Enter a golden moment of Warner Brothers cartoons—the brutal, but entertaining drama of a coyote chasing a road runner. If Wile E. Coyote’s persistence is phenomenal, his failures are spectacular. One of the classic moves has him chasing the road runner at high-speed, only to hit a hairpin turn and skid off a cliff. For a long painful moment, he suspends in mid-air (Because according to cartoon physics, the law of gravity doesn’t work until you look down). Then he flashes a “Help!” sign and plummets a thousand feet.
That impossible moment of standing on thin air means “spirituality” for too many people. We love Jesus’ description of the Spirit being like the wind (John 3:8). Mysterious. Esoteric. Unpredictable. It looks like a life following Jesus is…well…more UFO than anything else. And that’s exactly the way a lot of us like it.
But the same Person who said the Spirit is like the wind worked a blue-collar job as a carpenter in a large family. The Son of God incarnated as a man in first century Jewish society. He didn’t fly anywhere. He took a horse or a wagon or walked. He also ate the food of the time. From reasonable implications, it looks as though He might have liked bread and grilled fish and lamb—fairly common Middle East favorites. Wedding attendance must have been a social staple, and He must have drunk at least some wine (I don’t know if it was the reduced alcohol variety or full-strength—I felt I needed to admit I didn’t know because some Christians like to cage fight over it). Spiritual never looked so…earthy and recognizable.
It reminds me the God of the Scriptures can easily be a dishwashing, lawn mowing, life-loving God who works a job, and who likes to fish, and eat Barbecue and chocolate. At least in my skin. A couple of times I lost sight of those facts and started getting weird. Yes, everything becomes peculiar when God only cares about non-fat yogurt and prayer.
Spirituality is not nothing. Nor is it everything. It is everything within a framework. This is beyond dispute. God has a mission. God has a community. God has a life development vector. I’ve been called to give myself to Christ within those things. I’m not supposed to be occupied with Him in a vacuum. At one point in my life I didn’t know this and actually toyed with the idea of retiring into a mountain somewhere and shaving my head. Hello, Wile E.
I’m contemplative in bearing. Go figure—a lot of writers are. We’re full of thoughts and feelings. But private folks with such colorful interior lives can also become extreme. We’re suspicious about anything that looks like a box or a rule. We strain against things like practical expectations and social commitment (unless it’s to a gym membership). My guess is that somebody will read the above paragraph where I referred to monkish hermitage and say to themselves, “What’s wrong with that, if the Lord told me to do it?”
See what I mean?
But rather than relocate you to a cave in Bolivia, it is far more likely that the Lord will tell you to have coffee and talk about the Bible with a friend on a weekly basis. To stop thinking there are no churches good enough for you to attend on Sunday. To pray in the car on the way to work (with your eyes open!), rather than make phone calls and get caught up on tasty gossip.
I’ll talk about these things and the complications that go with them in the next couple of posts.
In the meantime, try to stay off those cliff-sides.