Lately I have been stressing out (in my mind) about money. I have reached that point in my life where it seems like I don’t quite have enough of it. I mean we budgeted and planned out everything, but even with that, things were tight, and now some new costs have joined in to make things unsteady. I’ve had moments in the past where I’ve had to be careful with money to get through, but I always had the “mom and dad” back-up plan. Now I am on my own – an adult. And things are getting, for lack of a better term, tight.
The war of reasoning has been raging in my head for months, leaping onto the page of my life in short bursts. Some days I try not to think about it and live like nothing is worrying me. On other occasions I feel let down by all the things I potentially cannot do. In the interim I am negotiating new ways to make more money or complaining about why I do not make enough in the job that I am in. All the while I am trying to avoid putting pressure on my wife, who has been facing the toughest battle of her life; unemployment for nearly a year. At the end of each tangent is the same feeling; I am powerless.
Maybe my dissatisfaction has made me aware of how much I let the world of San Diego press into me. Maybe it is all of those void words of encouragement – “if you try your hardest, you will succeed,” “if you are smart, people will reward that,” “as long as you give it your all, you will achieve” – that I finally realize are not quite true. Maybe it is my disappointment with what I do; that I neither love it or hate it. Maybe it is the perception of being constrained in a world that should feel freeing. Whatever the reason, the screws are coming loose.
Last weekend I found myself outside in the Eastern Sierras, hiking along those people brave enough to march all the way from Canada to Mexico on the Pacific Crest Trail. Surrounded by the towering mountains, piles of melting snow, and waterways that are overflowing, I feel like I am finally breathing again. “Here,” I tell myself, “ is where I belong.” What is it about being in the forest and smelling the decaying pine needles, and sweating, that feels so right, so compelling? Could it be I am simply wired for something different? Or perhaps I am finally in a place that I can face – distraction free and convenience free – the far greater reality of the presence of God.
The world that I have created – that of safety, of job security and education, of home ownership and investment, is simply a house of cards as elaborate and intricate as the American modern world that I live within. I am under the burden, the great burden, of the in-between; that of being neither fully here nor there, of being neither warm nor cold, of being mediocre. That ugly word – like medium and ogre combined – that says I have found a level path without obstacles and without growth. No wonder God says that He spits out the lukewarm – it is a world of apparent satisfaction without true satisfaction – the bitter pill coated in a little sugar.
And I can’t see another way. Mediocrity is the status quo. Who is Jesus within the confines of the United States of America? I mean, I see plenty of people who go way overboard, who are vocally zealous but out of touch with real person-to-person love. They make me groan, or perhaps heave from within, highlighting to the culture at large all of the good reasons not to become a Christian weirdo. But at least these people are coming from an honest place. There are so many people like me, who live in a way that their faith in Jesus Christ nicely fits into the rest of life. We say kind things about God, and offer Him sacrifices – but we are reticent to obey. Our life is comfortable and regular and American and even enough and expected and written out. We are nice to others, but not too much, to be involved in their mess. We give enough, but not too much, so that it would not impede the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the phones we own, the TV we watch, the identity we construct. And we worship God, but not too much, to disrupt plans and schedules and deadlines and personal growth.
Where is the REAL Jesus? Where is the REAL AMERICAN JESUS? Are the only representatives of Jesus those people who are in the mission field? Would the whole lot of us together, the American church, be able to form his body? Would the hand be willing to touch the smelly drunk? Would the feet walk outside the painted crosswalk lines? Would the heart feel the pain, really feel it until it hurt, then pick it up the next day and hurt again? I think in my head that I am His representative and that allows me to tell other people what I do – not directly, but indirectly. By looking better. By being happy when I should be pissed off. By doing things the way they are supposed to work.
And though I am a “free” American, I feel stuck in the same place, pandering to this thing called money because I think I need it to survive. Isn’t God in control of the money, and the jobs, and the climate, and of my marriage, and the future? Can I trust God if I continue to fail in the eyes of my fellow Americans?
Perhaps, just perhaps, if we were all honest about where we are, we could start all over again. God is the God of second chances and He loves the Pharisees as much as the “sinners.”
But the “sinners” he can work with.