“(Elisha) went up from there to Bethel; and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go away, bald head! Go away, bald head!” When he turned around and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys. From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and then returned to Samaria.”
-2 Kings 2:23-25
Growing up, I was for all intents and purposes, what folks-not living in the please stop making racist jokes because they’re embarrassing and culturally crippling “PC hellscape” we are-referred to as “weird”.
(whatever that might mean for you)
I listened to a lot of Bruce Hornsby & the Range, read Michael Crichton religiously, and, at the age of 6, wore jeans for an entire East Tennessee summer because I thought I was fat.
(Self loathing is an all-weather sport.)
I had a rat-tail and staged almost-nightly renditions of the “Prince Ali Fanfare” from Aladdin in appropriately themed pajamas before retiring to my leaky waterbed for the night.
My favorite movie was Backdraft.
And for an entire year, I went by the name Brandon because that was my best friend’s name, and he was 5 inches taller and 30 pounds heavier than me. Size matters for 5 year olds and dudes drinking water from clear gallon-cartons and grunting uncomfortably in the free weights section of your local gym.
“Can I work in here, bro?”
Out in public, when refusing to eat my vegetables, and at home before floating off to sleep, it was “only Brandon”.
Something I hadn’t yet discovered about human existence as a preschooler, is that the whole of your buttock doesn’t have to be exposed in order to utilize a urinal safely,
and it takes a while to live in to a name.
Nowadays, being an “Eric” has it’s own “ness” for me.
It’s self deprecating, infatuated with failed Aaron Sorkin dramas, verbose (obviously only somewhat pretentious), bookish, and terrible at basketball.
Who we are, what we’re called, and what we do are things that ultimately require a bit of time to be unearthed, but sadly, many of us can grow quite impatient in the meantime. So we opt instead for the images, pictures, and identities freely floating in front of us as a way of holding the place of our own “ness” awaiting discovery.
In the Christian subculture, an identity we’re continually encouraged to adopt as our own, is that of Jesus.
We’re to take on his mind.
To be his hands and feet.
You know, WWJD and all that.
The only issue with this is that, for many of us expressing a desire to “live like Christ,” we also affirm in the very same breath the realization that this Jesus represents a completely unique embodiment of the human life.
“God in the flesh” has a way of eliminating most pretenders muttering expletives in heavy traffic.
Instead of providing enough space and encouragement for self-discovery, growth, and interpersonal excavation, the Christian faith as it’s commonly understood, puts an end to these conversations in light of Jesus and his exhaustingly overbearing identity.
Leaving only half-finished sentences and dangling participles where our own incarnations should go.
The passage included above is one of the Biblical canon’s all time greats: grouchy itinerant prophets, playground bullying, alopecia, murderous she-bears, its got it all!
For a long time, I mostly cited 2 Kings 2:23-25 anytime someone posed the question:
“So, what’s your life verse?”
But after spending a little time with Elisha and his she-bear inciting rage I’ve come to a couple conclusions:
1.) She-Bears would make a great name for a Bruce Hornsby cover band.
2.) Attempting to live as someone or something you aren’t creates quite a bit of fallout for you and everyone with whom you come into contact.
What’s interesting about this passage isn’t Elisha suddenly going 0-to-she-bear in 2.5 seconds at the mere mention of his rising hairline, it’s that these insults catch him in the midst of a massive identity crisis. Because, as we discover a few lines before these, Elisha has been charged with taking over the prophetic mantle from his mentor Elijah, who has just been taken up into heaven on a flaming chariot.
like you do.
Elijah, who theologically pants-ed the countless prophets of Ba’al during their showdown on Mount Carmel (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, it was on Pay-Per-View).
Elijah, enemy of evil King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, hero of YHWH’s people.
Elijah, the prophet Jews leave a seat open for yearly at Passover in hopes that his presence will finally bring heaven to earth.
Elisha, his unknown replacement, with a name that sounds an awful lot like Elijah.
Immediately following the final glimmer of his old boss’s flaming chariot rising into the clouds above, Elisha is greeted by a company of a couple hundred fans eagerly watching and waiting to see if “the Spirit” will rest on him like it did on his predecessor.
For a while he puts on a good show: parting the Jordan river and healing the toxic water in a nearby town with a bowl of salt, but, as it always has been for those of us pretending to be something or someone we aren’t, the seams start to show rather quickly.
“A vocation that is not mine, no matter how externally valued, does violence to the self-in the precise sense that it violates my identity and integrity on behalf of some abstract norm. When I violate myself, I invariably end up violating the people I work with.”
Living under the weight of a job, an expectation, an identity, a culture, a faith, even, that isn’t truly yours will only destroy you, and bring down she-bears on everyone within earshot of your catastrophic meltdown. On the other hand, sometimes these collapses can move tectonically, quietly laying waste to the dreams, passions, goals, triumphs, and yes, even failures, awaiting the life of your true self. Leaving you, much like a forgotten grocery list, with a sneaking suspicion that you meant to do something long ago but can’t quite put your finger on it now.
Whether it’s a sibling, a friend, a parent, a spouse, a celebrity, a predecessor, or some fella named Jesus, the weight of someone else’s “ness” can be crushing, especially if we refuse to acknowledge its power over us. I would argue the orthodox truth of the Christian faith isn’t found in giving half-hearted lip service to living “the life of Christ” from behind the wheel of a mid-sized SUV stuck in moderate traffic.
Instead, it’s about incarnating, enfleshing, and embodying the counterintuitive and life-giving truth discovered on every (sometimes grizzly) page of the Biblical text in ways that make sense and bring truth and beauty to the world you uniquely inhabit today.
Even if it’s weird, unorthodox, limping, threadbare, or not remotely lucrative, your “ness” is the only thing that can unearth grace and peace to a world struggling to find its footing. When you live with an unapologetic embrace of your faults and your gifts and your struggles and the things that make people stop and take notice with an “AWWWW” usually reserved only for summer night skies filled with fireworks, you are in the truest sense of the word:
living like Jesus.
grace + peace, friends.