I really have no idea what is going to happen — most of the time, I like it that way. I don’t really know if Circle of Hope can sustain itself, since it runs on conviction and covenant. I don’t know whether the stock market will dive and take us with it, whether aggrieved people will unite and upend the social order, whether my friends will move away, or whether my pipes will freeze in the endless winter. Most of the time, all that uncertainty seems like a good excuse to have faith. It is a great grace that living by faith is more fulfilling than knowing whether I should have bought salt before it was all sold out.
But people have a lot of guilt and anxiety about not knowing. They are ashamed they made what look like mistakes and they did not know what was going to happen before it happened. Mr. Bates may do something terrible because of his guilt and shame about not knowing what was happening to Mrs. Bates!
The other day I was at a baby shower and people were quite satisfied that they did not have to buy yellow baby clothes because they knew the baby’s gender already — I am sure science developed in utero photography to ease the anxiety about how to decorate the nursery! Maybe you laugh, but people are still angry that the government did not predict and prevent 9/11! Many people defend the government’s right to collect our phone records because they think every measure must be taken so “nothing like that ever happens to anyone ever again!” — we even see our personal experiences as contributions to anxiety relief, guilt reduction and the hope of controlling the future. Don’t we insist that the future must be “better” than the past? And aren’t we taught that good people band together to make sure it will be?
Last night a JIF peanut butter commercial tagged on to the coverage of Olympics was teaching children to imagine their perfect future. The scripture lesson was:
What if I skated so fast the world stopped for a minute?
What if I had a sled and all my friends got in it?
What if I took a shot and scored the winning goal?
What if I cut through the winter air and didn’t feel the cold?
What if I could fly and soar like I had wings?
What if I stood up on the winners stand and heard my country sing?
Nourish every dream with the fresh roasted peanut taste of JIF.
I heard that and laughed out loud! What if I spend every waking moment becoming an elite athlete? Wouldn’t the moment of my achievement last me my whole life through? Wouldn’t I be happy and justify my existence? Wouldn’t my parents be alleviated of all the shame I normally bring them? Wouldn’t I have made all the right choices and achieved a mistake-free performance? Ugh. Our dreams of our splendid future, based on the fullness our personal splendor is not the same as having faith, JIF commercials notwithstanding.
I became a Christian for many reasons, but a main one was certainly because I was surrounded by people who had the breathtaking audacity to think they were smart enough to organize, even legislate my future. As they were organizing according to how they saw the past, I experienced the grace of looking over their shoulders and seeing God in my future through Jesus, the presence of the future. I received the blessing (or curse, depending on how you look at it) of being a history student and watching people in the past repeatedly learning from their mistakes and repeatedly thinking that their brilliant conclusions meant they had a lock on the future. The people who killed Jesus were sure they were doing it for the benefit of future generations! That arrogance is alive and well among the least of us — even among the odd people who lead Circle of Hope. We want to have a successful cell and end up reproducing what was, what was successful and familiar, not what is next. We stay on the treadmill of history applying the same crazy audacity, always thinking we will be the generation that gets it right.
Basic Bible teaching: We are strangers and aliens in the world. Jesus is the pioneer.
Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 1 Peter 2:11
“Foreigners and exiles” is also translated: strangers and pilgrims, aliens and exiles, wayfarers and foreigners, strangers and sojourners
Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith Hebrews 12:2
“Pioneer and Perfecter” is also translated: founder and perfecter, author and finisher, source and perfecter, source and goal, leader and completer.
Jesus is at home in every culture and every era, yet a product of none of them. His grace makes us better and we contribute goodness to the world that makes it better, but we don’t base our security on whether we did that so right that wrong won’t turn around and bite us ever again. Our audacity is knowing that we matter very much, whether we prove it by getting everything right and having our retirement feel secure or not.
Know all you can, predict all you can, but trust all you must. Study to succeed, master the ways of everything, but rely on Jesus. Learn from the past, strive to be excellent, but understand that Jesus is going ahead of you and only God knows your future. Make your greatest achievement be mastering your exile.
Our great grace includes the promise that the hope of the faithful will not be disappointed. In that hope we have a lot of room to be joyful failures, to be people who can see the wonder in the rubble, to be pioneers who never tire of seeing the sun come up over the next horizon on the journey.