I watched this social experiment one time on British TV where these people put chocolate cake on a little plastic table and told this roomful of kids not to eat it. Then they hid a camera and watched from outside.
It was pretty funny, because these kids divided themselves up into their own little life boat. One girl policed the cake like a fiend so she could sneak licks of frosting when no one was looking. I related to that girl really well.
I thought a lot about those kids afterwards, and their cake, and how smart those adults were to study them. If you want to figure out what people are really like, watch what children do.
People are really interesting, but when you start thinking about it too much, you go crazy or you become a psychologist.
I don’t have anything against psychologists, except that one I happened to meet made me feel like a lab experiment. She asked lots of questions and nodded slowly no matter how I answered. I wanted to give weird answers to throw her off. I wondered if maybe that's what being crazy feels like.
Whatever you do in life, don’t mistake people for lab experiments.
CHRISTIANITY & CHOCOLATE CAKE
Let me tell you something. I learned one of my most embarrassing life lessons so far while I was living in Africa.
Me and Abe were hiking through some banana trees there, and Abe asked what the word 'Missions' meant to me. He was onto something, because I didn’t know. I talked for a while about loving people and then I realized something. That my ideal picture of Missions boiled down to sitting in a teepee on top of a mountain, benevolently coming out to give food to the poor and pray with the widows. Great goals. But do you catch the issue there? At the focal point of my idea of Missions, there was mostly me, plus a wide spiritual vocabulary and some greenery.
What I really mean is that I was mixing up people with lab experiments. I loved the idea of Missions and giving my life away, as long as I could run back to my tent and slippers at the end of the day. I needed “love” to fit the comfort of my invisible structure. Really loving human beings isn't supposed to make us feel comfortable, or smart, or even kind. At least that's not the point. And I struggled for a long time in Africa because of it.
In 1942, C.S. Lewis theorized about something he called 'Christianity And'. He proposed in his book The Screwtape Letters that if Satan can't turn us against God, at least he'll get us to worship something with a Christian coloring, so that eventually we mix up this thing with Christianity itself.
I think Lewis' theory is really genius. Because if I was trying on purpose to be really comfortable following Jesus, the first thing I'd do is put something right up there with Him that I could take credit for. And if I'd do that on purpose, maybe I'd do it on accident.
By the way, I don’t think this is an issue. I think it is The Issue. I believe that the first step to stifling our voice of love and our desire to serve God is to have something very similar to Him–something else to live for that makes us feel brave and loud and seen. I don’t think it matters much what you call it.
AESTHETICS & WHY WE WORSHIP
Africa was so many uncomfortable things these ten months of our lives. But the least comfortable thing about it was that I could not love my way. The word itself had to be redefined in my heart and soul, and it meant many uncomfortable days realizing that the way I used to love did not fit into a third world country. Only Christ’s love could reach people there. My old love stuck out like a sore thumb.
People don’t just trip on this in missions though. Take that word and substitute in your own Cause. Being Healthy. Your Pet. Environmentalism. Being Instafamous. Community. Multilevel Marketing. Aesthetics. These good things become toxic when we make the thing more important than actual people. It’s the gift and the poison of a Cause. As long as there’s something out there that makes you feel like you’re doing the world a favor, you’ll fight this.
I’m sorry if this makes you feel bad at all. Realizing it made me feel bad too. But it also felt like remembering, and it tasted like freedom. I hope reading this helps you feel more free.
My whole life, I had this feeling. I always said I loved people. The problem was, they’d stick around too long. When someone needed something I didn’t want to give (like time), or someone dropped by unexpectedly or talked too long without asking me anything about myself (I’m a really interesting person, duh), I’d feel put out. I’d feel this tension, like I was stretching a muscle that wasn’t flexible. Like I was about to get a heart sprain.
It took me a long time to realize this wasn't a situational problem. This was a type of love I hadn't learned to give. I was looking at my Cause for the first time, stripped from the parts of it that helped Myself. People will always get in the way of your cause. Causes would actually be a lot easier if there were no people.
"TAKE UP YOUR CROSS & FOLLOW ME"
Jesus's invitation to follow Him in Matthew 16 will always be counter-cultural. It will never be cool in your school or trending on your feed. The reason for that is that the undercurrent in our culture is Self Worship. Our gut instinct will always be comfort, and that should tell us that we'll do almost anything for ourselves before other people, like those kids with chocolate cake.
Here's what I'm trying to say. I believe humans are beings that will always find something to worship. I believe Atheists do it, and I believe Christians do it. I believe we start young. And I think God is the least comfortable thing to worship and people are the most uncomfortable Cause, because they are the farthest things from Our Selves.
I’m learning to warm up my heart muscles better these days.
I'm learning that teepees on mountaintops are only worth living in if they're messy, and the doors are open, and the mountain has a well-worn path winding to the top.
Real love was never meant to make us comfortable. When we choose people over causes, we give up comfort. We give up Our Terms. We might even give up more, a lot of great people have. And we give the world a rattling message.
"There is a God, and His love changes how I think about My Self, and how I get to love Other People". It's messages like this that will stop a broken world in its tracks.