i blame woody guthrie

This train don’t carry no gamblers, this train;
This train don’t carry no gamblers, this train;
This train don’t carry no gamblers,
Liars, thieves, nor big shot ramblers,
This train is bound for glory, this train.

Woody Guthrie

In the south, if you hold my beliefs about God, Jesus, and the Bible up against the average “Joe the Evangelical” I have no doubt that “liberal” would be the cleanest word that you would come up with.  In an age where every Christian has their own personal version of God, their own personal interpretation of what doctrines are worth believing, what ceremonies are worth practicing, and what songs are theologically acurate – I literally couldn’t care less.  Instead, when I say that God’s greatness is well beyond any of our grasps, what I’m thereby asking is “Why bother spending so much time deciding which version of God we want to hold to today?”

I read the transcript of an interview between Christianity Today and Francis Chan following Chan’s response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins.  The interviewer went on to say something to the effect of “Well, I consider myself A, but I’m really open to hearing a good argument from side B.” This illustrates how incredible frustrating Christianity is to me and how uninviting it inevitably becomes.  For those us us convinced that the great commission is about getting numbers up at our Sunday AM meeting, this is not how to do it.

Friends, until the good Lord comes back on a cloud with Gabriel’s jazz trumpet be-bopping in the distance we’re never, ever, ever going to know with any certainty the answers to these questions.

As a kid, I remember hearing about how big God is.  I remember hearing about how his love is wider than the sky and as deep as the sea.  He created the whole universe and yet he’s small enough to fit inside my heart.  Let me go on record as saying that I don’t dispute any of these claims.

What I’ve seen, as an adult, is a humanity (or perhaps a Western Christianity) that is obsessed with finding concrete answers to the questions about God in an effort to create the most (funny,appealing,powerful,destructive,scornful,angry,aloof) divine caricature.  We either lie to our children (God is in fact NOT bigger than the universe and therefore can be squeezed into our finite minds/hearts) or we don’t believe what we tell them.  Instead, we spend hours studying theology, finding the facets that best suit our caricaturized Mr. Jesus Head and dolling him up to put on display.

“My caricature can beat up your caricature.”

“No man may come to the father except by my caricature.”

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten caricature….”

Somewhere in history – most likely the 20th century – we’ve moved, unaware, into a era of faith where personal Jesuses are everywhere and unless you pledge your allegiance to my version of truth then you’re lost and evidently you’re in need of my brand of salvation.

Perhaps it’s wrong, but I think I blame Woody Guthrie.  Granted, it’s not just for him to shoulder all of the blame – but apparently, his “train don’t carry no gamblers, Liars, thieves, nor big shot ramblers.”

My train does.

My train is bound for glory and is carrying all kinds of wacky people.  I’m not walking the aisles checking people’s tickets – that’s not my job.  I’m not reporting rowdy behavior to the conductor.  If I’m honest, I’m not even sure where the train is going.  I don’t know what’s going to happen when we get there.  I don’t know if someone is going to get thrown out halfway down the tracks, I don’t know if people are going to stow away, and we may even stop and pick up some more stragglers, rustlers, or hustlers along the way.

I just don’t know.

I’d go as far as to say that I CANNOT know.

There are answers that will always be elusive.  I would be very cautious if you find yourself thinking, “I’ve got this answer nailed.”  It’s these moments that reduce our need for faith, for pursuit.  It’s these moment’s that reduce our longing for the unknown because it’s a little more known than it was before.  It is in the answers that we find the biggest threat to unity.

And I really, really want to be able to blame Woody Guthrie.

One comment

  1. Yeah, lots of ragtag folks on board. You might enjoy Ann LaMott, who, in Traveling Mercies, describes her own sin of anger as such that it would “make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish.”

    But please be patient with Woody and his banjo, a “machine [that] fights fascism” during an era of dire poverty, union-busting, and rising political intolerance. He picked up “This Train” as representative of the Underground Railroad. I suspect he just considered it another song of freedom fighters — he probably didn’t hear the faith issues we do.

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