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Picture Jesus not at the right hand but sitting on the lap of his father


When I was a kid, I thought often about the fact that I would turn 39 years old in the year 2000. I think I believed that you could stop aging then; it was such a coincidence that so many women seemed to stay 39 for a long, long time.

That youthful fantasy long ago hit the skids, and anyway I’m too busy catching up with 1997 and 1998, not to mention 1999; I sometimes feel like the only person on the planet who hasn’t given more than a passing thought to the impending millennium. I haven’t got any bottled water or canned food stacked on shelves in my basement. We probably have a flashlight somewhere, though I couldn’t be more specific. I guess I should copy all my computer files onto floppy disks, and I may park my car in the driveway on Dec. 31 just in case the automatic garage door opener fails, but other than that I don’t have big plans to mark the passing of the 20th century. As the bumper sticker says, “Y2 ¿Qué?”

But if the millennium is occasion for reflection, I’m ready with my opinions, at least. At this temporal juncture that seems so significant to so many, we are roaring down the information highway, where there are no speed limit signs posted, and few exit ramps, and no U-turns. We spend a lot of time receiving information, but not too much time processing it. “Too much information/flowing through my brain,” goes a song by The Police, written even before the Internet existed.

Information technology increasingly characterizes our global culture; there is no turning away from that reality. But like any other technology that developed during the past 1,000 years, it is how we use it that makes a difference. We can control how we use the tools we build and the technologies we invent, from the steam engine to the cell phone, the nuclear splicer to the microwave oven, from the sword to the plowshare.

But we can’t do it if we’re all talking and nobody’s listening, much less if we don’t know which voices to trust.

I have been reading literary criticism lately for a class I am taking. A French deconstructionist named Jacques Derrida offers a sort of anarchistic, apocalyptic theory that many in my class found somewhat hard to grasp -- that society is on the eve of a “rupture,” some kind of break with how we understand reality, an anti-metaphysics in which everything we have assumed to be the “center” is in fact, defined by its absence as much as its presence.

I am almost unforgivably oversimplifying, but I wrestle with Derrida’s ideas and my questions about the meaning of Christianity in our time and place. Deconstruction has evolved into postmodernism, which plays out culturally as a slightly bitter amalgam of angst and ennui, a pervasive self-defensiveness. Don’t trust too much, don’t hope too much, because you’re very likely to be shot down. God, apparently, is one of those metaphysical constructs that just doesn’t play to the crowd anymore.

But what if the “rupture” Derrida posits has already happened, and what if it is the incarnation of God in Jesus? Jesus as God has no center, no beginning and no end. And the human Jesus embodied a love so cataclysmic that our world would surely be ruptured with change if people were to embrace his other-centered ethos.

Complex as our aspiring, techno-savvy, postmodernist millennial tendencies are, humanity comes down to some simple psychological and spiritual basics. We (in the consumerist world, anyway) have learned to be self-centered and other-directed; now we must learn to become self-directed and other-centered.

And it starts when we return to the fundamental spiritual foundation that we are first loved, first heard before we even know we want to be loved, to be heard. We are like little children longing to climb into the lap of a listening God, a lap that is so big and so inclusive that it holds each and every one of us at the same time, while making us feel as unique and centered as we need to, given our human psychological makeup. Children know when they need the quiet comfort of a lap as a refuge from their fears, from overstimulation. As children learning to control their passions, appetites and individual wills need a loving parent to embrace them through the learning curve of childhood, so we need the love of a good God to listen, and to reflect back to us our own beauty and illuminate the truth of our condition: We need and are needed.

So back to January 1, 2000. Just another day, really. I now know the millennium is probably about my personal halfway point here on earth. My hope for the next 1,000 years, for my children and their children and the children of all ages, is that we Christians reclaim a church based on the real Jesus -- ancient, modern and postmodern all at once. The Jesus I imagine who was the first person seated, not at the right hand of his father, but better yet, right on his father’s lap. Then, we’d have a millennium to celebrate.

Kris Berggren writes from Minneapolis. Her e-mail address is Bergolk@aol.com

National Catholic Reporter, January 7, 2000