If you know anything about personality typing, then I can tell you I’m an ENFP, and a 7…and you’ll know that, among other things, I’m an escape artist.
On a good day, that means I’m a day dreamer. In healthy expressions and moderate measures, I’m imaginative, creative, a visionary; I can see past the pain or discomfort of a present moment into a more hopeful future.
In my dysfunctional moments, it means I bail out out of the present when it gets uncomfortable. In times of stress or anxiety, I cope by throwing large chunks of time into binge watching Netflix or re-reading books I’ve read a hundred times; losing hours of productivity to social media; browsing real estate sites for modest beach homes in southern California. Because don’t all clergy have the disposable income to invest in a little 7-figure vacation getaway? And forget Pinterest or Youtube cat videos. I can troll TripAdvisor for days planning trips I may never take.
These behaviors, in moderation, are not entirely destructive. The danger is when I let The West Wing, or Harry Potter, or the house in Carlsbad draw me out of real life and call me to dwell in a pleasant construct of unreality. A place where there are no difficult relationships, no uncomfortable conversations; where money is no object; no suffering; where Jed Bartlett is the President and who is Donald Trump, anyway?; where The Boy Who Lived always lives. Where there is nothing but time… That’s a nice little world to visit.
This morning in the car, I accidentally turned on Christian radio for a minute. Because sometimes, I also like to escape into that world of suburban Christianity. It is clean and nice there, and I don’t have to think too hard about anything. God is on my side and Jesus my boyfriend makes it all o.k.. And all snark aside, the occasional praise chorus is like a balm to the rage that I feel at the state of the world these days.
And then the nice praise tune fades and they start talking.
Today’s turn-the-channel-quick-moment went like this: they were talking about the terror attacks in Brussels. Praying for the victims and families. Commenting on the senseless violence and loss of life. Ok, I’m with you.
And then… They talk about this wonderful post on Instagram; a picture of the chaos in that Belgian train station, along with a hashtag: #ThisWorldIsNotOurHome
“This world is not our home,” said the show’s host. “Isn’t that so comforting?”
“NO it’s not!” I shouted as I flipped back to my lefty local music station. IT IS NOT COMFORTING. It is cowardly. It is naive. And most of all, it is an affront to the real and present suffering of the world outside of comfy western religion.
The world is our home. It is. And we are supposed to be learning to live in it, together.
It’s not just the guy on the radio. Escapist theology is a part of American culture. “Don’t worry too much about who the President is going to be, we know God’s in charge!” “We don’t need gun control, we need prayer; only God can save us.” “There is war, there is terror, there is famine and pandemic and our cars and factories are dissolving the ozone and melting the ice caps, but this world is not our home…”
I get it. Truly I do. I can escape with the best of them. J.K. Rowling and Aaron Sorkin are, perhaps, my greatest enablers.
But Jesus is not.
As much as I experience–and sometimes indulge–the temptation to duck out of the world for a minute, the gospel is not an escape hatch. Jesus is not a parachute. And faith in God is not the emergency eject button.
The future hope of heaven has been a major part of the Christian narrative for generations. Understandably so within the context of, say, liberation theology. For enslaved and oppressed populations, the comfort of a future life with Jesus–when this one is not your own–makes sense. It’s even biblical.
But with this kind of theology, context is everything. Affluent white Americans, using the promise of heaven to look away from the suffering of the world? Nossir. It does not work like that.
Our faith in Christ calls us to engage the world; to resist evil; to serve the hurting; to transform hatred and rage and fear of neighbor; but never to ignore the hurting places and fix our eyes on some future paradise into which only a select few will be invited. If anything, our belief in an afterlife–or any kind of life–with Jesus, draws us more deeply into the suffering of our own time and place.
This week in the life of the church, we challenge ourselves to draw close to the story of humanity’s darkest hour–the death of God at the hands of the empire. We move into the space of terrible violence, bearing witness to unthinkable suffering and loss. In that space it’s tempting–of course it is–to skip ahead to Easter Sunday. In fact, it seems that some churches even have Easter on Palm Sunday now, and then have it again on actual Easter. Because life is hard out there, and how much do we really need to be reminded that there’s pain and darkness and people can be just awful?
But we do need the reminder. We need to remember that the world has seen such violence, such terror, such fear of the other and rage at the outsider before–and that, perhaps, not much has changed. We need the reminder that resurrection is the ongoing work of faithful people who are engaged in the broken world–and not just an amazing thing that God did, that one time, so we can chill in peace forever.
And mostly, we need the reminder that it isn’t just the empire that will kill him. It is the onlookers. The raging, rioting ones; and the passive, silent ones. The ones who show up for the spectacle, the momentary diversion. Because life is hard out there, and there isn’t anything else on tonight, so why not just