Three buddies are sitting at the bar one Friday afternoon, and in walks Jesus Christ.
“Hey, it’s Jesus!” Mike says, as Bob and Larry turn around to look. “Hey, why don’t you join us?”
Jesus walks over and takes a seat, and Mike orders a round. As they get talking, Jesus asks them if there’s anything he could help them with. “Actually, maybe you can help me,” Mike says. “I have this problem with my shoulder – it’s hard to work on stuff above chest level. It’s holding me back at my job.”
Jesus puts his hands on Mike’s shoulder, and Mike’s eyes light up. Immediately he raises his arm over his head and gets a huge grin on his face. “Wow! This is amazing! It’s totally healed! I can move my arm like never before!”
Jesus turns to Bob, and Bob can hardly wait. “My knee,” he says. “It’s getting harder to get up and down ladders. I would really appreciate it if you could help me out!”
The Good Lord puts his hand on Bob’s knee, and Bob’s face lights up as he stands up, walks around, and bends his knee. “Oh my God! It’s totally healed! I have never felt better!”
As Jesus turns to Larry, Larry scrambles away from the table in a panic.
“Don’t come near me!” Larry shouts. “I’m on Disability!”
The original version of the joke had nationalities attached to the characters, but I did not think it was fair to limit Larry’s character to one stereotype. We all have an inner Larry. Or at least, I know I do. He likes to step in when I’m faced with the prospect of working through something that is holding me back, so that I can move forward and risk my efforts on a new venture.
Ugh. Risk. Larry hates risk. And Larry hates work. In fact, Larry even hates success.
Larry is not so easy to spot. When I feel injured, limited or powerless, it seems only logical that my inability to get stuff done is beyond my control. “I can’t go to work – I’m sick” or, “I’ve been hurt too many times – I can’t get into a new relationship.” Et cetera.
But back to our other friend at the bar.
Biblical stories say that when Jesus went to heal someone (whether or not you believe the stories), he always asked, “Do you want to be healed?”
It seems silly to ask a lame beggar if he wants to be able to walk again, but seriously? If I made all my money from sitting around at the city gates while people tossed money at me, while they all had to go and work their butts off in the field? Being lame would be an asset! Would I want to be healed? Maybe – and maybe not.
The possibilities for healing that I encounter in my life are more subtle. I am not blind, deaf, lame or otherwise handicapped. I have a good mind, a mobile body and general good health. But I have other stuff that I suffer from: episodes of depression that I have struggled with for years, for example. This is an illness that holds me back, but it is one that I could deal with more effectively if I wanted to.
This afternoon, I joined some friends in a healing circle. I was reminded of the lesson I was just talking about – that although I want to be healed in theory, when my handicaps are taken away, so are my excuses. And then I am faced with the daunting path before me – risking everything to pursue my dreams. As long as I am not healed, I have an excuse to avoid the risks. I do not have to have courage if I remain lame, and begging at the city gates.
Tonight is Burn Night. In a few minutes from now, as I finish writing this, a giant effigy of a Man will go up in flames in the middle of the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada. About 45,000 people will watch it burn. I have a live webcast open on my desktop.
I wish I was there. But due to decisions I’ve made over the last couple years, it became too difficult for me to go. I sold my ticket to a friend a few weeks ago. I am grieving the loss. My heart is there, in the heat of the desert, breathing the dusty wind and dancing with friends closer than family, while my body is here in cold, rainy Calgary.
It was four years ago that I went to my first Burn. It was Burning Man 2006: “Hope and Fear: The Future.” I went without knowing why – only that I needed to experience this strange festival. I asked people why they burn this effigy in the desert, but nobody could give me a satisfactory answer.
That night, four years ago, I found the truth in those flames – a heart-felt truth that could only come from experience, from participating in this huge tribal ritual with thousands of other Burners. I found out why they burn the Man. Or at least, I found out my reason why.
I saw in that Man, with his upraised neon arms, all that I had given power to, my whole life. I saw the shackles I had taken on, the authority figures I had bowed to, the self-sabotage. I saw myself as the lame man at the gates, but there by my own choice, having given away my strength to people and circumstances outside myself. I had sold myself into slavery.
And there in front of me stood the personification of the Man – my slave owner, my tormenter, my stolen power and all that I had lost.
And then I saw him go up in flames.
As the Man burned, so did my shackles. As flames vaporized his wicker skin and took the strength from his wooden arms, that powerful tormenter was reduced to ashes. I realized that the tormenter I had sold myself to, really had no power over me that I did not give it. My life is my own.
I took my power back that night.
And here I am, four years later, watching the Man’s arms rise up, and the flames light up the darkness. And I have to take back my power yet again.