Sunday, May 23, 2010

Living Like Jesus

I woke up this morning to a gospel choir singing "I Want to Live More Like Jesus Every Day" on Hallelujah Praise on WNCU 90.7 FM.  Rousing song.  I suppose it would be redundant to call it "inspirational."

When I was a Christian, I must have wanted to live like Jesus, but honestly I don't remember the feeling.  It was a very long time ago.  The irony is that now, as an atheist and like some kind of Christ-haunted Flannery O'Connor character, I probably live more like Jesus than I did when I was young and faithful.

No, I have performed no miracles, and I love life too much to give it up for your sorry-ass sins and the sins of the whole world.  And a lot of things that count as sins I have rather a fondness for--gossip, anger, shellfish, cheeseburgers, men sleeping with men.

What I mean is that I embrace the lilies of the field part of the Sermon on the Mount (and here I quote the New International Version of the Bible, Matt. 6.25-34):
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, "What shall we eat?" or "What shall we drink?" or "What shall we wear?"  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.
This is one of the most beautiful passages in the New Testament, and the one that comes nearest to the wisdom of the Chinese and Indian sages of some four- or five-hundred years before Jesus.

Carelessness, in other words.  "What me worry?" as Alfred E. Newman says.  In my poverty--that is, in my voluntary servitude to the credit-card industry--I live off luck, a salary that roughly equates to $22 an hour (what a softball umpire earns--but I get in a LOT more hours), and the generosity of friends.

I don't worry too much about the future, less out of faith or piety than out of a sense that the future is purely imaginary (the past is only three-quarters imaginary) and I prefer to live in the reality of the moment, the here and now.  Then again, this attitude is part of my nature, as I have always identified with the fiddle-playing grasshopper, not the parsimonious ants, in the Aesop fable.

Lately, I haven't worried too much about clothes--though in my youth, I jump-started my current debt on Ralph Lauren, Alexander Julian, and Perry Ellis.  Some would say I need to worry a bit more--dust off the iron, at least, and own more than two pairs of shoes (and wear more than one).

At the end of the month, I live off the food you can buy at the Family Fare stores attached to BP gas stations--beer, Diet Coke, salty nuts, and chips--to supplement my cache of beans, rice, and Louisiana Hot Sauce at home.

And you know what?  I like the way I live.

What others would see as a character flaw, I choose to see as righteousness--which is, as I see it, only what most Christians do anyway, though they may chose different texts than I.

The kingdom of God is within you.  Seek it there.  Go easy on the five-year plan.  Slow down on The Okinawa Diet Plan.  Enjoy your copy of GQ for its pictures of shirtless men.  I paraphrase loosely, of course, but doesn't everybody?

And, unlike Jesus, I have a roof over my head, though I draw the line at home ownership.  I think renting is more Christ-like.  I can't really see myself hiking from town to town, living on the road, the way Jesus did--though the idea of sleeping on the grass under trees beside burbling brooks with twelve dudes of my picking has possibilities.

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