God is a comedian playing to an audience that is afraid to laugh. Voltaire (p. 6)
Mostly, you all seem a little shy to send recommendations for books my way, and that’s not a big deal because I have roughly thirty books on my ever-growing list, but at the end of May, Caitlin Stern suggested I check out something by Christopher Moore (and more specifically, she thought Lamb would be a good fit for my sense of humor and my healthy appreciation for blasphemy). So I put it on my list, and when, this past week, it came up to the top of the queue, I thought “Perfect! I need something absurd to balance out all the heartwarming books that have been coming around here! Irreverent retelling of Jesus’ life – get at me!”
Well, Caitlin, I call foul. Because that book made me cry. Twice. And it provoked a deeply satisfying intellectual debate with one of my best friends about the nature of the Messiah for Christians and Jews. It made me reconsider my own approach to faith, renewed my appreciation for the teachings of both Taoism and Buddhism, and reminded me of why I’ve always loved following the teachings of Christianity while remaining open to ideas from religions practiced all over the world. Also, did I mention it made me cry?
It’s a love story. I’m talking the kind of love that comes from a friendship so dear that it breaks the heart a million times over to witness something as precious as it is ending the way it does. The book is basically a tragedy with punch lines. And I stupidly assumed that since I already knew the basic story, I wouldn’t be affected by the ending. I was wrong (as I so often am).
What I don’t understand after reading it, though, is how Lamb has been pigeon-holed the way it has. To me, while it is a novel about what one man imagined might have happened to Jesus during his thirty years on earth, it was also a profoundly insightful look into the similarities of many religious tenets. (Hint: It’s love. There are specifics, of course, but if you want the Cliffs notes version – love.) It also was wonderful to imagine Jesus with a best friend so much like of one of my own – at times completely ridiculous but always unfailingly protective and supportive – maybe because my whole life, I’ve been the kind of person who liked the idea of a God I can talk and joke with.
I get that it’s not that way for everyone, but I’m not about the mystery so much as I am about getting to the bottom of being the best person I can be. This book covers that for me. In between laughing myself silly or rolling my eyes (teenage boys were invented so that adults could roll their eyes at them, right?), I was profoundly touched by Moore’s ideas about how Jesus became the man he did. (Note: Joshua, in the quote below, is Jesus. The name change makes sense if you read the book, I promise.)
“Compassion is the same way,” said Joshua. “That’s what the yeti knew. He loved constantly, instantly, spontaneously, without thought or words. That’s what he taught me. Love is not is not something you think about, it is a state in which you dwell. That was his gift.”
“Wow,” I said.
“I came here to learn that,” said Josh.“You taught it to me as much as the yeti.”
“Me?” Gaspar had been pouring the tea as Joshua spoke and now he noticed that he’d overfilled his cup and the tea was running all over the table.
“Who took care of him? Fed him? Looked after him? Did you have to think about that before you did it?”
“No,” said Gaspar. (p. 253)
Moore has a way of breaking religion down into its base parts; he makes it accessible through humor, but I don’t believe for a second that he doesn’t have faith just because he makes me laugh at my own assumptions (and his). He may or may not follow a particular religion, but he understands that the simplicity of leading compassionate lives is available to every one of us, fools that we are. It’s just that mostly, we don’t bother to think. It doesn’t come naturally to us, and it certainly doesn’t come naturally to his protagonist Biff (Jesus’ best friend), but that makes him all the more lovable.
Biff is an unremarkable kid who would have led a completely unexceptional life but for the fact that he met his best friend, who sort of just happened to be the Son of God, and recognized that his greatest desire was to follow him to the ends of the earth. This, without any promise of greatness or an easy life. I think most of us, spiritual or not, would love to find one person or idea we believe in even half as much because we want our lives to be that difficult-to-attain mixture of joy and purpose. Even when we know things can’t go on the way they’ve always been, and that people we hope will stick around sometimes don’t…even then, we want to create something special, something that will be remembered, if only by the people who love us.
Moore gets that. I dare you to read his book and not get it too.
For more information about Christopher Moore, look here.