Ok Ken, sorry for the delay. I am traveling in China right now, but that’s not what is holding me up in answering your question about how I became a Christian on mission. The problem is that I became more conscience of the fact that I am speaking through you to a variety of audiences. I imagine you knew that since I am using a blog instead of e-mail. The point is supposed to be to have a greater responsibility of integrity by being public and open. Actually, that is the cause of the delay.
The simple answer of the message is in fact Jesus. Not that helpful of a statement by itself, I agree. Let me expand. Life felt like (and still does frequently) a nauseating crush between the Ideal and the Real. I want to live in beauty, hope, nobility, fascination, energy, joy, etc. That would be the ideal. Reality? I eat more than my body needs. I get confused but hide it by being more assertive (or just withdraw). I have to make a living. There is traffic. My body is moving toward death and my mind can’t quite figure that out. The Ideal and the Real intersect, but not in satisfying ways. The message I locked onto was that in immediate and ultimate ways Jesus is the hope for bringing the Ideal and the Real together. In him Heaven and Earth, Justice and Mercy and all things real and wonderful meet and arrive at shalom.
I wish that cleared everything up J! So, why not just spell it out? Religious complexity and social complexity. Some ‘insiders’, fellow Christians, are full-time quality control freaks (I am a recovering one). If I say part of the message, but not in the right words, proportion etc., they will lose it. Sorry religious control freak friends! But the social complexity is the cliff on the other side of the road. If I am clear and say what I really believe, that Jesus is uniquely the Lord that integrates the Ideal and the Real in legitimate ways, my out of control stay broad control freak friends will lose it. Fact is I hold to a narrow road. But, here goes.
Starting point: We were created by a Creator to be in the Creator’s image: creative. That is why we love art, or if we are unable to love art directly, we love sports. Sports are an accessible form of art. The creativity of motion, expression, drive etc. excite us. Why? We are created by a Creator.
Enter the problem: But nothing is ever enough. Beauty and wonder excite us but fear and irritations incessantly invade us. Some would deny this, but hey, read your e-mail again, anyone. We all have struggles in relationship (giving and receiving appropriate love) and in general well being (money, health, etc.). The creation is broken. We are broken. We need help.
Intro of solution: Religion is the basic old story of frightened humanity looking for hope and escape. As prosperity and sophistication developed thinkers arrogantly deride that fact. Western positivism and and scientific/economic confidence has led us to a world of Realism that guts the hope of any Ideal. “Get REAL” ends up ringing in my ears as: there is no Ideal. But what if we are frightened and really do need hope? Moreover, what if there really is a way of hope that provides escape from despair and entrance into wholeness? Well, that would make sense out of our (humanity’s) chronic striving for spirituality. But how do we know which solution is a solution and not just wishful thinking? What I came to pay attention to was the idea of the prophets of old.
The Hebrew prophets stand out among spiritualists. As one who has lived in the far East for over a decade, I have to say that most prophets outside of the Hebrews are more Ideal than Real. Kongzi (Confucius) is the exception but he was all about pragmatism with no transcendent Ideal to offer, by his own admission. No offense to Hindu friends intended but the essence of their thought is that the Real is in fact Not-Real. Everything we struggle with, mucked up relationships and irregular health and well being, they are all an illusion according to Hindu based thought. Hmmm. I don’t see an integration of Ideal and Real, I see the Ideal smothering the Real.
The solution revealed: The Hebrew prophets point to the need for life to work and that the answer will come in a man. This man will show how life works and pronounce judgment on what is broken and salvation (rescue) on what was intended to be. The message I got hooked on was that Jesus was/is that Man. He was so much an integration of the Ideal (Kingdom of Heaven) and the Real (the creation) that he even blew the minds of those waiting for him. He was tricky. He showed power and grace in ways that were so very other to what spiritualists often went on about and he did it with people tangled in very immediate, real problems: insanity, sickness, chronic bad choices and more. All the while dealing with individuals Jesus proclaimed a view of how life should be shifted back to understanding that the Creator never left the creation, the creation has gone blind and worships among itself as if the Creator were absent. Jesus’ message: Change your view of reality, God is actually in charge here and now. He developed that message with what you may have heard more often.
The solution executed: Jesus proclaimed the victory of the Ideal Reality over the less-than-ideal realities of this world. That is the cross and beyond. Here is how it works. Broadly, religion (the priests who conspired to kill Jesus) and politics (the Empire who expediently gave Jesus a dose of reality) were confronted head on. Jesus asserted that he was the Ideal (contra religious control systems, Hebrew or other) and that he was the Real (contra human efforts to control this life). Familiar saying of Jesus: I am the way, the truth and the life. The religious (human effort at controlling the ideal) and the political (human effort and controlling the real) set to prove him wrong. They humiliated him, tortured him and killed him. The cross was the human rejection of Jesus as the hope of the Ideal and Real.
Now, let me make sure and get this in. I have rebelled against the True Ideal and the Genuine Real by being foolish. That’s what sin is; being spiritually stupid and mean. I have made fun of people who needed kindness. I have grabbed for what was not mine. I have shut myself off where I should not and imposed myself where I should not. I have done nice things, and I’m certainly not the worst guy to ever live, not even close. That’s not the question for me, though. My question was: How can I enter into the Hope if I am always undermining the Hope by my selfishness? The short answer: Jesus not only did the macro-thing, he was also extremely personal. What I came to understand from the Scriptures was that he died with my foolishness on his soul and received the just punishment for my abuse of the heart, mind, soul and body the Creator entrusted me with. Translation: Jesus died for my sins.
The Ideal is Real: Dead Jesus meant that even his followers needed to try and find another hope (or just give into despair or delusion). But Jesus stunned everyone by showing the he was the Ideal and that he was Real. He came back from the dead, not in some ghostly way. He walked, talked, ate and made it clear: we have not been crazy to dream that there is an Ideal that could overtake our Real. There is HOPE. Jesus told his disciples: It has begun. Now carry it forward to others. Relive the story of the Ideal invading the Real by being vulnerable, rejected, but amazingly victorious in actual (real) success of hope. That’s the missionary thing. Talk with people about the Ideal/Real question and explain how I believe Jesus is the answer to that question with words, yes, but most importantly with reenactment of the way of love over selfishness in the Name of the Creator.
The Real will be Ideal: Where does it end? I used to have a view pretty much like the famous/infamous “Left Behind” series. I don’t anymore; too much speculation. I believe that Heaven (the Ideal, the reign of the Creator) comes to earth (the Real, the visible creation) and things will work better than even our wildest spiritual gurus have imagined. I believe that Jesus is the way to that reality (and will be revealed in his own time) and that he is the Lord of that Ideal Reality, the Kingdom of the Heavens right here among us. Not so sure about all the details but sure enough to invest my life in that direction.
That is my effort at explaining the message this morning. Lots of room for clarifying; so feel free to ask, add, challenge etc. (on the blog or in e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
May the Shalom of the Ideal, the God the Hebrew prophets promised, be yours in Christ!