Mediocrity is the Status Quo

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.

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apparentbook

I like the sun in San Diego. It is out almost every day. I normally follow it as it ushers in the day, then leave with it in the evening. Day in and day out it is beautiful. Sadly, most days I don't think much about it being there.

2 thoughts on “Mediocrity is the Status Quo”

  1. Hey Derek. Just reading this now, and I this sounds not unlike the narrative that runs through my own head. The strange thing for me is — even though I decided to forget money and go it alone career-wise 9 months ago — I still feel like my life is somehow not…well, risky enough. (Or maybe the better word is “radical.”) I still ache for a life of simplicity, community, and influence. (By influence, I mean making a difference in the kingdom of God in some small way.) I thought working for myself would be fulfilling, and in many ways it is. But in terms of living the kind of radical life Jesus calls us to? Turns out it has nothing to do with my job. Turns out downgrading to cheap shampoo and eating PB&J for lunch doesn’t help either. So now I’m wondering, is it even possible to live a radical life in our culture? Or does it require us to be in “real” community, and we are all too closed off to each other, or too busy? I wonder sometimes if it’s not that our culture is anti-Jesus, but rather to dead to care?

    1. A friend of mine, Scott, spent a few years of his life doing something called Servant Partners in South Central LA. He pretty much took a mediocre job (kind of a school assistant/ field helper) and devoted his life to his neighborhood. They lived in close (and risky) community, especially with their neighbors, and devoted themselves to teaching and studying the Bible. They also gave up a lot, and lived on the super cheap. To me, it sounded like what the “authentic” model would be, and it was certainly formative, but could it be the way all Christians in the US live? Probably not. I agree with the sentiment of your last question – our culture abounds in the luke-warm instead of the ardently anti-Jesus (or pro-Jesus) movement. A strong and vibrant church community can make the difference, though – to pull us out of the world for just a moment, and encourage us to keep going. American culture still needs Jesus, whether it feels that way or not, and influence is as simple as finding the need and becoming part of the solution. I hope that your risky venture does pull you closer to Jesus – and that He affirms to you where He is at and what He is doing in and around you.

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