the sort of thing you write down in a hurry because you don't want to forget it because you think it holds something inherently true even while you're praying it doesn't. It pushes a lot of my buttons, apparently, so I wrote about it, and shared it here, and some of you read it. Thank you. More recently I wondered what would happen if the myth of Sisyphus were to collide with the gospel of Jesus. It's said that J. R. R. Tolkien evangelized C. S. Lewis by suggesting that of all the mythologies of human history, Christianity--the gospel of Jesus--was the one myth that was true. So think of this latest thought experiment as a meeting of the myths. It'd be a kind of crossover epic up there with Predator vs. Aliens if not for the whole point of Sisyphus being the dreadful mundane. In the world of Sisyphus, only a couple of things ever happen: The rock rolls up; the rock rolls down. In the world of Jesus, "the stone the masons threw out is now the cornerstone." In the world of Jesus, the rock that sealed his death was rolled away, inaugurating an age of resurrection. What would happen if Sisyphus, for whom nothing ever changed, were to encounter Jesus, who makes all things new? I've broken this thought experiment into seven "chapters," mainly because no one would read it in one sitting, and because I find it so difficult to come up with content for this blog anymore that I figured I'd stretch it out. So then, without further ado, chapter one.
Every day was the same. You started at the bottom of the hill, your shoulder pressed to the boulder, and you began to heave.
You might picture the boulder as a perfect sphere, but you’d be wrong. Boulders don’t come that way in nature, and no one in this hellish life was going to go to the trouble of shaping our boulders into things that naturally roll. No, our boulders were rocks shook loose from the earth. They had jagged edges that cut you as you pushed. The loose dirt held there by static electricity ground into your skin. Just to take the position itself was torture. Never mind the pushing.
Every heave was painful. New cuts on top of old scrapes, new scrapes on top of old cuts. Gravity was your enemy as the boulder wanted to roll down the hill even as you pushed it up. But that was the job: Push the boulder up the hill. Someone had to do it.
Whoever designed this job had it down. My boulder was just large enough, just heavy enough, just jagged enough, to take me all day to get it to the top of the hill. It took everything out of me every day, from start to finish. But I never didn’t finish; I always reached the top.
And then the boulder would tumble, slide, roll down to the bottom of the hill, and my day would begin again.
Our overseers watched us without emotion. They weren’t sympathetic to our plight, but neither were they unsympathetic. This was the job—it was for them to watch and for me to push.
We accept the reality we’re presented with.
Tune in next time for chapter two, wherein our hero meets a stranger who says strange things and asks troubling questions.