The Gospel According to (This) John
I used that phrase once to describe an experience I’d had and a woman took offense. She said that’s blasphemous. She’s not a bad woman, just confused, afraid. Her reaction grieved me, for it told me not only much about how she reads reams of the Holy Bible, but also how she reads (or, I fear, doesn’t) her own holy life. According to me, that’s sad.
For I believe there is a gospel according to Martha (relax, that’s not her real name) just as there is a gospel according to Meredith (my wife) and a gospel according to Will, Sarah, and Abbey (my children) and a gospel according to Seth and Winn (coupla outlaw friends) and a gospel according to Jim and Ted and Rachel and Annie and Robert and Rebecca and Luther and Tish (I’ve actually two friends named Tsh/Tish, so if they got together they could give us a Gospel of Tishes, which sounds quite fascinating) and Mary and Rick and Barry and Pam and James and Joan and Johnny and June. I could go on as I’ve met so many splendid people, some in flesh and bone, some in paper and ink, some in treble clefts and quarter notes, and I while I believe each has a gospel according to them, each is also a gospel—a slight and brilliant difference. You see, some versions of the Bible tag that fourth book of the New Testament The Gospel According to John, and some tag it The Gospel of John. See? We are walking, talking, running, twirling, twerking, singing, swinging, herky-jerky stumbling, fumbling, waltzing, cruising, oozing, good newses of God. Ha. Yeah, that sounds like something you might hear from the Tishes.
With nothing but mad respect for the structure John the Apostle used in his gospel according, I’m going to mimic it, smidgingly.
In my beginning, there was the Her. And the Him. The Them. Mother and Father, the tallest trees in my forest. As of this writing they still stand. I came into being through them, the two became one, probably conceived me in the dark of night as I don’t fancy them afternoon delighters, although I don’t know everything about my parents—, none of us does. Ah, the secret lives of parents. Without my parents, there’d have been no me. That’s just the way it works. Yet in the same breath I also believe I was whipped up out of the very dreams of God. In Gibran’s The Prophet, there are these words:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
As both son and father now, these words ring and sing and ding cling true, so true in fact that I’ve no qualms in writing there was a man sent from God whose name was John. I’m not talking about that John, but this John—me. And that I was born, as I believe you were born, to be a witness to the Light that even now still shines in the dark darkness. Goodness God knows I’m not the Light, but I am a lower-case light, some days dim some days all shiny almost strutty. Let your light so shine. The lesser light that is me became flesh and found myself rocked in the bosom of one Anna Blase and her tall preacher husband David. Yes, I was a son of Life’s longing for itself, and I was also a son of the love longing those two valiant smoke-in-their-eyes youngsters had for one another which spilled out in the Texas spring of ’67 in the form of diddle diddle dumpling, their son John. My mother tells me when they brought me home from the hospital, the peach tree in her front yard was blooming. Was that some kind of sign, a marker of the man I would become? I don’t know. I do know I’ve long believed the fated fruit of the Garden to be a peach. If so, I’d of caved too. From the fullness of God (and my parents) I have received grace upon grace. The life I live I live as testimony to that grace. Oh (oh, oh) to grace how great a debtor. Oh (oh, oh).
There was a time in my life when I was taught the word “testimony” referred to a time before and a time after, the demarcating line being conversion. And while I understand those distinctions, and such are often helpful for children, I have put away that childish thinking. As a man, I see the entirety of my life as testimony, every lick of it, every damn stitch. If you were to ask me what I say about myself, press me for a summarizing line, I would say Vox clamantis in deserto. A voice crying in the wilderness. No, I am not Elijah or the Baptizer, God knows. But I am John, and while I don’t know Greek, I know enough Latin to be dangerous.
In the gospel according to Thomas (Merton, that is), there are these words:
Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander)
Sure, Merton can get a bit squirrely. So can I, that’s probably why I like him. But he bumps up against what I’ve attempted to say here, that while we are not the Good News, we are good news, we are gospels. Witnessing, dare I say testifying, to what we see and hear and taste and see and touch while on this dark and bloody beautiful planet is, according to me, one of our primary reasons for being dreamed into being in the first place. And to see one another as that person is in God’s eyes, as a veritable gospel? Well, I’m not saying we’d fall down and worship each other, but we might live in a slightly more peaceable kingdom. I say failing to do these things, keeping our lesser lights under the biblical bushel is, well, the blasphemy.
They call me John.
I baptize with words.
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