by John Casimir O'Keefe
Let’s start with a simple nursery rhyme most of us, if not all of us, remember from our childhood:
Humpty-Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty-Dumpty had a great fall;
All the king's horses, and all the king's men, Cannot put Humpty-Dumpty together again.
I know, just reading it can give one flashback to dirty diapers, warming bottles and nap time, boy I was a pain for my Mom. I can remember reading this nursery rhyme when I was a child. My parents had a “Big Book of Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes” in our living room and I would spend hours reading them all, over and over and over again (though, I will admit that Brothers Grimm was a better read); I can remember many a night being yelled at to close the book and go to bed. I loved reading that book; it had some of the coolest illustrations to go with each of the short rhymes.
Now that I got your mind off of what you just read let me ask a very important question concerning Humpty Dumpty. When you read the nursery rhyme what did you picture in your mind? Think about how you pictured Humpty Dumpty? What did he look like in your mind’s eye?
If you’re like most, you pictured an egg shaped like guy with a top hat sitting on top of a very high wall, which for some unknown reason he falls to the ground and cracks open – the egg shell breaks. Right? You did, you pictured and egg in your mind; we all know Humpty Dumpty is an anthropomorphic egg. This is, if you think about it, the norm for most; that’s how we see Humpty Dumpty – Humpty Dumpty is an egg. But that is not how it has always been; it started when John Tenniel illustrated Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass in 1872. At that point in time Humpty Dumpty became an egg, and has been portrayed as an anthropomorphic egg ever since. In fact, for many the idea that Humpty Dumpty not being an egg seems, well, sacrilegious.
Let me share with you a few very important realities from the nursery rhyme you just read. First, no place in the nursery rhyme does it mention Humpty Dumpty as an egg. Second, in no place does it say Humpty Dumpty was a male. Third, and seemingly less important, at no place does it say that the wall was high – no mention of height is given. So, what does that mean?
(Interesting look at the history of the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme.)
When we read the nursery rhyme we make certain assumptions (egg, male and height) because we’ve been told, either by word or illustration, since childhood that Humpty Dumpty was an egg, was male and the wall had to be high. For many of us, the idea of Humpty Dumpty as an egg falling from a great height is central to our understanding of the nursery rhyme; seeing HIM any other way destroys our understanding of the nursery rhyme and most reject any clarification. We ignore the nursery rhyme itself and create a Humpty Dumpty we can believe in based on what others told us and what we know from tradition. We ignore what we read, and fill in the blanks with our traditions and assumptions.
In the larger picture of the dance, seeing Humpty Dumpty as an egg has little effect on who we are and how we related to each other – but it plays a big role in how we view The Naked Jesus, because we do the same thing – we replace traditions and assumptions for the text.
In the recording of the life and ministry of the Naked Jesus in Matthew, the Naked Jesus asks two questions to those first followers sitting with him:
Question One: Who do others say I am?
Question Two: Who do you say I am?
When I asked how you pictured Humpty Dumpty, you answer the “Who do others say I am” question. You answered the question based on information shared with you from others, not from yourself or by taking an honest read from the rhyme. You simply shared what others told you, you spouted the tradition others gave to you; you spouted the company line. That is the same thing we do when we answer the questions the Naked Jesus asks. We don’t truly answer the “Who do you say I am” question; we answer the “Who do others say I am” question.
If we keep looking at the collective narrative of Matthew, we notice a very important reality concerning those who answered the question Who do others say I am. When the first followers answered the question the Naked Jesus didn’t care what they had to say. If fact, he blows off their reply to the question altogether because what others say about the Naked Jesus does not matter. The Naked Jesus does not care what others told you about him, because the Naked Jesus desires you to have skin in the game and answer the question Who do you say I am.
When we think we are called to tell people about Jesus we work under the assumption that we define who the Naked Jesus is and how others see him. We are called to invite people into our lives, and in turn into the life of the Naked Jesus, but we cannot tell them who the Naked Jesus is, they must come to that themselves, in their time. At best we are only able to share who the Naked Jesus is to us, but they have to answer the question Who do you say I am, for themselves. We have to turn inviting people into our lives with the cheap grace of tell others what to believe and leading them in the magic prayer that saves them – and when we do this, we are doing it all wrong. The Naked Jesus wants us, each of us, to come to answer the question Who do you say I am and put some skin in the game.
In my book, The Naked Jesus; A Journey Out of Christianity and Into Christ, I pose this very argument, this very reality (and others). We have become an institutional church driven by telling others what to believe, and how to define the Naked Jesus; we forgot that it is not our place. What we have turn the Great Commission (I question this concept) into a Christian Drive-by – tell others what to think, pray, dip and move on. But the Naked Jesus calls us to go deeper, to intertwine our lives with the lives of others – people need to see the Naked Jesus in us, and not simply in our words. It is not defined by me telling you what to believe about the Naked Jesus, but for me to live (follow) the teachings of the Naked Jesus so you can see the Naked Jesus in action.
Dr. John O'Keefe is a pastor, author, speaker and consultant. He blogs at johncokeefe.com, a place where our ancient faith meets the 21st century. John holds a BA in Business from The University of Nevada at Las Vegas, an MDiv Drew University and a DMin in Leadership in the Emerging Culture, Future Studies from George Fox University.
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