The Bleeding Stinking Mad Shadow of Jesus

For years here at my original blog (which also runs in parallel on Substack for those who like to follow the blog via email) I had a quote from Thomas Merton running in the banner:

You are not big enough to accuse the whole age effectively, but let us say you are in dissent. You are in no position to issue commands, but you can speak words of hope. Shall this be the substance of your message? Be human in this most inhuman of ages; guard the image of man for it is the image of God. 
After about a decade of writing under that quote, I changed it to lines from Flannery O'Connor's novel The Violent Bear It Away:
...trudging into the distance in the bleeding stinking mad shadow of Jesus...the Lord out of dust had created him, had made him blood and nerve and mind, had made him to bleed and weep and think, and set him in a world of loss and fire...
A lot of readers loved the Merton quote, frequently sharing it on social media. It is a great quote. Perfect for a meme. Few readers, by contrast, have shared O'Connor's strange and provocative lines about following "the bleeding stinking mad shadow of Jesus." 

Here's the story behind the change of quotations.

Merton's line "be human in this most inhuman of ages; guard the image of man for it is the image of God" is lovely and inspiring. And the attraction of that quote to me was something I learned from William Stringfellow, who inspired a lot of my writing for a season, that the goal of the Christian life is to "live humanly in the midst of the Fall." Our world is full of dehumanizing forces and our great act of resistance to reject and deny those forces of dehumanization. We must protect the image of man for it is the image of God.

I still believe this. And yet, as my thinking and writing progressed over the years, I felt that Merton's quote was too easily sentimentalized and co-opted by an insipid humanism. Even worse, purported resistance to dehumanization often did so though acts dehumanization. In modern moral and political discourse, you're allowed to hate so long as you're hating the right people. All we really do in the end is shift our hatreds around, depending upon how you vote or where you stand in the culture wars. Hate-shifters, that's who we are.

As hate-shifters, the really hard and difficult thing is to love as God loves. I am haunted by the things Jesus says:
For he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Who wants to be kind to the wicked? And our reluctance here isn't just an issue of motivation. The imperative strikes us as downright immoral. Here we come face to face with it, the bleeding stinking mad shadow of Jesus. The scandal, the offense, the shock. Our visceral revulsion. 

Each adjective hits us like hail stones. Mad. Stinking. Bleeding. Insane. Offensive. Costly. And yet, this is the medicine for the disease of dehumanization. Here's the antidote for our hate-shifting. If we want to protect the dignity of human persons, this is the path. Here is how we reset the broken bone. 

This is why I changed the Merton quote. Merton's vision is true, but I think readers too often misunderstood what the vision demanded of them. For me, O'Connor's quote brings those demands out into the open. We all want a more humane world, but few want to follow the Human One. He remains our scandal. 

So, my friends, we live in a world of loss and fire. Tragedy and trauma surround us. The Lord God has created you out of dust to live in the midst of this ambiguity and pain, created you bleed, to weep, and to think. To live humanly in the Fall. Let us trudge into the distance following the stinking bleeding mad shadow of Jesus.  

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