I was sitting at a table at the Synod when once of the members mentioned it.
Mind you, I had neither vote nor voice at the Synod. Rather, I had a notebook and a couple of pens. I was charged with taking notes at a table.
“There is a fallacy in today’s culture that one can live a rich, full, authentic life outside of Jesus Christ,” the member said.
When he said it, my pen paused. What a rich line, I thought.
I had him repeat it. I wrote the quote at the top of the wide-ruled page with LARGE LETTERS.
There is a fallacy in today’s culture that one can live a rich, full, authentic life outside of Jesus Christ.
Read it. Slowly. Out loud if you’re home alone.
My mind has replayed the line since then. I’ve found myself telling it to friends over dinner tables and dashboards. I’ve worked through the words, rolling them over my tongue.
Sometimes, you see, I forget. I think that most of us forget. And I start linking my practiced religion like any number of hobbies that a human might have. You do soccer. You back macaroons. I am a Catholic. My mind equates these activities as feel-good things that release positive endorphins into our minds and we all emerge happier and healthier. Right?
Only. That line has been replaying as things around me have been shifting. Three things. Three stories. Stay with me.
First one was election 2016 which we might be able to term hot-mess.blogspot.com. If I were to sum it up (which I am), I would say: we had two bad candidates and one of them won.
I can hear you asking yourself, “What did you think would happen?”
Well, one of my priest-friends told me he was hoping Jesus would return first and then we wouldn’t be required to vote. I went to bed that election-Tuesday praying that Utah would finagle the electoral college and we would somehow end up with a human that was trustworthy and compassionate and well suited for national leadership.
Well. We had two bad candidates. One of them won.
I kind of look at it like: thankfully, I wasn’t counting on the POTUS to be my savior anyway, I already found mine and his side is pierced and these two folks are not him.
I also looked at it like: now we have four years of who-knows-what. And probably decisions will be made on a governmental level that I disagree with as a human and a Christian and an advocate for the vulnerable. This would have happened with either candidate, undoubtedly. So, what’s a Christian to do? Really, just: pray hard for people, give money to worthy causes, develop relationships with vulnerable, invest in communities, etc. I’ve walked this road before, right?
Only. The Internet, you guys. The social media, you guys. It was like this wave of darkness and despair. And those who weren’t despairing were gloating and I was like, “Man. What is this?”
And I think maybe it was a load of people looking for a savior. And humans just disappoint us in that regard, don’t they?
In that moment, I was just super glad that my heart is grounded, you know?
I workout relatively regularly. Sometimes I do this alone, but sometimes I take classes or run races with many, too.
I have one instructor whom I have always admired: she is confident and talented and kind. I enjoy her presence.
A few days ago she posted that she has been diagnosed and is expected to lose her vision over the next few months/ years. Just like that. This young and strong and capable, capable woman…diagnosed and going blind.
Now, of course, vision loss is not the end of the world in any sense of the imagination. But…it is something, isn’t it? It made me pause for a hot second. That’s mortality for you. None of us, no matter how healthy, gets to live forever.
I’ve never been handed a diagnosis so serious, but, I do cling pretty tightly to the things I have been taught about redemptive suffering: that there is purpose for our hardships, that Jesus is with us through everything. I review these teachings in my mind whenever I’m surrounded by the very very hard things.
It made me think, though…what is it like to not have those teachings?
And then I thought about that saying again. That one about Jesus Christ and rich and full lives.
I give tours at a church. Not exactly for a living, but it is a part of my job so I guess we could say that it is a part of my living.
My church is covered in stained glass windows that span Detroit history–windows from multiple eras and memories.
On the side of the church is a giant piece, stories-high, of baby Jesus sitting in his mother’s lap. Joseph is there, too, and the shepherds and the angels and the magi. They are all there in full and vibrant stained-glass color.
I love that window. I love it because I love the beauty of the stained glass and the wonder of the Christ-child. I love the story of Christmas, the contrast between the very poor shepherds and the Magi.
I used to say to people visiting the church, “And you know this story, of course,” because while I don’t expect people to know the stories of St. Regis or St. Michael or St. Emilie (all on other windows, all slightly more obscure), I kind of expect people, even those who don’t practice a faith, to know the story of angels and the manger and the good news to all. Surely they would have seen it before–on lawns in December, on Christmas cards on drugstore shelves, on postage stamps, etc.
Only…they don’t know it.
“Is that a sheep?…” they start, faltering about the animal at Jesus’ feet, before looking at me with lost eyes.
It stabs my heart a bit.
I didn’t know. I didn’t know our culture had lost this story, too.
And, while maybe people wouldn’t know the stories of wonder of the three faithful men in the furnace or the song of Mary when she met her cousin or the prayer of Tobit’s love for his new wife…or any number of these messages of beauty and wonder and goodness…to not know that one about the Nativity somehow stings with the ferocity of a gut-punch.
I had to come to terms with this. They don’t know. They don’t know. Maybe they don’t remember. Maybe no one ever told them. So, I do. I’ve started telling the story on my tours.
“And this is baby Jesus,” I say, “sitting on his mother’s lap. Do you see those shepherds on that side? They were the poorest of the time, and they were the first ones who heard about Jesus’ birth, from those angels right there. And do you see those kings? They were wealthy, and they also heard. They came to honor Jesus, too. Jesus, then, linked them both: rich and poor. And he links us to heaven, too. Earth and heaven. God with us.”
I WISH I DID NOT NEED TO DO THIS.
I wish they already knew. It’s like knowing how to swim and loving the water, but then meeting people who are afraid to let their toes touch the Great Lakes and what you want to do is take them deep into the waves so they can feel the summer-waves crash towards the shore and know what it is like to be suspended in the water and all the glory of summer and sun and wet.
And I want to take them deep. I want to talk about Our Lady of Guadalupe and the implications of her precious image, I want to talk about all the now-almost-too-obscure saints in the other windows, I want to give all of this.
But I can’t.
Their toes aren’t even in the water.
And when you realize that you begin to realize how much you want them to have all of it…all that I have and then more and more and more! I want them to know stories that I don’t know! I want them to read 5x as many Papal documents as I have read! I want them to devour scripture scholars and experience prayers-answered and know the provision of God and the personal care of Jesus and the whispers of the Holy Spirit in ways beyond what I will ever know.
This past Advent I have realized: this is the most beautiful story I know, this story of God incarnate. That’s why it’s so worth telling.
That’s why missionaries came down these waterways with the explorers, upon threat of losing everything…because the story is beautiful and it’s worth telling.
It’s why generations of folks have dedicated their lives to people and churches, because the story is good and true and worth telling.
And that’s why we had a Synod, in 2016.
Because people have forgotten the story–or maybe they have never heard it–and it’s worth telling.
It’s so, so worth telling.
It’s so, so much more than a hobby or a way to fill your time. So much more than that.
Come Lord Jesus, come.