By: Matt Gordon
There was a deer in my backyard! A deer!
You may live in some country estate where this is commonplace, but for me, looking out and seeing a deer is akin to waking to a turtle in my bed. The reaction was that of winning a great prize on the Price is Right (“A brand new car!”). I scooped up my son and headed to the window and then the backyard for a closer look. A deer! In my backyard! A deer!
Surprising. Unexpected. Strange.
I don’t exactly recall the first time I opened a hotel drawer and found a bible, but the reaction was more like waiting in line at the Price is Right and just missing the cut to get to be in the audience. Shrug and walk away, on to the next thing.
But still, a bible in a hotel room—in most stateside hotel rooms: Surprising. Unexpected. Strange.
It is a deer in a small backyard in town or a turtle in a bed. Of all the books in the world, why has this one been smuggled in to Super 8 Room 312? In some dingy places I stay it is about the last thing one would expect to find in the nightstand drawer. Ahead of a bible on my list: roaches, drugs, a mini-replica of the nightstand, dirty mags, a murder weapon, etc. In fact the only thing I can think of less likely in these drawers is a copy of a Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
But there is the bible, just sitting there collecting dust—there are plenty of copies to go around, I guess. But why?
The answer is pretty easy, actually. Regardless of belief or unbelief or religion or politics. The answer is Jesus.
Jesus was a man (probably) who lived (probably) and died (probably) and rose (maybe?) and started this thing in the ancient near east that migrated around the entire world, even as far as nightstands in dirty faraway places.
His story is all sorts of things, depending on your perspective. It can be scandalous and offensive; tender and kind. It is savage in places, and downright confusing in others. It is, at nearly all points, complex. Some claim this isn’t the case, throwing the baby (Jesus) out with the bathwater, so to speak. “I’m just not into religion,” these types boast. Well, sure. That makes sense. But that also excludes learning from most of the world and throughout most of the ages. The ancient Greeks—through whom we build so much modern philosophy—were hyper religious. The Romans? Gods upon gods—their leaders were seen as deities. The building blocks of cosmic knowledge were based on the quest for god of ancients. Even the areligious, are, in a way religious. They just bow at individualistic altars and their “prayers” and “worship” are unconventionally directed. Nietzsche’s most famous claim was the death of god; Voltaire seethed at religion. For these, this was a religion unto itself. One misses much by dismissing ideas outright for the sake of ideological quibbles.
And Jesus is worthy of a good quibble. That was what many of his recorded exploits were: a challenge here, an argument there, leading, ultimately, to being quibbled to death. A self-claimed bringer of peace, dying violently. A self-declared god being man-handled and bullied. It is all so curious.
And it is in the hotel drawer—the book that contains this odd life, a deer in the backyard.
I inched closer to that deer, son in arms. We wanted to get as close as we could. We would have touched it if we could.
With this Jesus—I’d like to do the same thing. Take a closer look. Not to believe or convince others of belief nor to tear down. There is enough hunting in this world. Just an inch forward: take a closer look.
To do so, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I’ll be taking one phrase out of each chapter of Mark. Scorsese is great if one has three hours for it. But Mark is more like Michael Bay—the writer, Mark, jumps straight into the action, the pomp and circumstance. Just sixteen explosive chapters that capture the essence of Jesus’ life in motion, leaving much of his words to others to record and parse.
Jesus is just sitting there in the drawer. Careful not to touch the hotel bedspread, I’ll pick up and read, looking for the surprising, the unexpected, and the strange.
Maybe I’ll see you there. Room 312.