A study in simplicity … or … p’shat

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I love the idea of p’shat, or reading holy books looking for the simple, plain meaning and seeking no other. Not that there aren’t deeper levels to plumb, they indeed are. Some are so sublime that almost everyone misses them.

One if the earliest experiences I had when I began this walk with religion was meeting a young man who was retarded, as we said back in that era before the euphemismists renamed it ID, or intellectual disability.

Jim was his name. He wandered the streets around a city section we called Capitol Hill, an area that had sunk into urban decay. Slums they were called then. Hippies, drunks and sex addicts all filled the streets almost every hour of the day, along with a smattering of Jesusfreak storefronts that you could amble into for a cup of coffee, a doughnut and an ear beating. Some famous Christian evangelists started out there as street people.

Jim had fallen in with a group of hippies who thought it rather cool to load him up with weed, hash oil, LSD or whatever else was around at the time, and watch him amble off into what must have been a hell on earth experience. But they continued to feed and housed him, so I guess they should get some misguided brownie points.

Then one day Jim wandered into one of the Christian storefronts, and found Jesus. His life changed, and he disappeared off the street. I hardly noticed his absence. People came, people went, people died, people went to prison. Jim was simple another lost soul out of the hundreds around me then.

A couple of years later, I ran into Jim again. Life had changed greatly for me, and apparently, it had for Jim as well. Neither of us were on the streets, but rather steadily employed. When I talked to him, he was rational, but there was not one ounce of sophistry about him. I asked him what happened, and he began his tale.

He talked in mysterious vignettes, snatches of disjointed images of sleeping in doorways and being gang raped in a homosexual nightclub/bathhouse. He talked of drugs with an insanity that only another drug user would understand. The confusion coming from his mouth caused confusion and suffering in me.

Then Jim met Jesus. No, not some preacher. Not some sandal clad street evangelist. But Jesus.

Those of you who know me know how uncomfortable I am with that word, Jesus. It means something far different to me than it probably does you, and most of it isn’t good. But Jim’s Jesus was a different sort of Jesus. Jim was healed instantly. His voice became even, calm, and ordered. He spoke of how he dared not even move unless Jesus told him to.

Jim went to work as a custodian, and was paid rather well for it. He began visiting Bible studies and home groups. He was always a study in humility, never offensive, never in ones face. But so many time he would level the sophistry of the study group with two or three sentences of such a divine and irrefutable sureness that it left us gasping in amazement.

Over the years, I have learned that much of what I learned was not what I was supposed to learn. Much of what I read is contradicted by some sage telling me that what I just read isn’t what was really meant, that I would have to read another passage in a different book to get a handle on why the writer really didn’t say what he said. I am getting much too sophisticated, and long for a Jim to come back into my life.

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