The opening shot of my book Evolution 2.0 is an argument between me and my brother about evolution. Bryan had been a missionary in China, but in four years he went from right-wing Christian seminary grad to almost atheist.
He was dragging me with him. I wasn’t enjoying it, but I knew I had to be intellectually honest.
I found myself retreating to what I know best, which is science. I said, “Bryan, look at the hand at the end of your arm. I’m an engineer, and your hand is a fine, fine piece of engineering. You don’t think your hand is an accumulation of random accidents, do you?”
Bryan was good and ready for that question, and he pushed back with a standard-issue Darwinian answer. His answer didn’t quite jive with my experience… but I admitted my intuitions could be wrong. So instead of arguing, I decided to dive down the rabbit hole. I resolved to get to the hard truth, and follow it wherever it carried me.
Our argument in the back of a Chinese bus led to a book that took six years to write, a technology prize, and a quest for life’s origin that now includes some of the world’s most renowned scientists at top universities. You can read the rest of that story in Evolution 2.0.
But… what about Bryan?
Recently we held a business seminar where we presented Evolution 2.0 and the technology prize as a case study. Everyone at the seminar was asking Bryan “OK, so what’s your story?”
Here is Bryan’s story…
Perry: Everybody at this conference has been coming and asking Bryan: “So you and Perry had all these debates and arguments and everything. So what’s up with you?” Bryan said to me, “Why don’t I take the microphone and talk about it.” I said, alright – let’s have you talk about that! So without further ado, Bryan, you’re up!
Bryan: Thank you. I did have at least ten people yesterday come up to me and say, “So, Bryan, how does your story end?” So I will get to that. You’ll indulge me in a few minutes of storytelling if that’s ok…
I have a question for you, which is: How do you know when you’ve gotten a good education? One of my answers to that question goes back to the seminary I graduated from.
Perry knows I’m a guy that likes certainty and crispness and clarity and nice definitions. So when I went to The Master’s Seminary in Sun Valley California in 1995, I was going to get my certainty in the world, and that’s what I did.
It’s an arch-conservative fundamentalist seminary where they do not admit women to the program. That’s how arch-conservative it is.
Their motto is: We train men as though their lives depended on it. And that’s the whole mindset. It’s a three or four year program. Guys would get up–and it was always guys—they would get up for their senior testimonies prior to graduation and they would, almost to a man, they would say–you go to seminary usually fresh out of college often fresh out of Bible college–you’re cocky, you’re young and you think you know everything–
And the guys would say I arrived at seminary thinking I knew the answers. Now I’m graduating and I realize I don’t even know what all the questions are yet.
So, Perry, you actually got a tiny bit of the narrative wrong yesterday. The seminary doesn’t give you a spreadsheet full of answers. The seminary gives you a mountain of questions, questions and more questions because– everybody learns Hebrew. Everybody learns Greek.
Everybody you know learns to parse your verbs and decline your nouns and so on and you’re doing stuff in Genesis and you’re dealing with all of these historical questions and interpretive questions and exegetical questions.
You’re picking apart the historicity of the Book of Genesis and you’re picking it apart–you’re dealing with questions of the archaeological evidence for or against the ten plagues in Egypt and stuff like that.
And you’re dealing with the Gospels and the Q theory and do we follow the Textus Receptus or the Alexandrian, and the apparent contradictions between the Gospel narratives and so on.
And Paul in the book of Romans in chapter 6 verse 5 and this use of the genitive and the thirteen possible meanings of this particular use of the genitive case and so on.
And that’s the education you’re getting so you get questions questions questions and you graduate with a mountain of them.
Perry: Google AdWords is simple by comparison!
Bryan: Yes, it is! And the thing about an arch fundamentalist seminary like that is: the answers you are allowed to come up with must fall neatly within some very well-defined boundaries.
So any answer you come up with is fine as long as the Bible is still inerrant, and Jesus is still Deity, and you still believe that all of its records are fundamentally historical grammatical and so on.
So that there was a real Jesus and there was a real apostle Paul and there was a real King David and a real king Solomon and a real Moses and a real Noah and a real Cain and Abel. And a real literal Adam and Eve who were created in six literal 24 hour days by the hand of God. And so on.
So, that was my background. And when I graduated in 1999 I had all of this exposure to all of these mountains and mountains and mountains of questions.
And that, in my view, is a good education.
So I got the opportunity to go to China. It just dropped in my lap. In January of 2000 I went and I took a teaching job at a luxury hotel in southwestern China. Beautiful mountain city in the foothills of the Himalayas.
And since I enjoy language I was going to throw myself into learning Chinese, and I did make great friends. This was totally unexpected, and it was a marvelous experience.
One of the things I was not prepared for was just how secular a culture China actually is.
Secular secular secular to the hilt. There’s something about living under Communism and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution has a tendency to wipe all religious influence away from a culture. And this is a part of the world that had really never in any significant way been touched by Christianity.
And so I’m dealing with this very secular culture and in my time there–I had four and a half years–I had one mostly convert I guess. This despite the fact that I was there to be a missionary. I was supported by the church back home in Los Angeles.
My evangelistic efforts were not all that super effective, let’s be honest. But it was a marvelous experience and very eye opening. It was the very first time that I had ever just been out, completely out of my Christian bubble. And cultural reinforcement of my Christian beliefs on every level–I was finally out from under that. And I had free time that I hadn’t in quite some time.
Fast forward to Tuesday, September 4th, 2001 which is exactly one week before 9/11. I was one of the few people in town that had CNN because I worked for a hotel, so I had it in my dorm. I come home from an afternoon of teaching, and I turn on CNN, and they’re playing a replay of LARRY KING LIVE from the previous day and on LARRY KING LIVE are two people with very often opposite views of the world.
This particular day there is Sylvia Browne. If you’ve ever heard of her she’s the psychic who can contact your relatives and loved ones who have crossed over. Opposite her that day was James Randi the atheist skeptic former magician kind of–he had replicated a bunch of Houdini’s old stunts.
He was in the Guinness Book of World Records and he was a psychic and paranormal de-bunker.
It was him versus her on LARRY KING LIVE, and I was absolutely transfixed. He was challenging her. He was saying, “Miss Brown, if you can come to our center in Fort Lauderdale Florida and, following our protocols under proper observing conditions, demonstrate that you actually do have paranormal ability, then the James Randi Educational Foundation will pay you one million dollars.”
I saw this and I was blown away by this because I thought I had a pretty good education, but I had never been exposed to this particular way of testing truth claims because I had a seminary degree and I had graduated from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln with a degree in history and Spanish which tend to kind of bypass engineering and the scientific method and so on.
In fact, two days after I graduated in 1994 with my degree in history and Spanish I started a job scooping popcorn for minimum wage. That was my career path.
Well anyway I’m watching this and I’m fascinated. As soon as the as soon as the episode is over I run to my computer and go look up Randi.org and discovered that every week he would blog on Fridays. He would talk about people who had come into the center who claimed to have paranormal abilities and he would give a narrative of how they tested them.
I was blown away by this because this was a great education. Like here’s how you test someone who claims that they can do dowsing. Here’s how you test the girl whose parents say that she can read completely blindfolded. Here’s how you test when a person says that you can draw a card and they can tell you what the next card is going to be in the deck.
Every week he would he would talk about these different tests and this was an amazing education.
And so I started following this and all of a sudden a bunch of questions started popping up that really started causing me some trouble. And mind you I am a missionary supported by Grace Community Church in Sun Valley California, and I’m here in China to make disciples and do church planning. That’s what I’m here for.
But week after week I start I’m reading these blogs and I’m starting to ask questions that are deeply troubling me. Such as: I’ve always believed my entire life that if you need something you get on your knees you pray, you ask God for it, and then God answers you. And how do you know that God answers prayer? Well, you keep a journal.
I asked for this on such and such a date. And then two days later three weeks later I got this. Therefore, we know my prayers were answered.
And all of a sudden as I am and I’m reading Randi’s stuff then I start clicking on other hyperlinks and reading some other skeptics’ stuff. I start finding new methods to question whether maybe that’s not the most scientific approach to answering how whether you get your prayers answered or not.
And this really started bothering me. And September turned into October and October turned into November and the questions got deeper and more painful and scarier. And I suddenly by December I found myself in a serious crisis of faith.
Remember: I had a seminary education. I like the metaphor you used yesterday, Perry, it’s like you learn where all the bones are buried. When you have your bible in front of you, you know all of these places where there are serious interpretive problems, serious archaeological questions, serious textual questions serious ambiguities and philosophical contradictions and so you know all this stuff.
And here I am more or less alone. In China. As secular a place as you’ll ever find. And by December I was sick. And terrified. In fact the last week of December 2001. Something weird with my stomach. And it just stopped digesting food for a few days.
I would eat stuff and it would just sit there. I could not digest what I was wrestling with. And this was terrifying. Because as much as a person could leave everything and throw themselves into ministry and missions. This is that was exactly what I had done.
And suddenly for the first time in my life and question “is there anything out there” Hello. And I couldn’t digest food. And I’m cold because it’s winter and there’s no central heating where I live. It’s late at night and I’m curled up in a fetal position in my bed and it’s dark and it’s quiet and I’m like Hello Is there anyone out there. Is there anything out there.
Perry: That’s a Pink Floyd song.
Bryan: Well, so you can understand a little bit of existential hell–I’m 30 years old. Did I just throw away the last 30 years of my life for nothing. Thankfully a doctor had some nice herbal stuff that cleared up my stomach.
Right after first of the year 2002–and Perry will remember this–I thought about this and I’m like I need some help. And the last thing I’m going to do is e-mail the guys in the missions department for the seminarian and say, “I’m here, I’m an evangelist church planter in China, and I’m having serious doubts is all of this…”
Perry: Because that never happened to anybody else anyway.
Bryan: Right. But I’m saying, well, who? Is there anyone neutral?
Who–and when I say neutral I mean, Perry’s clearly Christian, he’s committed to his Christianity. But I attended one of your coffeehouse theology meetings with you. Perry can deal with this. OK.
And Perry understands my upbringing. And we have our secure email connection and so on. So I think the first question I shot you is OK let’s start with this one, Perry, because I’m really struggling. Why do you believe the Bible?
Which is not the greatest question you could ask, but it’s a good starting place.
Perry and I went back and forth and back and forth and back and forth, and Perry gave the best answers he could find. And it honestly wasn’t working for him. Because it just seemed that every answer and reply you gave me on historical questions or philosophical questions.
It was always as though–OK if you are committed to Christianity being true, then that answer will satisfy you. But if you’re starting with a blank slate. I don’t see anything that would lead me to that conclusion.
But Perry was a very very good sparring partner. I had no idea until 10 years later what my questions were actually doing to you, in terms of moving you to the edge. At one point you sent me a bunch of books you sent me some William Lane Craig and I think there was some Geisler in there as well. Big armful of books that wasn’t cheap.
Perry: [Laughs] No.
Bryan: Very helpful, but I’m watching as my whole belief system is just more or less eroding. By the end of 2002 I was like I just don’t believe this Christianity thing anymore. At all.
I came back for a visit stateside. I ended the relationship with the church in L.A. Turned around and went back to China where I spent an additional year and a half. Now I was just a guy in China teaching English at a hotel and was not a missionary church planter anymore. And I’m watching.
As my whole life and my whole world view is changing. Well, something started–I started to become aware of something that became a real issue and that was: I was angry. I was really angry about a lot of stuff. Angry that I had given up 30 years of my life for something that I decided was empty. Angry that all of those dogmatic preachers and all those dogmatic professors all those years had just been feeding me a bunch of bull.
So fast forward to 2004. Perry brought Tannah and came out. I was already planning on going home which was why you were doing that trip. “Oh, I got to get Tannah to China before Uncle Bryan moves home.”
Perry came out to visit, spent a few days. I’m not sure we spent the whole time arguing, like you said yesterday, but there was the conversation in the van on the way to Leaping Tiger Gorge which we all remember the falcons and the mutations in the eyes, eyesight and so on. And that was a good conversation. I don’t know if you remember that same evening.
Perry: Yeah, I do.
Bryan: We went to Richard’s family’s house, and they fed us this wonderful dinner, and somehow you and I ended up in this conversation I think about homosexuality. I was angry about the subject of homosexuality because–it wasn’t an issue I had struggled with myself, but one of my best friends all through college had. And had been fed the fundamentalist line about homosexuality.
And I just watched it torture him and torture him and torture him.
Somehow that subject came up, and I just lit into Perry. We’re sitting in these people’s living room, having been fed a meal, and here I am. Just going off at Perry.
Perry: Of course, they don’t understand what we’re talking about at all.
Bryan: No, they don’t. Not at all! One of the one of the other ironies about that particular evening is we watched we all watched the movie “The Truman Show” which is–it’s this funny little comedy that is one of the most disturbingly profound journeys into human epistemology that has shown up on film in the last 50 years. Seriously.
Perry: Next year we’ll have an epistemology seminar.
Bryan: We should!
Audience: What’s epistemology?
Bryan: Sorry I used the word epistemology. Epistemology is basically the study of the question of how do you know what you think you know? Or how do you come to believe the things that you come to believe? And so on. And what’s your basis for believing things. So ‘The Truman Show.’ That was actually my story.
It’s like, “holy crap is this whole thing just a giant construct? This just man-made construct?” So you told me, Perry, maybe a couple of years later, you told me “that night at Richard’s house I could tell something inside of you had died.” You said it was really really scary.
Perry: Yeah. He was turning into one of them. Namely the furious militant atheists. Whose happy plug fell out and are now furious at the world and spewing their venom on everybody. Oh no. It really scared me.
And I thought: Yeah, I know there’s all these questions, and we can argue about homosexuality and whatever else, but, man, Bryan just went over some dotted line. That really scared me. It all kind of jerked me back.
I almost felt like I was following him in a sense but then suddenly realized: I don’t want THAT. I’ve seen a whole bunch of that. There’s nothing healthy about it. I don’t know where this thing is going. But this is going to be an interesting ride.
Bryan: So, Perry, as a result of that day you launched on your evolution journey. I moved home to Lincoln after nine years away. And for the next five and a half years. I was on a journey of anger.
What I will say about your evolution journey was I’m really grateful for it because you know what you learned about the brilliance of cells? And how they how they engineer evolution and so forth? You’ve had lots of Christian people tell you that you gave them a rational reason to continue to embrace their faith. And not be at odds with science. Right?
I was thinking about this yesterday. What this new model this Evolution 2.0 model also does is, for the person who doesn’t have a religious commitment, it gives us the ability to accept evolution as true without feeling really stupid. When you raise honest questions like:
Seriously that tree is just the result of accident upon accident upon accident? Cuz I had decided that evolution has to be true–and then I would walk outside, and I would see these trees, and something deep deep down inside of me would be like Really, Bryan? Seriously? Just random mutation plus natural selection, rinse and repeat? Seriously?
And then I’d just shake my head and be like No no no no, this is SCIENCE people. This is SCIENCE. And always somewhere in there is like really Bryan? Seriously?
Perry: And everybody experiences that, and that’s why this topic is so volatile. Because that is the elephant in the room nobody wants to talk about on the secular side.
Bryan: So you supplied me with a way to accept evolution. And not have to be beholden, for example, to the old traditional interpretation of the biblical narrative.
And that was very very helpful. And so there was never much of a debate about evolution. Not after that. I was very interested in what you were doing, although I was not crazy about your eagerness to just tie it intimately into Christianity so quickly.
I spent several years very very angry until one day in 2010. We had hired Drew Bishof to come be our operations guy. He and Jessica and all of us became very good friends. I don’t know how many of you here know Drew Bishof, but Drew and Jessica were a couple, they were living in Austin Texas at the time and they had grown up in an arch fundamentalist community in California that was almost identical to ours except that it was worse in a lot of ways.
Perry: A little bit louder and a little bit worse.
Bryan: A little bit louder and a little bit worse. And their particular thing–there had been all this grotesque sexual repression and shaming and all that stuff that was part of their fundamentalism.
And they invited me, since Drew and I were working on a Facebook project at the time, Drew said, come down to Austin and spend New Year’s with Jessica and me. So I did. And we had a blast. And literally from the first night there we get to talking about some deep stuff, and we’re up until 3:00 a.m. talking and laughing and crying and sharing stories of life under fundamentalism, the pain of this and the pain of that, and how we’ve dealt with this issue, and how we’re working through that issue and so on.
The following Sunday they said, “You can sleep in if you want Bryan, or you can come to church with Jessica and me. It’s up to you.”
Do church. That’s cool. That’s great. I have no problem with that. So we go to their church service. And. I’m sitting there and their big worship center is this 21st century modern evangelical urban kind of Christianity.
They have the worship team, they have the pastor who gets up and talks.
I remember precious little about what the service was about except for this: That the worship team really irritated me.
It was all it was all the classical stuff that has irritated me for years about 21st century evangelical Christian worship. They have the PowerPoint up on the screen. They have the band playing some song that was written a year and a half ago.
And the PowerPoint is misspelled. And the song doesn’t make coherent grammatical sense. In the same sentence you’ll use “thee” and then “you” and then go back to using “thee” again.
And I’m like this is supposed to be transcendently supernatural and we can’t even get the PowerPoint right?
And it was it was all stuff that had just irritated me just to the nth degree about Christianity and modern Christian worship.
And then I look out of the corner of my eye and standing over here is Drew. And Drew has one hand in his pocket and one hand in the air. And he’s just kind of swaying very gently to the music. And I see that and I’m like you idiot. A room full of people having a made up experience with song lyrics that don’t even make sense. And this is supposed to be supernatural worship? I just hate this.
All of a sudden, a thought hits me that I had been reflecting on over the previous couple of years because I had been doing some self-help stuff that was very very good and very very valuable. And the thought was this–Perry quoted this yesterday, although you got one word wrong, I’m thinking to myself how much I hate this and have always hated this Christian modern worship stuff–and the thought was:
Hate is just another word for “Want, but cannot have.”
And that is a truth.
I’d invite you to go reflect on that and reflect on it deeply. You cannot hate another person unless you have at some point expected something from them. Thought that they should behave a certain way. You wanted something from them. Loved them, needed something from them.
You cannot hate another human being up to and including someone you met 30 seconds ago, and you see them and you just feel this resentment. You cannot do that without some deep subconscious unconscious other than conscious part of you having wanted something first. Otherwise it is impossible to experience hatred.
And so if you are feeling hatred, then you know there’s something inside of you that you want. OK? And I realized in this moment. Sitting there with Drew doing his thing that this was true of me. And I’m like. Oh crap. And I started crying.
And I’m thinking I’m angry because I want something. What is it I want? I want this whole Christianity thing to be true. Or: I want this whole supernatural experience to actually be real. I want this, but I’m convinced it’s not. But I want it to be real.
And I started crying. And I start sobbing. And the worship band is still playing. And Drew is still there. And Jessica sees me, and she puts her arm around me. And I continued, and I’m thinking through this, and I suddenly realize: This is what all of those atheist people are so pissed about. There not pissed because it’s not true. They’re pissed because they wanted it to be true.
And I’m just crying and crying and the worship band continues playing and eventually they finish their song. The pastor gets up and he delivers his benediction and the service is over, and I’m still sitting there crying. Jessica has her arm around me, and eventually Drew comes around and he sits down, and they don’t know what’s going on.
They just know Bryan’s here sobbing. And it continues for five minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes.
Eventually the pastor comes over, and he sits–is it OK if I pray over you Bryan? Between sobs I’m like fine fine yeah it’d be good.
And then it’s like… why are people who have come out of religion so angry about it? Because it’s as though you were told that daddy, who’s away at the moment is going to be home by Christmas time and when Daddy comes home at Christmas time we’re going to be together as a family and he’s got lots of gifts. He’s got gifts for you and gifts for you and gifts for you.
And daddy’s going to be home at Christmas and Christmas comes and Christmas goes and daddy doesn’t show up.
And you find out there never was a daddy in the first place.
And it was just a story and people people’s narratives of their lives are like this.
I believed daddy was coming home for Christmas with an armful of gifts. And there was no daddy in the first place. Who would not feel angry and betrayed if that was your narrative? And some of the most angry miserable people you will ever meet are people with daddy issues. Right? Male and female both. And I realize this was what I was so angry about.
All these years. I was so pissed. Not just because of the funny grammar on the slides and the arm waving and all that. I was pissed because really I wanted this to be real. And it wasn’t. It was just made up human stuff. But I wanted it to be real.
Somewhere 10 or 20 minutes after the service is over I’m finally done crying. And Drew said, are you good? So can we go home? And I say yeah we can go home.
And in the car on the way home… well so the elephant in the room here, and I got to ask: Are you a Christian now?
And I said, to be honest Drew, no. I don’t think my actual views about the historicity of Christianity have changed.
All I know is: What I was so angry about was I just wanted this to be true. And it turned out it wasn’t. As far as I could tell, and that’s why I was so pissed. And I know this I’m not angry anymore. There’s not a drop of anger left. Because I got it–what I really needed was just to acknowledge the child inside that wanted it to be true.
And if you just let the child say it, and experience it, and feel it, then even if it’s not true the child can be happy. Because the child can acknowledge what the child always wanted. And Drew says: It’s a little complex but ok, I can understand that.
And that literally was seven and a half years ago. That was one of the major turning points in my life. It was like the anger was gone because I knew what it was I had always wanted.
If we can fast forward fast forward to 2016.
Perry, your 30-day reboot. It was really, really super valuable. And I think I think he did a show of hands yesterday, all the people who’ve done 30 day reboot. So if you have not done 30 day reboot please do. Because we’re going to we’re going to offer it again some point in the next month or two or three.
It’s really really important that you understand why ancient literature is so valuable, and why it’s worth your time in 2017 and beyond to be spending your time every day in old and ancient writings.
OK so you talked yesterday about the libraries burning and people keeping this stuff in the clay jars to save it from the Marauders and so forth because it was valuable to them.
The great old works of literature are valuable because, of course they were meaningful to those people and kept them around and they’ve survived and all that, but another really important reason which I didn’t really understand until this year when I–like a whole bunch of us here–discovered Jordan Peterson, Professor at University of Toronto, who explains that the oldest and greatest works of literature are archetypal.
Jordan Peterson’s “Psychological Significance of the Genesis Stories” lecture series led Bryan to say to me, “Jordan’s videos gave me permission to no longer feel stupid for being fascinated with the Bible.”
In other words, they tell stories that reflect the deepest most relatable experiences we have and that reflect our internal hard wiring almost perfectly.
Why did Harry Potter sell so well and become this mega sensation? Was it because J.K. Rowling is just a really nifty storyteller?
She is a really nifty storyteller. But that’s not why Harry Potter just hit this massive international nerve. It’s because J.K. Rowling–what did she study at university–she studied Latin Greek and the classics. And immersed herself for years of her education in the oldest most enduring classical works of Western literature.
As the story goes, that one day on the train when she’s either heading from London or to London, and suddenly gets this inspiration where it’s as though this entire story just appears in her head. That came from her years and years of deep immersion in old classical literature.
The old stories of classical literature resonate with us because they reflect something deep inside our soul. We all I think know the story of Cain and Abel, it’s chapter four in Genesis probably, and I understood this just within the last month or two for the very first time.
Why do we all resonate with the story of Cain and Abel? I mean it’s this tiny little snippet of text. But you go around and you just mentioned Cain and Abel to any person on the street and they’ll recognize it and they’ll remember it.
The atheist version of Cain and Abel, which if you listen to Sam Harris’s podcast, he’ll give you that. (I have great respect for Sam Harris but I think he’s completely bankrupt on this particular point.)
The atheist version of Cain and Abel goes like this:
“Two brothers believe in a magical fairy in the sky. And brother one believes in his version of the magical fairy in the sky and brother two believes in his version of the magical fairy in the sky. And their ideas conflict. And because my magical fairy in the sky doesn’t match your magical fairy in the sky therefore I’m going to kill you. And that ladies and gentlemen is what happens every time you let people believe in magical fairies in the sky.”
- That’s the Atheist Narrative of things and it is so drained of life and meaning and vitality and in my view it’s ugly. It’s just an ugly ugly thing.
Why does the story of Cain and Abel resonate with us?
Because it says:
“I am making a sacrifice, I am giving up something of value, because I want to please someone important to me. I have a sibling, the sibling is giving up something of value to him, and he wants to please someone who is important to him. The authority figure, for whatever reason unknown to you or me, decides that he likes your sacrifice, and mine is not acceptable. We don’t know why. I don’t know all the reasons it’s just you’re accepted by the beloved authority figure, I’m not and that’s enough to make me hate you enough to kill you.”
OK now that’s not a beautiful narrative. In a sense, it’s not anymore beautiful than the Atheist Narrative. But it’s a narrative with meaning that we can all relate with.
Have we all experienced deep jealousy over someone who has accepted and we weren’t? We all have. And so you tell a kid the story of Cain and Abel once and they’ll remember it for their lifetime, right?
And all kinds of stories that make their way through our culture are that way. I can’t tell you how many different people of different cultures have asked me: Bryan do you know the story of the boy who cried wolf? I’ve had people in Chinese come up to me and ask:
Have you ever heard this story? There was a boy who was a shepherd… So, we all recognized the narrative of the boy that cried wolf and I don’t know where the very first boy that cried wolf story ever originated.
Was it in the Middle East? Was it Far East Asia? I have no idea. But everywhere I’ve been people know this story because they read, they respond to it.
Everywhere I’ve been people know the story of the emperor who had no clothes. Which as far as I know is was just the Hans Christian Andersen story from the 1800’s.
But I’ve had Chinese people tell me “Bryan do you know the story of the emperor who had no clothes?” Because this is a narrative that just catches on everywhere you go.
Why do people love the stories of Jesus so much?
I have several answers to that but I’ll give you one of them that I think is really important. How many how many of you have spent time reading the Tao Te Ching which is Laozi’s… Well Taoism basically. It’s an ancient piece of Chinese literature very very well known in the Far East. I can, if I want, read the Tao in Chinese.
I’ve given it the old college try, I don’t know how many times, and it just doesn’t do much for me. Because it’s just selection after selection after selection of these incredibly profound sounding but utterly non-concrete bits about life and existence.
I’ll give you something concrete. Pull open the Gospel of Luke and you’ll get concrete concrete concrete. Real living breathing concrete narratives. They are so full of grit and life and reality.
Jesus arose before dawn and went up the hillside to pray. Afterwards he came down and he and the disciples got in the boat and went across the lake to Gennaseret. This is so concrete, right? It’s living breathing people and they had names. And if you want to get on a plane you can fly to the Holy Land, and you can you visit these exact sites. I mean it’s just so real.
And I think the late film critic Roger Ebert said years ago, he said the most specifically local stories you’ll ever find actually end up being stories that have the most universal relevance.
So a story about a Jewish man and his followers in first century Palestine actually resonates more universally with people than an Asian story that is nowhere near as specific as that.
Let me just highlight three things from the gospels that have spoken to me in the last year.
Story number one: Jesus is invited by some religious leaders to go eat dinner at the home of one of the religious leaders. He goes in, he sits down, he’s eating with them and somewhere in the middle of the meal in comes a woman.
Everybody in the room knows this woman. She’s got the reputation. She comes in, she goes to Jesus feet, and she starts crying. She’s crying and she’s crying on his feet and she’s wiping off her tears with her hair.
And the men in the room are saying, “Jesus, do you know who this person is that you’re just letting touch you like this?!” And Jesus says, “Let me ask you a question. Let’s say a guy has two people who owe him money one owes him $5000. The other guy owes him $50,000. He forgives the $5000 guy; he forgives the $50,000 guy. Which one of these guys do you think might be a little more grateful?”
The guy says: Well, probably the $50,000 guy.
He says, thank you, that’s the good answer. He says, for the record, Mr. Pharisee religious leader, when a guy comes to your home, normal protocol around here is you wash his feet. I noticed you didn’t bother washing my feet when I came in. But this lady has not stopped washing my feet with her tears. The person who has been forgiven little loves little; the person who’s been forgiven much loves much.
I don’t care whether you believe–this is now Bryan talking–I don’t care whether you believe there was a historical Jesus or Jesus was a complete myth, you cannot read that story and not be moved to the core by it. And recognize that this is a beautiful piece of spiritual religious and moral thought. You cannot, if you have a soul inside your body.
You cannot read the story of the Prodigal Son and not be moved almost to tears by it. Young man, goes to his dad. Basically says–forgive the French—F*** you, I wish you were dead. Give me all my inheritance money–I’m gone. He leaves. He squanders it. He has no money. He’s broke. He’s feeding pigs.
He decides: hey you know what, even the even the slaves that worked for my dad have it better than I do. I’m going to go back to dad, and he says make me a slave. And when he comes back Dad doesn’t want his son to be a slave.
He celebrates–he wants to kill the fatted calf and invite his son willingly back into the family.
Perry, if I’m not mistaken one of the more profound moments of your life in the last 10 years riveted on the story of the prodigal son. With you seeing yourself in the narrative for the very first time.
No matter what you think of Jesus and whether he was really historical or not, you cannot read the story of the prodigal son and not be moved by it.
Third story. I spent time in the Gospel of Luke this year. And had the bizarre experience that when we got to the end of chapter 23 — Jesus has now been delivered up and he’s been crucified and he’s dead and he’s buried. After, I don’t know how many years away from Christianity, I’m reading the story of Jesus.
Who is this very complex contradictory irascible Jewish guy who seems to have not very modern views on slavery and so on and so forth. And I’m reading this story and at the end of the chapter I’m broken hearted. This is bizarre. The hero of this story is dead and I’m crushed.
Fortunately, there is one more chapter, and it has a very happy ending. But I but I realized after reading about the crucifixion of Jesus for the very first time–I had the bizarre thought where I’m realizing I think I might actually love this guy. Now I ‘get’ it. Like all those people all those years that I thought were so corny “I just LOVE Jesus!!!”
And suddenly here I am I as a couple of months ago I guess–I just finished the narrative where he’s being crucified–and for one of the very first times in my life–I’m heartbroken.
And I’m like, OK maybe the “I Love Jesus” people aren’t so crazy after all.
Do I believe the Bible is the inspired inerrant word of God? I don’t think so. I think that’s a no. Do I believe there was a historical Jesus? I don’t think there’s much question about that. Do I believe he’s the Jewish Messiah? I don’t know.
Do I believe that immersing yourself in these old stories and learning more about yourself is immensely valuable? Yes absolutely.
Do I have answers–is there supernatural cause behind the big bang and the origin of life and so on? I don’t know, and I think it’s wonderfully liberating to not know the answer for me at this stage in my particular life.
But that is my story and I think there’s nothing more valuable than just diving in and reading the literature of old and looking at your soul and being challenged. And knowing there are some really hard questions out there that we don’t know answers to yet.
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