Meditation: Being Christian In America – Part 2
Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jesus said to them, “I am the Bread of Life. The one who comes to Me will never go hungry, and the one who believes in Me will never be thirsty.
John 6:31, 35
(Recently, being anything in America seems to entail a great deal of busyness, at least for me. From the mundane and trivial to the death of a dear friend, with much “filler” in between, I feel as if I’ve met myself coming and going. Thus, I beg your pardon for my failure to find time to sit still and listen, and thus, to finish what I started. Sitting still and being quiet in America are probably a worthy topic for meditation in itself, though perhaps another day…)
The daughter of a good friend is friends with Patrick Mahomes who, in case you do not know, is the quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs. Frankly, I had never heard of Patrick Mahomes until I found myself sitting with my long-time childhood friends knitting beanies for babies and cheering for the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship game against the Patriots. Not exactly a beer commercial, but there you have it. The man, an incredibly talented quarterback, is 23-years-old. As we watched, I couldn’t help but wonder, “if they win and he quarterbacks in the Super Bowl and wins, what’s next? How do you top winning the Super Bowl at 23?” It’s a moot point. As we know, Kansas City didn’t win. But it does seem that being the winning quarterback in the Super Bowl would be a high point that would be hard to improve upon in the remaining decades of living.
The circumstance of Mahomes’ success at such a young age rather forces the question: what is life? What is it we are pursuing with all of our doing? When our goals are attained, the mortgage paid off, the 401K hits the magic number, or when one quarterbacks the winning team in the Super Bowl, what is left? To what end is all our striving and planning, our working and dreaming? Is the point of life simply to survive this world well? It’s an incredibly important question, for our answer defines and directs the whole of our living.
The world in which we live, our American culture, offers a stunning array of choices for human satisfaction and human life. All choices are not of equal value, but the voices of the hawkers of human meaning and purpose are a relentless cacophony bombarding daily life for all of us. I once heard the late Charles Krauthammer, of whom I was longtime fan, say that all of life is politics. Terrifying thought, that… Recently, a friend shared an encounter with a young man who insisted that Jesus fathered children. When my friend questioned him, the man said that is was simple biology. Jesus was a Man, and therefore, He had to have fathered children. The unspoken assumption of the young man is that sex is life. A friend and I went to see a Broadway musical not too long ago, the emphasis of which was the pursuit of happiness. In the course of this vaulted pursuit, the characters exhibited violence toward each other, had extra-marital affairs, and sought divorces.
All of these and more are the answers the world offers for the meaning and essence of life. Each one of these may occur in the course of living, but if our meaning and purpose are invested in the successes defined by our culture, then we will be woefully disappointed when reach these milestones. Having reached the pinnacle, what remains? How quickly we discover that we hunger and thirst for something more. We have the whole of our lives to live, from the commonplace to the extraordinary events of life, both good and bad. What is the point of our living? What is the essence of life itself, that quality that imbues the whole with meaning and purpose?
For Christians, the answer was given to us by Jesus, as stated in the passage above. That which gives us life, the essence of daily living, is Christ Jesus Himself – the Bread of Life. To be pulled away from the centrality of Christ as our being and our destiny is to succumb to the pointlessness that abounds in America today. Christianity can meet the terminal restlessness that pervades our dissatisfied and unhappy populace as it searches endlessly to assuage the relentless hunger and thirst of the forgotten soul. But we Christians must first partake of the Bread of Life from which we will never hunger or thirst again.
The mistake of we Christians – one might say, the great mistake of contemporary Christianity – is that we have separated our lives from our religion. We live secular lives and have a spiritual religion. The fully sacred nature of life can be recovered only when the Bread of Life sustains and nourishes us for the entirety of our living, not merely for our “spiritual” lives. This, in turn, leads to gratitude and humility. Our successes can be enjoyed, but Jesus Christ is our life. All that we have is God’s gift to us. What intellect or talent or capacity for skills did not come from God?
When we think about being Christian in America today, we must acknowledge we will have to go against the flow if we are to be even minimally faithful. In great degree, this is our own fault. We have celebrated a gospel of humanistic, individualistic, material life with a spiritual bonus in our religion. Thus, as the cultural ethos grows increasingly agnostic or even atheistic, we have no response. We, too, live secular lives, humanistic lives, and we are left with little defense of a religious life to a people who do not believe there is a god at all, much less the Triune God of Christian faith. The worst part is, we look just like our neighbors and cannot understand why we can’t make them understand that being Christian and going to church are good. Our challenge is not the lost intentionality of evangelism, but rather, the deliberate and inescapable division between life and religion. Christians, of all people, have to reject such a way of living, for the essence of life, that which sustains us at the beginning and the end, through good and bad, in happiness and grief, is Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life.
The world around us plunges into ever-greater darkness. We are holding civil conversations about killing babies after they are born. That is a tidal wave of darkness. Our response has been to run out and do missions, then come back together and study. This is our religion. It’s what we do. But this is not really Christianity, for the Christian lives in the unity of physical and spiritual without any false division between the two, in Bread that is our sustenance as well as our salvation. We are called to live in a world imbued with the presence and glory of God, to see the sacred in all things, and to experience Christ in the forgotten minutia of our days, as well as in the mountaintop moments that stir our souls. This is our witness to the world: that life is good; it is sacred; it is a gift of incalculable value.
To be Christian in America is to see the good that drives so much of the bad in our culture. As Christians, we should see the longing for meaning and validation in acrimonious political debates over how we are to live, see the yearning to matter in the wholesale immersion in sex of every conceivable stripe, and see the insatiable hunger for God in the endless search for love at whatever cost to the ones we are supposed to love the most. Christians will have a witness to America when we can look at our culture with compassion, knowing that the rejection of God leads ultimately to the rejection of life, and in the middle of the culture’s rejection, to live sacred lives nurtured and sustained by the Bread of Life.
What would need to change in you to give up your religion and to embrace a sacramental and sacred life? How would life be changed if you could and experience God in every moment of every day? And, finally, what would be your witness to your unbelieving neighbor if you understood the sacred nature of all creation, including your neighbor?
Pray about it… In Part 3 of this series, we’ll take a look at what we need if we are to live authentically Christian lives in a world that is anything but Christian.
In Christ –