John Steinbeck’s classic The Grapes of Wrath features a burned-out preacher named Jim Casy. That Reverend Casy had been preaching a message that never really got through to his own soul. He had preached about how man could be sinless, pull himself up by his own moral bootstraps, and please God by a good life. His own lust for sex in particular and the things of earth in general lead him to abandon the message he had so successfully preached all his life.
When we meet that Reverend Casy in the book, he is searching for a way to make his faith and his life make sense. He is tired of saying what he is supposed to say and is looking for the real implications of the gospel to show up in the world around him.
The original Reverend Casy ends up being a hero of sorts in Steinbeck’s story. He gives his own life as a sacrifice to an ex-con who he himself had lifetimes ago baptized, named Tom Joad. He takes the wrap for a truly flawed, yet hauntingly identifiable character, and joins in community with the broken, outcast, and marginalized.
The character of the Reverend Jim Casy tells a story of a man whose faith was lost in a slough of words that could no longer relate to reality. He found himself lost in a gospel of half-truths and used-up verbiage. His message was so diluted that it could no longer even affect his own heart.
In the end, though, that Reverend Casy finds the substance of real faith, as he takes on the guilt of his fellow man. He found that redemption, freedom, recovery, discipleship, and community were found not in numbers of converts or success of ministry but in suffering with the broken, as Jesus had done long before him.
My name is Casey and I am a native Northern Californian (Steinbeck’s homeland) and a church-goer since I was a young child. I have long ago lost track of the number of sermons I have heard and am beginning to lose track of the amount I have preached (Take it with a grain of salt, I never claimed to be good at math).
When I came across the character Rev. Jim Casy, I immediately felt a kinship with him, partially because of the name, partially because of our common calling, but more so because of his need for the substance of the message of Christianity. Like Steinbeck’s character, I have grown weary of a multitude of words, followers, and jargon. I need the substance of the faith Jesus came to bring and I have heard and said too many words that have been lost in translation over the years.
Following a call from God, I have spent the better part of the last decade studying the bible in an academic setting and have a couple of degrees that, in and of themselves, are wholly useless. Along the way, I have fallen in love with, in addition to the texts of the Old and New Testaments, the works of a dead German named Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Bonhoeffer is a popular guy within the Christian community, mostly because he said some controversial things and was executed for trying to knock off Adolf Hitler (Not a bad thing to be remembered for, now is it?). I have found in his works a bold move to rethink every part of life in light of the coming of Jesus. He was not content to parrot truisms or pander to crowds, he wanted the substance behind the words. He wanted the transformation that the word of God could bring and would not be satisfied until his own heart could be changed by a meeting with God.
Over the past four years, I have been involved with an addiction recovery community called Tapestry of Hope, and Route 1520. In our community, we stress the absolute necessity of finding the person of Jesus. When religious language suits the message of the gospel, we hang on and celebrate the old words. When the substance of our message is clouded by clunky and misunderstood terms, we fight hard to get nearer to the heart of God with what we say.
I write here with the hope that the freedom, of the gospel will be experienced by pastors, addicts, elders, salesmen, codependents, seminarians, and anybody who is tired of jargon, truisms, and half-gospels.
Welcome to my flawed, broken, and Jesus-seeking world.