Saturday, January 31, 2009
Fleshing Out the Script
Things I have rediscovered lately:
• Pandora Radio at www.pandora.com
• "Jane Eyre" in print
• this photo I took of Paris in 1993
• robin-egg-shell blue
• the zen of fresh-cut flowers
• how hard Brooks can make me laugh
A few years ago, my sister Mindy introduced me to a book called "What's So Amazing About Grace?" by Philip Yancey. I was taken by the author's candid treatment of grace and mercy, two virtues I felt the absence of in my own life. I read more of his books. In "Soul Survivor" he highlights ten or so people whose lives he considers to emulate true Christian discipleship, Gandhi, MLK Jr., Dr. Paul Brand, to name a few.
It was while reading this book that I realized I am not a Christian.
This revelation was a big bummer because my whole life I thought I was. Don't get ahead of me here before I can say that I'm not soliciting reassurance. Perhaps in my twenties I would have but as I get older, external validation is less and less important. I was relieved to find that I had no need to beat myself up for this either. At a point in life when I am making more deliberate decisions, this revelation was actually helpful. Read on and walk through this with me.
Christianity has been an inheritance of sorts. I live in a country steeped in Judeo-Christian culture. I was raised in a family where I learned Christian principles, was baptized and went to church every Sunday. I tried to forgive and forget, walk the extra mile and be kind to others. This all felt right. I had no desire to do harm to anyone, a clean conscience was important to me and doing good felt good.
So, I'm a Christian, right?
Perhaps I've been on auto pilot since then because what I've described above pretty much characterizes my life over the years. At least I thought it did. When I read Philip Yancey's book, however, I couldn't help but examine myself a little closer. Sometimes when I thought I was being loving I was only being nice. A gesture of service was in reality a duty performed with resentment. To forgive, true remorse on the part of the offending party had to be taken into careful consideration. My critical nature of others too often kept me from seeing my own faults. And didn't I relish a grudge now and then? (Yes.)
So, big deal. That pretty much describes just about everyone who I would still consider to be a decent human being (and naturally I'm only outlining faults fit to print). But the question I couldn't ignore was just how much of my heart, just what percentage of my soul, does all this comprise?
Well, pretty much most of it.
For me the two core teachings that summarize Christ's ministry are returning love for hatred and eliminating poverty/human suffering. I ask myself how much of my time is spent engaging in either of those activities? Not much. So what do I fill most of my time with? Well, if it's true that "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also", then it's safe to say that I'm more influenced by capitalist and individualist theologies than by the Christian one.
As principles, love and poverty elimination (i.e., giving freely of my possessions) resonate with me. In fact, they resonate very deeply. The reality is that when it comes down to it, both of those things are very very hard to do. I am compelled to acknowledge that I am limited by the smallness of my heart — that I care more about myself than anyone else. And the business of enlarging one's heart on one's own is so hard that, in fact, I believe it's quite impossible. In her book "Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith", Ann Lamott writes, "We don't transform ourselves." and I agree. That's God's work. So then how do I make the transition between where I am and where I could be? Or do I?
So, acknowledging that I'm not truly a Christian may be a good place for Him to start. It has given me the space to realize that I actually have a choice in the matter (which feels funny even to write). Do I want to be or don't I? It's certainly easier to go on acting like it. Besides, who's really watching? What does it matter?
I guess the answer, whatever it might end up being, highlights the difference between a scripted life and a deliberate one. So far I'm leaning towards deliberate. But to me, "deliberate" doesn't seem to be the word that describes grace and mercy, the two things I need most to proceed.