Imagine a world where people carry around gods in their pockets, using them like charms to get what they want, be who they wish, and live however they like.
That’s our world, tonight.
Matthetes smiled as he jingled his new gods, jumbling them in his pockets like a potpourri of coins and marbles.
His Dad had given him his first god when he was thirteen – just a man. His first god was Ambition. Ambition had served him well, making him first in his class and head of school, landing him great job opportunities and a bright future.
But Ambition didn’t keep you warm at night, so Matthetes had run out and – with the help of a slender woman named Porneia – purchased Flesh. Flesh was a much better god than Ambition – more fun, more easily sated in the short term – but more difficult to manage. Flesh and Ambition didn’t always get along well, so Matthetes kept them – at first – in separate pockets.
Now, however, he felt like he should keep all his gods together – so Flesh and Ambition wrestled in his pants pocket with Media (to keep him informed), Fitness (to keep him healthy), and Downline (a demi‐god that was supposed to temper Ambition with Relationship).
Matthetes had a full compliment of divinity with him at all times, and it paid off.
He was successful, contented, fit, young, and eager.
He had it all.
At least he thought he did, until he met Rab. Rab was perched on a park bench drinking tea when Matthetes stumbled into him blindly.
Apologizing, Matthetes took the opportunity to introduce himself to his accidental companion.
No problem at all, friend.
Really? I’m terribly sorry…name’s Matthetes.
Rab – the pleasure is all mine.
I was just coming back from the office, en route to the health food store before a stop at the gym, a nip at the bar, a short session at the studio, and then home for bed with Cindi…sorry, Kandi.
I was just thinking.
Thinking. I was appreciating this life and how grateful I am to be living it.
Matthetes had never heard anyone put it quite like that.
Me too. Would you like to join me?
At the store, the gym, the bar, the studio or with the confusing woman at your house?
Why…I guess any of it.
No thank you.
Suddenly curious: do you mind if I ask why not?
I have no need.
But won’t your gods be angry?
Ha! No. My God is not angered by a lack of busyness.
It’s more than just busyness, you know.
I know many things, but in that regard I confess an ignorance. I have traded my knowledge of Ambition for something sweeter. I have given up my understanding of the Fast Lane for the Narrow Way.
What are you talking about?
I am talking about God.
I know all about the gods…
No – you keep trinkets in your pants and call them divine. They are not. Just as you are not. Long ago I gave up my pocket gods and had God Himself put inside me. I’ve never since been the same.
That sounds….strange. Was it worth it?
Oh yes – it has been the most wonderful thing.
Then I shall have it done, too.
Oh no – my friend – I would not let you do that so recklessly. The process is called an Invitation – some combination of surgery (for it is invasive), and ritual (for it is mystical), and alchemy (for it is transformational) – is awful and painful and I shake to think of it still.
But you said it was worth it.
And it so was. It is. It ever more shall be. But I would not advise you to have God put inside you on a whim. He is too big for that.
And jealous. And greedy. And he grows.
With that, and a smile, Rab excused himself and walked off singing.
Matthetes reached into his pocket to play with his gods, eager to comfort himself after this strange exchange…but his gods were gone.
He had been robbed.
Scoundrel, he thought. Rab has robbed me, distracted me with cleverness and stolen my gods from the pockets of my pants, all the while binding my mind with his spell.
Matthetes skipped the health food store and the gym, but made up for it with two extra drinks with Cindi and Kandi. He woke up feeling stone‐headed.
He went and got himself new gods on the way to work. Truthfully, he had gotten tired of Flesh and Ambition was killing him, so he grabbed Media and Downline and Diet (Fitness was too expensive, but Diets were on sale) and added Economy (because it was so focused) and Novelty (because Flesh was too focused) and spent the week trying them out.
He gave himself fully to the gods in his pocket but worried that something was wrong.
They didn’t work anymore. 4 He had minor success with his Downline, but couldn’t ever get his Diet to work. His Economy was always hampered by his love of Novelty – which seemed to deteriorate into Flesh anyhow. He begged Media for an explanation, but he got an explanation for everything so he couldn’t remember the thing he had asked about.
Matthetes became disillusioned with his gods, then, and threw them all away. All his life he’d wanted, then got, then lost, then got, then been disappointed by, his gods. And now they were gone.
And he felt no differently.
So he went to get the new God put into his heart.
It wasn’t as bad as Rab had made it out to be.
The surgery was invasive, but didn’t hurt as much as he’d anticipated. The ritual was spooky, but it was the good‐spooky (more mystical, less haunting). The alchemy was almost non‐existent, though everyone attending assured Matthetes that a transformation had – in fact – taken place.
All in all, Matthetes was quite happy with his new God. And he noticed a positive difference in his life right away. He felt more generous – giving away some of the money he’d squeezed and hoarded cheerfully – and he felt more loving – giving up girls who’s names sounded like Disney characters for a new gal he’d met, named Suzanne (she was a grad student, and an artist) – and he felt more…well, happy.
He was just plain happier.
This bliss lasted for a time, a season, who knows really how long it was…but then abruptly went away.
It was the oddest thing. Matthetes could feel God in his heart. He knew the God‐in-his‐ heart was still there. Just as he had felt the God‐in‐his‐heart alive and growing inside of him while being generous and loving and happy, so now he felt the God‐in-his‐ heart even more alive and growing even larger inside of him.
But his life was going very poorly.
His job seemed meaningless and his friendships felt shallow and unfulfilling. But still the God‐in‐his‐heart continued to grow. Suzanne was fantastic, but every time Matthetes was around her he felt sad and conflicted.
And the God‐in‐his‐heart grew inside of him.
It felt like the God‐in‐his‐heart wanted Matthetes to be living a completely different life – like nothing less would make the God‐in‐his‐heart happy – and so Matthetes, instead of invoking the God in his heart like he’d conjured the pocket gods – felt like all he could do to satisfy God was completely change everything about him. Because the God‐in‐his‐heart was getting bigger inside of him.
So he quit his job, realizing that Ambition had given it to him and that the job itself was only a reminder of how empty he’d felt while petting the Ambition in his pocket.
And he distanced himself from his friends, because he knew that his Downline was still meddling in the purity of his relationships and he didn’t want his friends to be exploited anymore.
And he finally, sadly, even broke things off with Suzanne because she felt like Novelty but didn’t deserve it, and he treated her like Flesh even though she was more to him than that.
Matthetes, he tried to explain to them all, had to do this. It wasn’t even really him, but the God in his heart that had compelled him to act.
And, of course, all of this was so confusing because the pocket gods – the ones everyone had and everyone understood – always did what you wanted whereas the God in Matthetes heart had control of him and could never be used or employed to simply do what Matthetes wanted.
Everything was backwards now. And the God‐in‐his‐heart grew bigger still. The God‐in‐his‐heart grew – and Matthetes sold everything he owned and gave it to the poor. The God‐in‐his‐heart grew – and Matthetes went back to every person he’d ever wronged, or deceived, or cheated and made amends. The God‐in‐his‐heart grew – and Matthetes went on a journey, a pilgrimage, into the wilderness to (re)discover who he was and why he was alive.
It was miserable.
It was profoundly difficult.
Matthetes had lost it all.
He had nothing.
And the God‐in‐his‐heart continued to grow inside of him.
As he was completely emptied out of all his Ambition, his love for Flesh, his addiction to Media, his fantasy of Fitness and Diet and Novelty; as his need for the pocket gods vanished Matthetes was left with only one certainty in all the world.
The God in his heart would always continue to grow.
And from that central truth he took strength. The God‐in‐his‐heart grew – and so would he.
That was the turning point – working together with the God‐in‐his‐heart, cooperating with the God‐in‐his‐heart, Matthetes began to learn about achievement without pride, love without lust, pleasure without novelty, health without anxiety, economy without greed, friendship without agenda… His whole life was different.
He returned from his journey a new man.
The first person he went to see was Suzanne.
Suzanne – I was just thinking about this life, and appreciating it. I have traded my knowledge of Ambition for something sweeter. I have given up my understanding of the Fast Lane for the Narrow Way. Would you like to join me? It won’t be easy to have God inside you, but I can tell you it will be worth it.
Dr. David McDonald is the teaching pastor at Westwinds Community Church in Jackson, MI. The church, widely considered among the most innovative in America, has been featured on CNN.com and in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and Time Magazine. David weaves deep theological truths with sharp social analysis and peculiar observations on pop culture. He lives in Jackson with his wife, Carmel, and their two kids. Follow him on twitter (@fossores) or online at fossores.com