Parsons: What’s your style?
Bruce Lee: My Style? You can call it the style of fighting without fighting.
Parsons: The art of fighting without fighting? Show me some of it.
That little exchange occurs in Bruce Lee’s classic martial arts film, Enter the Dragon. I love that scene! Lee outwits the hapless Aussie, and the poor guy almost drowns as his little boat is dragged behind a much larger boat en route to Han’s island fortress. So what, might you ask, has Bruce Lee to do with Jesus and Vampires? Quite a bit actually.
Lee was critical of rigid and formalized structures in traditional martial arts—the katas of Karate for example. Read this brilliant quote from the master, himself:
I have not invented a “new style,” composite, modified or otherwise that is set within distinct form as apart from “this” method or “that” method. On the contrary, I hope to free my followers from clinging to styles, patterns, or molds. Remember that Jeet Kune Do is merely a name used, a mirror in which to see “ourselves”. . . Jeet Kune Do is not an organized institution that one can be a member of. Either you understand or you don’t, and that is that. There is no mystery about my style. My movements are simple, direct and non-classical. The extraordinary part of it lies in its simplicity. Every movement in Jeet Kune-Do is being so of itself. There is nothing artificial about it. I always believe that the easy way is the right way. Jeet Kune-Do is simply the direct expression of one’s feelings with the minimum of movements and energy. The closer to the true way of Kung Fu, the less wastage of expression there is. Finally, a Jeet Kune Do man who says Jeet Kune Do is exclusively Jeet Kune Do is simply not with it. He is still hung up on his self-closing resistance, in this case anchored down to reactionary pattern, and naturally is still bound by another modified pattern and can move within its limits. He has not digested the simple fact that truth exists outside all molds; pattern and awareness is never exclusive. Again let me remind you Jeet Kune Do is just a name used, a boat to get one across, and once across it is to be discarded and not to be carried on one’s back.
Wow! I love that! Lee also famously said:
Don’t get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water. Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.
Much like Lee did with his martial arts philosophy, I incorporate truths outside of traditional Christian sources into my spirituality. This freedom on my part causes an immediate knee-jerk reaction from Christians adhering to stricter forms of the faith. I can almost hear the shrill warnings of apostasy raining down upon me from various religious quarters as I type this out.
I’m sure Lee encountered much the same kind of criticism from his Wing Chun peers when he incorporated Judo, Fencing, Karate, and a host of other disciplines into his fighting style. However, I am convinced that Jesus and his disciples operated in much the same way.
The target in all cases is religious form and tradition that do nothing for God but everything for self aggrandizement, exclusivity, and sectionalism. Often, the problem originates in something beneficial, born of good intent, and frequently even of a spiritual nature.
The Bible is rich in examples. One of my favorites centers on the Ark of the Covenant. No, not the one Noah hung out in with the giraffes and humpty-back camels and some chimpanzees. I’m talking about the other Ark. You know, the one Indiana Jones went after in the first movie. The one that melted the Nazi leader’s face.
Anyways, the Ark of the Covenant was a good thing. God even told the Israelis how to make it and what materials they needed in doing so. The problem was that the Jews got their focus off of God and what He wanted.
They got themselves involved in a war with the Philistines figuring they would win in convincing fashion but they got clobbered. Naturally, you’d think they’d call upon the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob to pull them out of the fire so-to-speak but they didn’t. What they did do was to ask for the Ark of the Covenant!
After the battle was over, the troops retreated to their camp, and the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the LORD allow us to be defeated by the Philistines?” Then they said, “Let’s bring the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD from Shiloh. If we carry it into battle with us, it will save us from our enemies.”
1 Samuel 4:3 New Living Translation (©2007)
Well, they got the Ark took it into the next big battle, and the Philistines promptly scattered them to the winds; adding insult to injury the Philistines took the Ark away from the Jews and brought it back with them as a trophy!
What happened here? Well, the Jews basically forgot all about spirituality and replaced it with a fetish. It’s the same kind of superstition you see in Vampire movies.
Van Helsing and company invariably obtain a cross or crucifix at some point in the story and burn the undead antagonist with it usually by branding their forehead or hand. There’s generally a scene included in which an impromptu cross is made of some discarded wood. The Vampire hisses and turns from the hated “holy” object usually covering himself with his cloak. I also like the cleavage scenes where Dracula or whatever fill-in is about to put the bite on a pretty victim. He pulls back the delicate bodice, young soft breasts rise and fall with each gentle breath, but suddenly a delicate cross or crucifix is revealed! Thank God! It successfully repels the beast from continuing with his salacious assault.
Of course all this supposes either that Dracula and his ilk believe in Christianity or God or that there is some actual power in the “symbol” of “the” cross. Again, as with the Ark of the Covenant, there is nothing inherently bad about crosses or holy water or the Eucharist or whatever. The problem comes when believers get their spiritual eyes off of God and onto some aspect of the Faith that they have fetishized.
Jesus criticized the Pharisees (Jewish religious leaders of his time) for wearing enlarged phylacteries, [religious boxes in which were contained scriptures] (Matthew 23: 5) because it allowed them to make a demonstration of their religious conviction. The Pharisees judged their spirituality on an outward show and Jesus took them to task for it. Of themselves, Phylacteries are not bad or wrong but if you fetish them, you’ve got a problem.
Jesus is quoted as saying:
“A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad.
Matthew 12:23 New Living Translation (©2007)
Figuratively speaking, Christians are presumably born again of a good tree. Therefore, borrowing from the example above, the fruit they bear is good. We are known by the fruit we bear spiritually. As Paul wrote in letter to the Galatians:
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness
Galatians 5:22 New Living Translation (©2007)
Those qualities are what should set a Christian apart from the unbeliever not the crosses around our necks, the clothes we wear or the church we attend.You shall know them by their fruits… not by their suits, folks.
I agree with Bruce Lee when he says: “He has not digested the simple fact that truth exists outside all molds; pattern and awareness is never exclusive.”
Take a look at the image below:
If you can properly assign the following words to the corresponding religious expression above then I suspect there’s something wrong with this picture: Buddhism, Catholicism, Evangelicalism, Islam, Judaism, Mormonism, Druidism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Sikhism, Rastafarianism
Ok, one more Bible story.
When Peter witnessed the “Transfiguration”; that point in the Gospel narrative where Christ is lit up with Divine light, Moses and Elijah appearing with him, the excited disciple says:
“Rabbi, it’s wonderful for us to be here! Let’s make three shelters as memorials–one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
He said this because he didn’t really know what else to say, for they were all terrified.
Mark 9:5-6 New Living Translation (©2007)
It looks like Peter immediately wants to start a religion or at least mark the occasion with a religious monument. However, before the new religion can take root. God breaks in with an announcement of His own:
Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
Mark 9:7 New Living Translation (©2007)
To me this is the crux of it all (pardon the pun). Basically, God is telling Peter to forget focusing on the Holy light-show, forget erecting religious monuments and to listen to Christ. Ultimately, and in every case that trumps any religious form, structure, rite, or function you can possibly think of.
The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”
John 3:8 New Living Translation (©2007)
Honestly, I firmly believe the only way someone should be able to tell if we are Christians is if we bear the character of Christ not via our tshirts, suits, and crosses or the kind of building we enter.
In other words, be like water my friend. Be like water 🙂