Here’s the life plan our culture gives us, the story we’re expected to live into.
Go to school. Get a job. Get a car. Get a house. Get a spouse. Get a big screen. Get a dog. Get some kids. Get an IRA. Retire big. The end.
Really? Is that it? Is that as good as it gets?
The hippies of the 1960’s and 70’s rebelled against this story, but they couldn’t sustain their rebellion. Most of the hippies eventually ran out of steam. They mostly gave up their pot and settled down and gave birth to the yuppies of the 80’s and 90’s who embraced the first story of consumerism and put it on steroids (sometimes literally).
Now as we go deeper into Post-Modernism, we are deconstructing this prevailing story and all our stories more fully. We are recognizing that we cannot consume our way to happiness. We are seeing more and more clearly that our defining story is destroying our environment and creating a lot of broken individuals and fractured families.
But when we’re done with the deconstruction, what do we have left? Not much, unfortunately. A great majority of our culture are embracing the discomfort of not having a guiding story. We are loving being lost. Or perhaps we aren’t lost if we aren’t actually trying to go anywhere.
But again, we find ourselves asking the same questions.
Really? Is that it? Is that as good as it gets?
And so a new movement of social justice is being born right here among us. Witness Tom’s shoes and fair trade coffee and the entire enterprise of social entrepreneurism. Witness the new movement of social activism which leads some sociologists to wonder if the Millennials will be the greatest generation humanity has ever known. Some giddily hope that this generation - added by the internet, social media, and a deep sense of collectivism - will heal all that ails humanity and the cosmos.
But toward what end?
Say we empower every human being to emerge from poverty. Say we find cures for cancer, AIDS, and autism. Say we learn the magic economic sauce to balance capitalism and care for the weak. Say we somehow overcome our political polarities and learn to work together. Those are unquestioned goods, but where will they lead us and will be able to sustain that progress?
And again, we find ourselves asking whether this is as good as it gets?
Will a cure for cancer heal our loneliness? Will a world of economic fairness give me a sense of purpose and meaning in life? Will hugging democrats and republicans actually lead us forward? And what is forward? And is forward progress our final goal? Is our entire purpose simply to move the human enterprise one laborious step forward at a time? Is our world one colossal Sisyphus?
Call me crazy, but I think we find answers to all these questions within Christianity - specifically within Jesus.
There are three critical questions. Where are we going? How do we get there? What is life like along the way?
Where are we going?
Throughout the Bible, God invites people into the story of the restoration of humanity and the whole cosmos. Where are we going? We are going toward the healing of all people and all things. We are going toward the renewal of our original purpose for loving community and whole and healthy engagement with all people and all things. We are moving toward the restoration of Eden (Genesis 1-2), but even more than restoration.
This is the simplicity after complexity. This is the healing after brokenness. This is the cure after disease. Someone who is cured of cancer often finds herself grateful for the cancer because she is able to appreciate and to engage life more fully because of the clarity that cancer forced upon her. In a similar way, our collective pain and brokenness will clarify and enrich the healing toward which we are moving.
How do we get there?
The answer is scandalously simple. We get to this ultimate healing by following Jesus. Jesus offers the world two immeasurable gifts. 1) The example of a life that changes everything through pure love in an extended family of love. 2) The unfathomable power to live this life of unselfish love in ways that are literally beyond our own human power. Put simply, we follow Jesus into his life of love, and we depend on Jesus power (the Holy Spirit) to actually flesh this out in our daily life.
The simple truth of the Bible is that if people around the world would model our lives after Jesus and allow Jesus’ love to shape our character, that process of following would actually change the fabric of ever corner of our world. Following Jesus heals the world.
What is life like along the way?
Say we embrace this life of following Jesus, what can we expect?
One of the first things an honest student of Jesus discovers is that Jesus and his followers live in extended family. It is not possible to truly follow Jesus alone. It is obviously possible to “believe” in Jesus and to believe nice things about him. Lots of people do that. However, if we are going to try to live like him, then we’ll live life together with a close group of others. Jesus had his three best friends, his group of twelve, and a larger extended family of somewhere between 75 and 150 people. Anyone who is serious about living like Jesus will aim for some similar patterns of friendship and “family.”
Next, if we really follow Jesus, we can expect a beautiful mixture of pain and joy, love and rejection, suffering and hope. Jesus was killed - remember! However, Jesus probably enjoyed life more than any human who has ever lived. He was called a glutton (over-eater) and a drunkard, and he was often found wherever the party was going down. He hung out with kids. He colored in the dirt. He kept the various parties running by replenishing the food and drink when it was running out. He healed others, and yet he also endured beatings and torture. He lived life with a reckless, joyful abandon - all the while moving forward in God’s mission of healing the world. That’s about what we can expect for ourselves - if we really follow him.
Last, based on the witness of his first followers, we can expect that following Jesus will do something deep in our spirits. A life patterned after Jesus so changed them, that they would not turn away from Jesus no matter the cost - whether it was lions or crosses or economic ruin. Something about the living the way of Jesus was so satisfying, so transforming internally and externally, that they were willing to pay any price to keep it. In the same way, we can expect a deep transformation that is its own reword. The Bible sometimes calls this “the fruit of the Spirit,” and defines this “fruit” or outcome of the Way of Jesus as: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
And that, my friends, is what we’re all looking for. That’s what we’re all aiming for with the dominant story, and the deconstruction, and even our reconstruction attempts.