The first time I heard that over-used riddle, the one that asks which is heavier, a pound of feathers or a pound of lead, I was about eleven years old. For the record, I got it wrong. When it was explained to me, I understood it pretty quickly. But there was a nagging little voice, in the back of my mind, that found itself wanting to haggle and negotiate a little bit.
“OK.” I wanted to object, “Mostly, a pound of feathers weigh the same as a pound of lead. But doesn’t the lead weigh a little, tiny bit more?” I know that wasn’t quite what I wanted to say; I knew it was wrong. But I still wanted to say it.
I think it sticks in my mind because I was at this age where the magic starts to drain out of the world. Alice in Wonderland is about this time in a person’s life, I think. “One can’t believe impossible things.” She says. And the Queen replies “I daresay you haven’t had much practice. When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
I have this sense that Wonderland is Alice’s grapplings with growing up. That the occupants there are this attempt of her child-like, magic-believing mind to hold onto this belief in things that are bigger than rationality. It was the queen inside my own psyche who wanted to object to that riddle, who wanted a pound of feathers to be lighter than a pound of lead.
Thirty-something years later, I am learning to return to that place. I am learning that the queens are right.
Yesterday, I blogged about my fears that I am like those kids in the old tootsie roll commercial. They saw tootise rolls everywhere because, I guess, they really loved tootsie rolls. I don’t want to simply project my interests into places where they just aren’t there.
More to the point, The faith I hold, this belief in following Jesus: I want there to be room for something bigger than either/or, black-and-white, rational thinking. I am growing increasingly confident that my fear is unfounded, that there is something more than just projection going on.
Of course, nobody can deny the possibility of a little bit of magic in the case of Jesus. He came back from the dead, and walked on water, and did all this other stuff we can’t explain. Different Christians have dealt with this question in different ways. It seems like often, there is an attempt at doing damage control, apologizing for the magic, undercutting the power and relevance of the mystical.
In the evangelical-leaning environments I have grown in, it is like we create this special category for Jesus: he is the exception that proves the rule. Yes, he was magic. But the rest of the world is explainable. The rest of the world is rational. All the things he said and did are easily categorized, digested, expressed in words that leech away so much of the power.
And so we give fancy names and explanations to the meaning of his death. We provide well-rehearsed answers to questions about the nature of evil or the people headed to heaven or hell. We wrap it up in a tidy little box and wrap it up in a bow.
When these tidy little explanations stop working, we can embrace the meta-narrative; we can buy into the story we tell ourselves about how stories ought to work. We can say that if it doesn’t make a conscious and logical kind-of sense, we ought to discard the story. In other words, there was for a while, a temptation for me. I was tempted to discard the whole Jesus-thing.
If I hold the idea that stories are there to make a quick-and-easy kind-of sense. If this is the most important fact about the universe, then inevitably, it only follows that I would discard the stories which don’t fit this criteria.
But if I really am going to put Jesus first, if this is my point of worship, then that reaction won’t do. Perhaps the stories were never supposed to be neat, easy, convenient explanations at all. Perhaps I need some practice believing impossible things. Maybe I need to proclaim that the pound of feathers is lighter after all.
And that is where I am. It is not a thing I can convince others of, I think, if they are not feeling it. But the reality is, convincing somebody of a truth they are not feeling was always a fool’s errand anyway. I once thought persuading somebody of the truth of Jesus’ ways was as easy as convincing somebody 2 +2 =4. But even then, deep down? I never really believed it was that easy, anyway.