The Ideal and the Real

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…

3 Comments

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  1. looking forward to hearing what you have to say on this subject!

  2. I feel it was good for me to have read this. ….”The quality of the space….” I love that….for me, the quality of this space…this earth… the creation…is utterly astounding. The dilema of overwhelming beauty as a backdrop to the absurd and depraved violence humans seem to find inescapable at times.

    As I saw your pictures of Abilene, I wondered to myself what the sunsets and sunrises would have looked like from Stalingrad in the winter of ’42/43….I wondered if the sunsets and sunrises were as gorgeous as those you photographed. If the German, Italian, Romanian, Hungarian and Russian soldiers, or the Catholic Chaplains, or Russian Orthodox priests (if there were any of those)…. all engaged to some extent with the human slaughter there….I wonder if they would have given pause and still would have had some sense of awe and bewilderment at the “other” that is always present always accessible…yet….cruelty and pain and suffereing can seem to overwhelm at times. (or in our case pop-media) I’d like to think so….that there were moments where they gave pause and reflected during any lulls in battle….that there is a King, he is there….I hope folks will notice….It’s amazing that the belt buckles on the German Wehrmacht soldiers said “God With Us”. I wonder how the captured Germans in the Eastern front felt….I wonder if any came to believe that God was actually there…if any came to actually know him. I wonder these things and am researching those stories…it’s hard because so little of that information made it through the iron curtain or the cold war. We have the Story of Saul, Saul of Tarsus….becoming changed. I wonder if any of the Germans were changed as well. I’d like to believe so.

    For me the counterpoint though is the sheer selfishness of my ownself….how even in pursuit of “goodness” I still am trapped trying to pursue my own good…..I’m acutely aware of how completely selfish I am.

    It’s humbling and amazing that “goodness”, in and of itself is wonderful to experience, that the broken and most depraved parts of me are the parts that most benefit from it.

    However, this piece causes me to wonder how intentional love and how aggressive love could be viewed. In some sense the crucifiction for me seems an act of love aggression. God’s supreme power being displayed over sin and brokeness. While the text doesn’t seem to show it, I’ve often wondered if there was a point when Jesus clinched his teeth…human as he was, weak as the humanity was…I wonder if he clinched his teeth, reached some point of vicious determination and resolve against sin and said to himself. “No matter how bad this gets, I’m going to DO THIS!” just how… does one get one’s smashed whipped body up a hill? Was it because of the Soldiers beating him…or was it because of his resolve? For me the vicious determination and the resolve ideal is the more inspiring, but without more research I don’t know if it’s more truthful. I’d like to think that it is, but I want a gestalt understanding of something that I may never be able to understand.

    Yet it’s that thought alone gives me much drive. “I’m going to do this, this life thing, this faith thing..this mystery….I’m going to do it….with agressive and vicious intent…with the same drive and power i smash my bicycle pedals around, or hurl my thoughts smashing into screens as words. Clearly there are limitations to myself…but I don’t care. I’m going to do it.

    This is a thought I’m perusing….I’m fascinated by it…and inspired by it. I feel like a blind man in awe of something he cannot quite get his arms around…but comforted by the small understanding…he gains from the small beautiful and grand portions of life he’s able to touch and experience with his feeble mind.

  3. Chris,

    Some of this sounds like what I’ve been saying from the pulpit. Resolved…I will follow and be obedient…there is that strange balance that says that kind of resolve is possible, but that its source is elsewhere…

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