I’ve been reading (listening to, actually) John Piper’s “Don’t Waste Your Life” and it has served to further solidify the following thought in my mind: to be a “good” Christian means to be a “bad” American, and vice versa. This is not a resignation (America is lost…give up), nor is it a novel idea, but I think much of the modern American church still conflates the two, that to be a good American means to be a good Christian and, much more dangerously, to be a good Christian means to be a good American. But, really, aside from our nation’s settlers being a group that arrived here seeking religious freedom, and our founding fathers largely being a group that identified with Christianity, our nation was built upon freedom and liberty, not faith in Christ. That faith may have been the undertone or the taken-for-granted understanding upon which the Constitution was built, but the resulting document allowed for a nation that would, one day, choose to exercise its freedoms and not identify itself with any one faith, let alone Christianity. And this is exactly what we have collectively done.
So, which are you? Which am I? Am I an American Christian or am I a Christian that happens to live in America? Which holds more sway upon my life…my American citizenship or my citizenship in the Kingdom of God? These two states of citizenship have come to the point where they are fundamentally at odds. I’m not talking about all of the things that Christians are known for being “anti” (homosexuality, pornography, abortion, etc.)…I’m talking about the fundamentals of individualism, commercialism, materialism…comfort, safety, significance. If I am a good American Christian, I seek comfort and success in the name of Christ. I take care of my family, save for retirement, I don’t fool around on my wife, I tithe…I can have a comfortable life in a comfortable house and Christ can be a tagline that allows me to feel good about it all.
But what in the Bible leads me to think that this should be the way of it? Where does the concept of retirement come from? (By the way, I have a retirement account, so this a real question I’m posing to myself.)* Is my life marked by radical love for others, joy and contentment in Christ and His glory, and a desire to see others find their joy in Christ…or am I a good American, that takes care of his responsibilities, goes to Church and lives in a moral manner.
These are hard questions and ones that I don’t have good answers for, on my own account. I know, however, that there is a true opportunity to forsake this life and to not lose anything in the process…to actually gain real life in the process. To so desire God and His glory, alone, that where He takes me and how He uses me is pure joy, regardless of the challenges, pain and sadness experienced along the way. This all sounds like craziness, but think about it…how many people do you know that are truly, truly happy? Do those people have and hoard a lot or do they love and give, give, give. Those that I know that are filled with joy are folks that have joyfully sacrificed their lives…not just because it’s what they should do or because it might buy them a ticket into heaven, but because God’s glory is truly what they desire at their core.
That’s who I want to be…
* UPDATE: Piper goes into this in much greater depth, obviously…I’m not saying that retirement accounts are ill-advised or evil. I’m saying that hope, trust and security in retirement accounts is something to be questioned. Piper points out that looking to our retirement years as the time when we can retreat from others, from responsibility, from Christian labor is missing the point completely.
a song glen and i recorded in my garage in the year 2005. we called it “three” because we recorded it after “two”.[audio:http://www.carotidbattery.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/three.mp3|titles=three]
I’ve been thinking through this whole, you know, creativity thing…a lot of thoughts. I don’t think I’m going to try to keep this coherent…it’s just going to be a lot of verbal spitting. I think that God makes some people creative, and others more creative. I think the only ones of us who are not creative are those that don’t care to be. I think that if/when you are the creative type you exude creativity on some level…you don’t have the option. It comes out of you, even when you try to repress it in the mundane. When a creative person finds themselves unable to be creative, for whatever internal or external reason, you will see them become frustrated, angry, depressed. So I think there’s maybe three kinds of people, now that I think of it…those that aren’t really creative and don’t really care, those that are creative and struggle with expression, and those that are creative and express, whether they want to or not, whether they can make a living through expression or not, whether people ask them to or not, whether anyone ever cares or not. The first group is ignorant to the blessing and the curse…and sometimes ignorance is truly bliss. (I’m not using the word ignorant in a derogatory way here.) The third group is what it is and doesn’t try to be anything but what it is. There is hardship, certainly, but the mandate to express overpowers the roadblocks. I believe I am in the second group, and I think this group has it the hardest. This isn’t a pity party…I’m trying to think through this. I am a creative person, but I think that sometimes my creativity is old news, is plain…I am viewing it as someone else might, through the eyes of a potential consumer of my creativity. By consumer, I mean viewer, listener, beholder and/or purchaser. I’m not creating because I must (as the third group does) but because I have the capability, enjoy doing so, and very much want to be known, even if just by myself, as a creative person. Those in the third group are oftentimes conscious of the consumer, but would go on creating regardless of the consumer’s interest. Those in the second group always have the consumer in mind, even when they very much wish to be free of the consumer’s perceived presence. If I make music, will others like it? Will it be something that someone else might be interested in? If I make visual art the same questions pop into my head. Sometimes I wish I could either not care if I was creative or not be able to control the urge. The hindered, self-conscious, overly critical middle ground is a difficult place to call home. So, I guess the big question is this…as I believe one who is creative can never ditch their creativity, can someone in the second group graduate into group one? I don’t think writing the hit song, “making it”, and not having to work a traditional job necessarily means graduation in this case. I mean can a person lose the self in the process and become overwhelmed by the art they have been called to produce?
Sometimes I think that I’m creative but just don’t have the time or resources to adequately express my creativity. But then, upon having that thought, I wonder if, simply by virtue of me thinking that, it means I’m really not that creative after all. I mean, most of the “creative” people I know have only been able to express their creativity through hard work, sacrifice, at all odds, without proper resources, and by simply grinning and bearing it…because they’re creativity would not settle for anything less than full expression. Does being “creative” necessarily entail the need/desire/ to express said creativity? Is the fact that I’m thinking this much about it mean that I’m way too analytical to be truly creative? Ok…I need to stop…