I just finished Ann Rice’s Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. I decided to read it to prepare for Christmas. Of the many books I’ve read in the past year, this one moved me most, deeply, devotionally, spiritually. I have known the Bible’s account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for many years. I have studied and preached it. Every year, it seems harder to find the wonder and joy that these precious holy days should bring. I am not very emotional; joy doesn’t come easily. I have a pretty good imagination but a very earthbound sense of reality. I believe in what I cannot see, but I do not necessarily feel it. I choose to live by knowledge and by faith, whether my feelings cooperate or not. I was gratified that Rice’s story both satisfied my mind and stirred my heart.
My life has not gone quite as I expected or preferred. Does anyone’s? Rice’s portrayal of Jesus as a child reminded me that life is about living, not just about getting what you think you want or need. As he said, “I came that you might have life and live it more abundantly.” She also helped me recall that, compared to anything we suffer—loneliness, fear of the future, dread of some task we’d rather not do, or anything else—he endured far worse. The former helps me more than the latter. I’m glad to know he understands, and it shames me when I realize I’ve been wallowing in self-pity; but choosing to live is something I can actually do, no matter what may be happening or how I feel about it.
We live in a culture of victims, and it’s easy to think that someone else is responsible, someone else needs to fix things, and, worst of all, that the government ought to be the fixer. Take loneliness, for example; how does someone else fix that? Yet, person after person seems to focus on finding someone who will love them, whether it’s a guy, a girl, or a baby. I understand how easy it is to feel unloved, disliked, or unwanted; I have struggled with those feelings, all my life. I often drive the few people, who really do care, crazy with my doubts. Yet, I know that God does love me, he made me and likes what he made, and he wants me, designed me, and gave me a purpose. When I crave human affection and appreciation, it does no good to lay my hunger on people who are often as hungry as I am. It’s better to offer my kindness, my affection, and my love to them. That’s a piece of what Jesus did. I have taught and tried to practice it, most of my life, but sometimes I still struggle with the wanting and neglect the giving.
I am about a third of the way through The New American Revolution by Tammy Bruce. Though not necessarily spiritual, she favors a “New Radical Individualism.” For us Christians, personal victories require determined individualism, a radical concept in an ever more socialist culture. Thinking like a victim can turn anyone into a dependent, who functions passively in both earthly and spiritual realms. What made American Christians influential in American history was a desire to protect their unwavering independence, their rugged individualism, a “holy” self-sufficiency that looked to God providentially and depended on other Christians as members of a family accept help from the family. Today, our nation has moved away from its spiritual roots, government has assumed the role of life-giver and caretaker, and even Christians surrender their self-reliant dependence on God to an idealistic faith in government. Eternal life seems a fantasy when this earthly life is long, wealthy, and filled with so many pleasures; believers, too, become focused on extending and preserving this life, even if they must surrender their independence to the state, as they give little thought to a hoped-for eternal future.
What does it take to have victory? It’s a important question that too few of us ask. The war with terrorists or radical Islamists, the culture war with socialist progressives, or the war with our own weaknesses should challenge each of us to think of overcoming and defeating our enemies, of winning. As a mediator and peacemaker, I usually prefer creative win/win solutions to conflict, but there are some battles that we simply must win. With the war on terrorism, we will have to win the peace, but only after we have won the war. In the culture war, we will have to win over the hearts of people who have been indoctrinated to accept lies about the goals of freedom-loving American Christians. In the personal realm, we dare not surrender to wrong ideas or to those who would keep us as dependent victims.
Naming a problem, however, doesn’t solve it…not when politicians or activists do it, not when friends do it. Identifying a problem or its cause is merely the beginning of the campaign that may lead to victory. For example, several months ago, some of my friends decided they needed to confront me concerning my weight. I inherited both a large frame and a tendency toward obesity, have gained and lost and gained again, and ultimately became a type-2 diabetic, a few years ago. None of my friends were offering any particular help in dealing with the problem; they just felt a need to tell me that I needed to do something. One even suggested bariatric surgery, as if he had discovered the cure for cancer, an easy fix! Did they imagine that I was unaware of a problem I suffered, every day? The difficulty was not seeing the problem; it was finding the will to begin the campaign, again, to solve it. Those who have never had a chronic weight problem usually don’t fully comprehend the effort of will it takes to take it on. I confess that I don’t fully comprehend what it takes to lead the country to fight Islamic terrorism or to fight that war on a battlefield like Iraq. I am guilty of the same easy assumptions as my friends.
Anyway, after they confronted me, it seems that their job was done. I presume they will celebrate the victory with me, if there ever is a victory. They may also be on hand to say something if the campaign ends in defeat, a common enough outcome for the chronically overweight. The campaign itself is for me alone, I guess. The one urging surgery assured me that he wouldn’t be there to offer comfort during what I hear is a rather unpleasant experience. Some of the others were still confronting me, well after I had begun losing weight, but they have said very little since then, neither asking how the battle goes nor offering encouragement for what will be a long campaign. At least they don’t torment me with offers of “forbidden foods” or try to tempt me to quit, as some have done in the past. Can you see the similarities to the war on terror?
Certain politicians do the same thing. From Washington or in front of a camera, they will tell us they care about us—the elderly, the sick, the poor, the outcast, and the stranger—and our problems. Just give them the chance, and they will fix everything. For many of them, we are not individuals, and they really don’t know many of us, or care to! Their labels are generic, impersonal, and unfeeling. Actually, individuals within a category are not alike. Some elderly are poor, some sick, and some wealthy. Some are immigrants, and some had ancestors on the Mayflower. The sick have many different kinds of problems; some may get better if they can pay for treatment and others are able to pay but find no cure available. The poor, the stranger, and the different are easy targets to blame but difficult people to help with a program or many programs; they, too, are diverse. Yet diversity is not a characteristic with much meaning, despite its use by multiculturalists. The strength and value of differences among us flow from the individuals that make up any group. The solutions for the problems will come from the same individuals, not from the government, not from activists, and not from those who offer nothing more than their public affirmations of concern.
So here I am, living on the “horns of a dilemma.” On the one hand, I face the struggles of a middle-aged, bachelor life, far more alone than I like. On the other, I resist and encourage resistance of any idea and movement that would rob us of our individual freedom, the genius of the American experiment, the source of the blessings of the American dream, and the power, in a sense, of the American Church. I believe God has provided a bridge between the extreme loneliness of individuals and the wonderful privileges granted each person; it’s the love of Jesus Christ flowing out of the People of God. Unfortunately, it doesn’t flow quite as well as it should.
Galatians 6:2-5 describes the balance: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.” God doesn’t intend us to carry our burdens along, nor does He want us to become overly dependent on each other and certainly not the government. While I am often painfully aware of the lack of burden-bearers in my life, I fear I have also been lax in bearing the burdens of others.
At the same time, it’s difficult and humiliating for me to accept help; I prefer to be self-sufficient. Yet God works through others, and sometimes I have to accept their help. I am usually willing to help others, but it’s good to see and feel things from their perspective. I have learned about the poor by being poor. I am learning about the sick and the elderly, too. I even understand more about those who struggle with being overweight. They…we…are more than a label!
Of course, we cannot learn all lessons by direct experience. I won’t become an addict to drugs, alcohol, or tobacco, just to understand addicts. I cannot become an illegal immigrant, but being a tutor has put a face on immigrants. Becoming their teacher, mentor, and friend has given me greater understanding of their poverty, dependence, loneliness, and rejection in this country, as well as the horrors of life for many in foreign places. I cannot talk about closing our borders or punishing those who hire illegals without thinking of real individuals that I know, their situation here, and the realities of life that drove them to the United States.
Tammy Bruce talks of her experiences as a “radical individual,” being scorned, rejected, and condemned for nothing more than being herself as a feminist, among other things. Anne Rice paints a vivid picture of a child Jesus as outcast, stranger, poor boy, and ultimately a solitary agent for the plan of the ages, the lamb who would be slaughtered for the sins of all people. As the song goes, “He died alone for you and me,” the ultimate in both loneliness and individual effect! There is pain in being one person alone with less certain purpose; yet there is power that each person may use to achieve victories that make that one life worth living and may likely enhance the lives of others, perhaps more than he or she ever knows. For me, life lived and lived abundantly gives value to both the pain and power of one solitary life…mine and yours!