A young familiar face greeted me when I opened up Facebook this morning. He will never be an old friend. Cameron did not live long enough.
His mother posted a photo on what would be his 16th birthday. The accompanying note is pregnant with hope. Hard to imagine that through the tears hope remains. That is the road between death and life.
We generally reference matters in terms of life and death. But, when we consider the words of Jesus, the road appears to always be the one between death and life. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, or herself,” said Jesus.
Advent Season nears an end and I still hear Brad’s good description that many people in the world still live in the shadows, in need of hope. Lingering in the shadows of life wanting to see a promise in something, of something. Most are unaware of the massacre in Pakistan, the latest Boko Hiram attack on women and young girls, or the latest episode of individual rage against a family. They don’t have enough time. Their lives have too much violence of their own to look up to see what other tragedies litter our globe.
Though I have not read the piece yet a friend posted this morning, some look to lay blame. It is this ideology or that, this religion or that, this passion or that. One day we will recognize that human interrelatedness problematizes a singular culprit. Some day we will realize we all pay both tribute and in some form participate to the way the world is. Human beings. Beings that need to learn what it means to be human.
No matter the critics who, often rightly, vent at Christianity, among other religions, it is hard for me to take seriously the story of Jesus and not come away thinking, “If only.” If only we did not sentimentalize Jesus. If only we did not domesticate Jesus. If only we did not deify Jesus too much. Yes, that last thought is a bit scandalous.
But, when Jesus is so far out of reach, out of touch, if we overplay his deity, the idea that he is the best version of humanity gets obscured by eager attempts to save his image. Paul, the Apostle, insists that Jesus is the “image of the invisible God.” All ideas about God to that point and all after must be weighed by what Jesus revealed. Ironically, he cared little about his image. Something our too image conscious culture could take a cue from.
Intent to save Jesus’ image, and Christmas, and schools, and government, we use Jesus in ways that bypass the beings who need to learn to be human. Jesus does not need saving for Christmas, for schools, or for government. In fact, Jesus does not need saving. All the energy employed to maintain our preferred image of Jesus often winds up being the fuel to create Jesus in our image, our likeness.
These attempts need to die. Jesus, if we Christians believe anything, lives. Apart from the Incarnation and the Resurrection, Jesus is a story of death. Dying for being human, all too human. Killed for not living up to others images and vision. Tortured for contending that people matter more than rules, seats of power, and institutions. If nothing else, even for my skeptic and no longer Christian friends, this matters.
If the choice is to leave the building, move on past the perceived need for saving, fine. But, if it is al the same, for me, I need, I want, the reminder that I am a being learning to be human. Jesus helps me understand that being human begins with others and not me. If the plight of other human beings bothers me so, then my move is to do something, not write something, or say something. My move is to first value others as beings in need of learning to be human. My light, as John described it, is Jesus.
Criticize my church, the religion that bears his name. Fine. But, until there is offered a better way in the world of death to learn to be human, I will follow Jesus. Put me on a couch. Invite me toward introspection. Medicate me. These all seem more crutch like than taking the initiative to say who did it best, even if it got him killed.
Problematize my faith by others actions only drives me to read the stories of Jesus a bit more, not less. Scandalize someones fear turned rage by noting they were religious, even Christian, and I want to learn how to avoid vesting Jesus with my being that is learning to be human.
You wrestle, I wrestle, we all wrestle, with the road between death and life. That reality pits us together more than it separates us. Making it in the world of death hoping for life is more common than anything else we face. And just maybe, beings toward death actually learn how to be human in ways that transcend beings toward life seem willing to do.
Mix it up here at the end of Advent. Jesus’ mother would hear these exceptionally encouraging words, “he will pierce your own soul.” Little did she know that centuries later there would be a mother, more than one to be sure, who lives the reverse of our concerns. Rather than traveling the road between life and death, she, and her family, have chosen the road between death and life.