Got home Saturday night and rose early Sunday morning to finalize preparation for the morning sermon. The story of Simeon reminded me of the constant tension between the idealism of salvation’s arrival and the realism of the suffering Jesus’ coming would mean. I preached that Simeon was a man of truth, saying what was what on both sides of the coin. And, as always, I noticed “the heart” part of the passage. “The thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.” Final message: we must be people of truth, holding salvation and suffering together, knowing that as we do so, if we walk with Jesus, our hearts will be revealed and transformed.”
“Be ideal about the real, and real about the ideal,” I said. Meaning that as we look hard at the glory and darkness of life, refusing to look away from what presents itself (think Annie Dillard’s The Deer at Providencia), we need to keep in mind that our God knows this life, and that salvation is not a religious notion, but an “ideal” that cuts into the heart of the everyday. It’s called hope. That no matter how dark Kisumu gets, or how dark the domestic abuses are, or how dark the personal loss is, the hope of the Eternal God is a hope that is concrete and real, effecting real change when concrete action is taken by the people of God. On the other hand, being real about the ideal means that as we parade around shouting our praise, we cannot be pie-in-the-sky, seeing people as abstractions to be told to “be warm, and filled.” This is the “faith without works is dead” component, refusing to be “so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good.” We know the world is broken, and we are part of that brokenness, no matter how much God loves us. Our rejoicing has room for mourning, our praise has room for complaint. I call it honesty. Bottom line, we have to hold onto both things, the realism of a suffering world and the idealism of the Kingdom of the Heavens that says suffering can be relieved, love can be given and received, and in the end, God’s love will trump the dark.
There are many implications here, not the least of which is how we deal with art and culture. Obviously, the engagement with culture is on my mind because of last week’s class, and I walked away from that class reminded that I don’t always live what I believe in my heart about art and beauty. That has to change. Stay tuned for what that means, but let’s just say that “People live by beauty as well as truth” is going to be a mantra.
The quality of a space changes the quality of a conversation…