Monday, October 19, 2015

So Long, and Thanks for All the Jesus Fish

So Long, and Thanks for All the Jesus Fish

A Superhero Story in Three Short Parts

I. Origin

Reuben was always an ambitious lad, but his actions always lingered far behind his ideas. With an intelligence that surpassed his means, he always felt betrayed by the society that didn't recognize his genius. This resentment only intensified as his pursuit of employment met with increasing failure.
Reuben the janitor worked at a large and luxurious scientific research compound. It wasn't a glamorous job, nor a well paying one, but it provided steady work and, as Reuben liked to brag, required a high security clearance, even if it was just so he could empty the trash bins.

On one dark and stormy night, he was emptying the garbage in the virtually deserted genetics laboratory of his office building. Between the cracks of thunder, he heard a shrill noise coming from the next room. Reuben had never been in this particular room, and it was blocked by a highly sophisticated door and lock which required a high security clearance and password. Luckily, Reuben had both. Really, the janitorial service was a blatant weak link in this company's security measures.
He swiped his badge, punched in a password, and freely entered the locked room. Reuben found himself on a gangplank over a large water tank. In the middle of the tank he saw a lone dolphin shrieking after every raucous clap of thunder.

“Poor thing,” Reuben said in a calming tone to the dolphin. “You don't like the storm, eh? Well, neither do I. But don't you worry, we are safe in here.” He extended his arm toward the water below and beckoned the dolphin near him.

The dolphin swam over while still shrieking and clicking and hollering. Then, in one graceful motion, it jumped up out of the water and bit Reuben's arm. He shouted first from the shock, then the pain, then the unexplainable burning sensation he felt flowing up his arm and into the rest of his body.
The dolphin finally let go and fell back into the water. Reuben likewise fell to the gangplank. He tried to get up. He tried to crawl to the door. But the burning sensation was overtaking his entire body. With his vision fading, Reuben made one last attempt to reach for the door handle.
Everything went black.

II. Conflict

Reuben woke up days later in a hospital. But much to his surprise and dismay, he wasn't really Reuben anymore. Turns out, when someone is bitten by a genetically altered, radioactive dolphin there are side effects. Not only was there the obvious physical deformities, but Reuben's new state was accompanied by superpowers, such as strength, invulnerability, flight, and laser vision. Because why wouldn't a company performing radical genetic experiments give laser vision to a dolphin?

Reuben soon found himself an outcast to society. He had never been a particularly religious man, but his friends and family were. Instead of feeling sympathy for the dolphin-man, though, they detested him, asserting his semi-human state was an abomination to both God and nature.

Dejected and alone, Reuben became resolute in combining his genius and super dolphin-man powers to achieve his ambitions for greatness. And to stick it to those who had rejected him. But greatness often requires vast financial resources, of which Reuben had none. So he set out on a quest to obtain the necessary funds, which mainly took the form of robbing banks. The police tried but could not stop him, for he had super strength, could fly, and, again, for some reason had dolphin laser vision. He soon became the most wanted man, or dolphin-man, in the nation. But the authorities could not stop him, so Reuben could still be found every day walking leisurely down the street, often to or from a bank robbery.

III. Confrontation

One day, on his walk to a bank he was going to rob, Reuben came across an old friend of his, Catherine. Long ago in his youth, he had actually had a bit of a crush on her, but he had never said anything at the time, and he certainly wasn't going to do it now, what with him being a super-powered dolphin criminal and all that. Even so, he stopped to say hello since, unlike all his other acquaintances, Catherine had yet to denounce him.

“Yo, Reuben! What are you dippity doin'?” She called out to the dolphin-man when she saw him. The two old friends exchanged pleasantries and engaged in simple small talk before Catherine tried to steer to the conversation to bigger matters.

“You know, Jesus loves you,” she told him. Such a tired and cliché phrase was almost painful to hear spoken aloud. Even Catherine winced at her own words before she continued, “I know that's a terrible cliché. And it's practicably devoid of all meaning at this point, but it is true, Reuben.”

Reuben didn't know what to think. He didn't believe her, but he was struck that she was actually talking to him with kindness. “Well,” he finally replied, “even if Jesus does love me, none of his followers do.”

“Oh, forget those guys,” Catherine said dismissively. “Right now they're all on the news talking about how their long lost friend is now sinning every day by robbing banks and that you're going to go to hell for it. I mean, yeah, robbing banks is definitely bad and you should really stop doing it, but even if you do stop they still won't like you. They don't just think your behavior is a sin, they think your very existence is a sin. So, forget them.”

Reuben tilted his dolphin head to the side. This was not the typical “Jesus loves you” spiel he was used to.

“But God does love you,” Catherine continued, “but not as an exchange or a transaction dependent on your repentance or recitation of a magical sinner's prayer. No, God still loves you even if you are a mutated dolphin-man. God still loves you even if you rob banks. God loves you, whether you like it or not.”1

Reuben thought a moment. “Then why would I stop robbing banks if he loves me anyway?” A devious smirk spread across his dolphin face.

“Good question,” Catherine agreed. “Should you keep on sinning so that God's grace may fall on you more abundantly? Well, as the Apostle Paul would say, 'Hell, no!'”2

Catherine took a step forward and took Reuben's dolphin head in her hands. “But maybe, just maybe, the realization or a love so excessive, so extravagant, so ridiculous, stupid, and obscene, that doesn't require you to change, will maybe, just maybe, instill in you a desire to want to change.3 Maybe you will experience a love that you do not know how to not love.4 And maybe that love is just impossible, is the impossible, which is why we love it so, yes, yes, oui, oui, amen.”5

Reuben and Catherine parted ways there, without him undergoing a dramatic, yet incredibly cheesy, conversion experience where he fell to his knees in the rain and cried out for God to forgive him. In actuality, Reuben continued on his way and robbed a bank that day. He proceeded to rob several more.

But something Catherine said that day must have had a lingering effect on Reuben that slowly impacted him on his journey through life. After a while, his bank robberies became more and more infrequent. Eventually, the robberies even seemed to have stopped, and Reuben disappeared from the public eye and faded into obscurity.

However, parishioners across the country have sworn that every so often they see a half man, half dolphin sitting in the back pew of their given churches. Sometimes his flipper-hands are raised in joyous praise, sometimes folded in solemn prayer. There was even one recent report of a super-powered dolphin-man actually stopping a bank robbery...

*With sincere apologies to Douglas Adams.

1Brennan Manning, Abba's Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1994), 22.
2Romans 6:1-2; Colloquial Translation.
3Peter Rollins, Insurrection: To Believe is Human, To Doubt, Divine (New York: Howard Books, 2011), 106.
4Catherine Keller, Could of the Impossible: Negative Theology and Planetary Entanglement (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015), 85.
5John D. Caputo, What Would Jesus Deconstruct? The Good News of Postmodernity for the Church (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2007), kindle location 812.

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