I’m having a better day today. I went to the art and spirit cafe to write some poetry and make some prayer beads. I ate lunch with a really awesome community from Harrisonburg that rode bicycles from there to Wild Goose about 20-40 miles each day, camping and crashing with friends on the way over the course of 2 weeks. Then I got to chill and breathe kingdom with my friend Bec Cranford who is actually living the life that I theorize about on my blog with homeless people and the Church of the Misfits in Atlanta. After that, I heard a talk by Mark Von Steenwyck about his Mennonite Worker intentional community in Minneapolis. One thing that he said was really convicting; he talked about the importance of overcoming our need to be heroic prophets and instead see all of our work as an act of repentance. I think I’ve written about that before but man do I struggle with it and it occurred to me that today I had a better day because I didn’t need to be a hero.
My friend Bec was talking to me about the way she interprets Matthew 25 to mean that we should treat everyone we see like Jesus. In other words, not just treat people well for Jesus’ sake, but more radically, to have a posture towards everyone that allows the other person to be the “hero” or the “expert” in our social interactions by letting that person be a rabbi to us, as though Jesus himself were there teaching us. Another way of articulating this that I’ve said before is to assume that I’m surrounded by angels through whom God can speak (even if what God has to say is not what they’re literally saying).
But putting Bec’s words in the context of Mark’s concept of renouncing heroism opened up a new angle on this way of thinking for me. It also went along with something Philip Yancey said this morning about how prayer helps us learn not to be the stars of our own personal movies. You cannot live as though you’re surrounded by Jesus in all the experts and heroes who ordinary people really are if you need to be the hero of the story. You cannot treat everyone like Jesus if you’re constantly making assessments in your head about which people you’re talking to are important “rock stars” you need to network with and which people are just “fans” who don’t have any social capital for you to tap into. It’s so much easier to theorize about these things than to actually live them.
Yesterday I needed to be a hero. I needed to hear somebody rave about the intricacies of my poetry, maybe shed a few tears and say that some of their chains had been broken as a result of the wonder that I encountered and desperately wanted to share with others. See there’s the rub. How do you live as an artist without needing to be a hero? Because it seems intrinsic to my vocation to delight in sharing wonder. When does that become the narcissism that causes me not to enjoy a festival unless I’m the one who everybody is waiting in line to talk to? I was talking to a guy named Josie this morning and he said that sharing his music with others gives him a purpose, which seemed like God trying to nuance things a little bit in my thought process. So where is the line between having a meaningful purpose as an artist and becoming a needy, insecure Lucifer? Wherever that line is, it’s the difference between worship and performance which is what I sang about yesterday even though I was performing instead of worshiping.
One of the metaphors I have for thinking about heaven and hell is that they’re both the same party where the only rock star in the room is Jesus. And some people are incredibly happy about that and they go on and on about how amazing he is. And other people get incredibly annoyed and cynical and even bitterly maddened over time because everyone else won’t stop talking about that Jesus guy, which means they don’t ever get to be the heroes. And when Jesus comes over and says something gregarious and affirming to every Lucifer who cannot forgive him for being the God everyone else is worshiping, it’s only more infuriating because his love calls out your hate, which is why the kinder he treats you, the more it is wrathful torture. I know of these things because I live them.
The only way to enter the kingdom where Jesus is the hero is to be crucified of your need to be a hero. God did that a little more to me yesterday. He’s got a lot more to do. It was hard that my show got turned down, delayed, and cut off early. But it was a rich cruciform blessing that roused up my demons in all their ugliness so that I could stare them in the face and say, “Get behind me Satan. I am putting you on my savior’s cross again.” I really didn’t intend for this blog series about Wild Goose to be so focused on my personal baggage. I promise that the next post I write won’t have anything to do with me because today I met the people God brought me here to meet.