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Said it’s a mean old world, heavy in need / That big machine is just a pickin’ up speed.          – Gillian Welch, “Hard Times”

In Latin, Via Ex Machina means “A way out of the machine.”  This phrase speaks to my journey through life, both where I’ve been (a classics major/Latin teacher turned pastor) and where I hope to go (into the life that truly is life).  It is a compound term joining deus ex machina (a literary device) and via, Latin for “a/the way,” a term the first Christians used (albeit in Greek) to describe their lives lived together in faith (Acts 19:1, 9, 23; 24:22).

Deus ex Machina originally referred to the literal, mechanical lowering of a god or goddess character onto the stage in Greco-Roman theater to get other characters out of a seemingly hopeless situation. Since then, it has denoted any narrative solution that is highly coincidental, illogical, or improbable  (i.e., Batman just happens to have a specific tool on his utility belt custom-made for the particular villainous jam in which he finds himself) and its use is generally frowned upon.  As early as the first century BC, the Roman poet Horace explicitly cautioned would-be poets and playwrights against employing the devise in his Ars Poetica.

My utilization of the term has nothing to do with literary styling, however.  In our contemporary world, deus ex machina has left stage and screen and become the stuff of which our consumer-driven culture is made.  All of us, each and every day, are flanked by numerous machines (political machines, marketing machines, financial machines, …) that drop deus after deus after deus into our lives–just the thing we need for whatever ails us at the moment: a pill to ease our pain, a car to lend glamor and excitement to our otherwise humdrum lives, a utensil that will transform us from a kitchen hack into a world-class chef.  Buy this, subscribe to that, upgrade to this, vote for that…and all will be well.

But unlike in the movies or in the theater, all is not made well so simply.  The pill has side effects; the car needs upkeep and repair; the utensil doesn’t work as advertised; the candidate fails to live up to expectations.  We get used to disappointment.  Yet, we continue to hope and search for the next thing that will finally be “it.”  One of these days, the machines will offer us a deus that is the real deal.

As a Christian, I believe that Jesus is the real deal, literally the Deus we’ve been looking for as the Word made flesh (John 1.14).  But I do not believe with any sort of bumper-sticker sentimentality. The Church is as guilty of deus ex machina as any institution on earth: just say your prayers, sing His praises, put your money in the plate, “vote your values,” and a life brimming with blessings is all yours.  Like Batman swinging into action when the Bat Signal goes up, Jesus will save the faithful when they call on His name.

It would be wonderful if the Christian life worked that way, but anyone who has walked the road of faith with their eyes open or asked any questions of God, the world, or Scripture along the way knows it’s just not so.  Jesus is no super hero and the Bible is no red phone.  All is not revealed or made well simply through the acts of profession and baptism.

Nevertheless, I do believe wholeheartedly that Jesus offers us a way through the machinery of this life by giving us the vision to see the machines for what they are, the courage to challenge the factory presets, and the grace to find meaning and fulfillment in the midst of systematized (and systemic) disparity, injustice, and dysfunction.  He makes us this offer of a new, different path through (and to) life by inviting us to join Him on a journey.

Christ invites us on a journey of discovery: of heaven, of earth, of self, of God, of one another.  He invites us into a community of many members yet one body (1 Corinthians 12.12-19).  He invites us to share in a sacrificial meal of bread and wine while gathered around a table at which even those with murder and betrayal in their hearts are welcome.  He invites us to serve rather than be served, to be first by being last, and to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven by loving God with our whole selves and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

It is in this Jesus and in this Kingdom that I believe.  I believe He is the Way: the Way out of the machine(s), the Way to the Truth of God’s mysterious yet redemptive and loving work; and the Way to the Life that truly is life.

Thanks for tagging along.  May peace be with you.

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