There is a massive difference between looking at a photo of a magnificent mountain and hiking that mountain. There is a frame and borders and a clean, cut and dry, smooth and safe and vibrant quality to the picture. Hiking on the other hand, albeit enjoyable for many of us, is dirty and sweaty; it has bugs that bite and spurs in the trail you get lost on from time to time; it’s filled with sore muscles and sprained ankles, not to mention vulnerable bathroom breaks.
Turning ideas into reality, thinking about hiking compared to actually hiking, forming the transcendent into flesh, always ends up being different than we planned. This life as a follower of Christ is different than we expected: I’m still an ass at times, can’t seem to marry truth and love, the church is screwed up, the culture thinks I’m a bigot.
Take heart. Enveloped in the joy and pain of the mountain, in the joy and pain of the Father’s pathway, is where you are to be. Keep your hiking shoes on.
Being The Right Type Of Hypocrite
Many times we like to use the Pharisees as our own personal punching bags, as the definitive characters that we don’t want to emulate in the Scriptures. And Jesus tells us as much. He told the people back then to listen to what the Pharisees said, for they were the religious leaders, but not to do what they do, which was basically be hypocrites.*
Hypocrites proper were stage actors back in Jesus’ day. In Him comparing the religious leaders to them, He was denouncing the charade of being one thing on the man-centered-stage of life while another in “reality”. In our own era, it is increasingly easy to propagate an image of ourselves that fits our socio-virtue ideal. An unspoken agreement is made knowing there is more going on behind the curtain, but I won’t bring it up if you won’t. We’re all hypocrites one way or another. The reason we despise them so much is because they convict us of our own double-minded nature.
Redemption is available for us hypocrites though. We just need to realign our minds, turn this thing on it’s head, and be act-ors on a different stage, a God-centered-stage. Instead of performing for our own glory, we are swept away in God’s story, “pretending” to be who we already are in Christ.
…understanding history as “theo-drama” frees us to serve as actors/performers/players in the ongoing work of God. Rather than rejecting our entertainment culture, we may rediscover how to present an eternal drama [no matter how big or small] on a cosmic stage. —Craig Detweiler, Into The Dark
This is risky though—for we will forget our lines at times, and move at a pace not in sync with the Director’s direction, and our act-ing will be terrible for a long time, and we’ll step on other people’s parts, and be embarrassed in front of everyone and need to come back in line after missing the mark. And it’s considering the failures that are sure to come, and forgetting about grace, that we settle for something more subtle and treacherous than being a hypocrite. We settle for being a voyeur, an absentee watcher.
Through the eyes of the stage metaphor, we feel safe sitting in the audience and saying I could never do that, or, worse, are in the balcony constantly criticizing and reviewing and writing blog posts [insert irony here] about what’s going on in the world rather than getting in the beautiful mess of the story. Via the mountain, we just stare at it, maybe even taking some snap shots with an appreciative eye but by no means will get on the trail and get dirty.
I’m not talking about agnostics or atheists here, but those of us Christians who are so only by name, who maybe don’t want to risk being hypocritical in the faith, so we side-line ourselves.
There’s this parable Jesus tells regarding humility. It contrasts a Pharisee and a tax-collector. The Pharisee at worship stands up by himself and thanks God he is better than everyone else. The tax-collector, conversely, stood far off, not even lifting his head and asks for mercy. Jesus says the latter worshiper, the tax-collector, was justified that day. God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble.
I’d like to think that the characters in the parable were two real men, and that while the humility of the tax collector is commendable, also hope that he kept growing in his faith. Perhaps many years later he found himself at a church gathering where the Book of Hebrews was being read and worked through. And I hope these words, about the resurrected Lord, struck the tax-collector who once stood far off, speaking to his heart about the difference between arrogance and boldness.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
We don’t desire to be hypocrites, but we shouldn’t settle for an opposite, equally fruitless position. We are designed to be bold participants in this story that God is writing, to not settle for seats in the audience or up in the balcony.
Pictures can be beautiful, but on the mountain itself is where we are called to be. Being judged by God as a hypocrite, receiving grace, and walking through repentance is a far better thing than having a vacant faith. Stalemate is far more worse than checkmate. At least with checkmate you can come to the end of yourself and start again.
*To dive deeper into Pharisee-ism, check out this post which contrasts their way and Christ’s way, and then move onto this other post to get a broader understanding of who they were besides their lumped together negative traits.