It’s been a long exhausting week and I thought it would be fun to check in on Glennon to see what she is up to. Or rather, what she was up to last year. YouTube offered up this interview of Ellen chatting with her about the journal (or whatever) she made to go with Untamed. The video pairs rather nicely, I think, with the gospel for this morning, which is one of my favorites. But first, Glennon and Ellen:
So, as you can see, Glennon took questions after her clever banter about marathons and trying to help everyone else become “untamed.” There was the question about grief and the one about how to raise your children and then a nice young person asked the question of the day:
My question is about self-love. How big an impact do you think it has and where’s a good place to start a self-love journey?
Let me pause and note the great tragedy of, as it were, the blind leading the blind. Glennon is the guide for so many people because, though they have all the knowledge and the wisdom of the ages available to them on the phones in their pockets, they wouldn’t recognize it if it bit them on the nose because they don’t know what they’re looking for. When Glennon comes along to tell them that they need to find “self-love” they intuitively “know” that what she says must be “true.” That was the point of Untamed, if you remember. So anyway, Glennon answers the question:
I mean I think the reason we have trouble talking about self-love is that none of us know what it means. Right? What does it mean?
I mean, I hate to be a naysayer, but I think we all know exactly what it means. To love oneself, as Whitney Houston sang way back in the day, “is the greatest love of all.” It means that everything–and everyone–else comes second. And this great love is in fact not stunning or brave because it is the natural inclination of every person who has ever lived. What is much harder is to love other people. Glennon veritably admits this with her anecdote about Abby. She concludes by saying this:
I can either control her or I can love her but I can’t do both at the same time. I think the best way we can start to love ourselves is to stop gaslighting ourselves. To trust our intuition, all those knowings we have. Trust our emotions and our feelings as information in ways we should go. And to trust our imaginations as the blueprints for our lives instead of pipe dreams Love is hard. Start with trust.
So anyway, a long time before last year, Jesus, on a Sabbath, passed by a man “blind from birth.” And as he passed by, his super compassionate disciples put a perplexing theological question to him. Who is to blame? Why is this guy blind? Did his parents sin? Or did he sin even before he was born? People don’t just end up blind for no reason.
But, of course, you’re meant to stop and realize that every person, in some essential sense, is blind. You cannot see or know enough to be going on with. The human person lives in darkness because of sin. And it is both our own faults and the faults of our parents who also sinned, all the way back to the first sinner, Adam. We could go on and on in our darkness, blaming each other, or, I dunno, we could look at the person walking by. Jesus answered their question:
It was not that this man sinner, or his parents, but that works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.
The disciples, of course, are as in the dark as anyone, not knowing what “the works” are or what Jesus is talking about. And we don’t know what the blind man is thinking because John doesn’t tell us. He is there, stuck in the usual way, unable to see anything.
John does tell us that, “having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud” and told him to go “wash in the pool of Siloam.” And he did it this way, we see as the narrative unfolds, because it is the Sabbath. Making mud and making the man go wash are all Sabbath violations, according to the regulations of the Pharisees.
And this is where I think it is always a little bit difficult and unpleasant to follow Jesus, because, honestly, why did he so constantly have to exasperate the Pharisees? He could have healed his man another day in another way. Then they wouldn’t have been angry with him. Maybe, one might wonder, if they hadn’t been angry, they would have been able to see what he was doing. Worse yet, the blind man is going, without asking for it himself, to be set on a collision course with the religious rulers of the day. He was just minding his own business, sitting there, and then Jesus had to come along and complicate everything. It’s like when you discover that the most important law of the day—to love yourself—turns out to actually be wicked. You weren’t trying to be bad. You were just minding your own business. If only God could have left you alone.
That’s not really what the blind man thinks, though. He does what Jesus says. He goes to the pool, washes, and comes back seeing. And everyone who was used to seeing him sit there day after day after day is astonished and can’t believe their eyes. They begin to doubt themselves. Is it even him? How is it that he can see now?
Because—and this is so crucial to understand—no one in the history of the world had been cured of blindness before Jesus came. Though the prophets raised the dead and got that ax head out of the water, though Moses raised his hands so that the sea parted, though babies were born miraculously, no one is recorded in the Old Testament as being cured of blindness. And yet it was promised, by God, that this very miracle would happen when Messiah came. The blind “would receive their sight.”
And this is what is so astonishing about this text—that John, illumined by the Holy Spirit, shows the reader how blindness is made into sight and sight is made into blindness. The man born blind begins to see more and more, and those who could see already have their little bit of sight taken away. By the end of the story, they are completely in the dark.
His neighbors “and those who had seen him before” ask him for the first of the explanations he has to give, which he does. And they are disturbed, so they bring him to the Pharisees and it is at this moment that we discover that “it was a Sabbath day.” So the man tells his story to the Pharisees. And because they have already made up their mind—which is a terrible kind of blindness—they don’t know what to do with the data. There is, John says, “a division among them.” They don’t know what to make of it. Meanwhile, in telling the story twice now, the man begins to understand more and more. Jesus, he says, is ”a prophet.” But that, because they do not want Jesus to be doing the works that he has been doing, is upsetting to the Pharisees. They don’t even believe him and so they call his parents who admit that their child was blind, that now he can see. But, they swear, they don’t know any more than that. They do not want to get in the crosshairs of the Pharisees and be put out of the synagogue. They are not curious enough to go find Jesus and discover for themselves what happened. Dissatisfied still, the religious intelligentsia again call the man, and this time they put him under oath—“Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.”
How do they know? Why is that the thing that they know? That’s the trouble—the tangled knot of belief and knowledge rests, so treacherously, on what you already know. And what you already know is that you are basically right and good and everyone else, even God, should be held under suspicion. Yes, we are all “sinners,” and no one is “perfect,” so, given that essential reality, whoever this “Jesus” is, being a man, he must also be a sinner. The man born blind, however, is beginning to wonder if Jesus could be the bad one. Because a sinner couldn’t do “the works” of God like giving sight to someone who has always been blind. The light is crackling through. The man is seeing more and more—far beyond the ordinary sight of the eye, but the deep astonishing spiritual sight of the restored inward heart, the one that had been turned so relentlessly inward, like a black hole, but, by for the glory of God, is given light. Jesus, in healing him, had opened the door on that great darkness. And so, as the Pharisees turn away from the Light, he opens his eyes even more. “Why,” he says,
this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.
And so, of course, they cast him out. The story seems to end in the way it began. There he was, isolated, in the dark, begging. And now here he is, cast out, cut off from the family and community he never even really had. But Jesus “heard that they had cast him out” and went to find him.
And this is the moment to pause and consider the modern person going around to the various spiritual gurus of the day, trying to figure out how to be happy, considering what a “journey of self-love” might entail. Because this great lie—that if you love yourself you will be doing the divine work of goodness—is not just out there in strange places like the Ellen DeGeneres set in California. “Christian” spiritual teachers today are trying to make a marriage between what the world thinks about the self and all its bright loves and what Jesus says. They are trying to make these two opposite selves fit together inside the church. And when other Christians say, essentially, “No, don’t do that,” they get angry. They try to say that those who reject the modern version of the self don’t want people to be ok and happy.
But look at what Jesus does with this man who was blind but now can see. He doesn’t leave him to discover the truth by himself. He doesn’t send him off on a “journey of self-love” to discover his own intuitions, his own “knowing,” to make a map of his feelings that will help him make sense of the world. He doesn’t tell him to go back into the dark closet of his own mind to sink down and find his own wretched “knowing” which amounted to nothing but some measly coins at the end of every day and yet more darkness. No, he goes and finds him. And the man, seeing Jesus in the fullness of his glory and his compassion and his love, “worshiped him.” That is, all of his longings and needs and griefs and hurts were caught up by the God of the Universe and healed. The man didn’t have to crawl into a cocoon of grief, be immolated, and come out “transformed.” He didn’t have to be cracked more so that the light—of which there isn’t any—can shine through. He didn’t have to do anything. He just confessed his belief in his God, worshipped him, and was made whole.
And, at the same time, all the people who would not see were made yet more blind. It is a sharp and terrifying warning for those who want to dabble with half-truths, with darkness, with the thoughts and ideas of this world. If you go too far into that journey, the little bit of light you have will be taken away. You will find yourself in darkness, groping for the door that you can never find.
For everyone else, though, Jesus will be enough for you. Though all around you stumble, he will lift you up and make you see. Go to church!
And, if you like, check out my Substack.
Photo by Egor Myznik on Unsplash