Dostoevsky , grace, and a bad back
I was feeling good on Monday; good enough to run the 3 mile path around the lake by my house; good enough to carry out my routine of stretching, and even hang a little bit from the climbing wall that graces my attic office, as I search for strength to climb this spring. At the food co-op that day, I'd picked up a free copy of "Competitor", a mag for runners, tri-athelets, etc. Though I'm in none of those categories, I thought that having the magazine hanging around on the bathroom floor would provide both inspiration and motivation, as I'd see the cover story about 'trimming seconds off your mile' and 'becoming more competitive', all offered against the backdrop of a beautiful blonde on the run.
I ran again on Wednesday, feeling so good that I neglected my typical cooling down routine that lets my body settle into sedentary mode. "I'm so healthy I don't need it" I said to myself. Then I was off to teach a class, from which I returned to engage in some tense, thoughtless words with my wife. In the midst of that, I felt a sharp pain radiate through my lower back, causing me to cry out in agony, and render me nearly immobile. Certain movements were impossible and others felt like knives stabbing into my hips and pelvis.
Thus it was, this morning, that I hobbled to the bathroom and gingerly maneuvered my broken body into the shower. It was while I was pondering whether my next step would kill me, that I looked on the floor and saw the hard body blond, and all the motivational article titles on the cover of "Competitor". I can't quite describe the feeling - despair? the isolation of seeing and longing for something that is completely out of reach? a cynical sense that 'she too will have her day'? I don't know exactly what I felt, but suffice it to say that the words and images that only days before had been inspiring now seemed to mock me.
It actually reminds me of church, at least for lots of people. They come in, wounded and broken, paralyzed with fear, enduring stabbing pain, wondering if they can take the next step. The worshipers though, and the service itself, becomes a bigger than life version of "Competitor" magazine. They look around and see all these beautiful people - together, hip, strong in their faith, singing about their spiritual version of a six-minute mile. All the while, the ones in pain are wondering if they can even take one more step without being reduced to a whimpering mass of pain on the floor.
I threw "Competitor" out this morning, because it was no longer encouraging. I've known people whom for the same reason, have thrown out Christian books promising success if you'll follow certain steps. You can beat lust, beat financial hardship, lost weight, raise faithful kids, change the world, if only you'll..."
Whatever. I wonder how often the organized church gets shelved for the same reason. So many beautiful people; so many victories; so many speeches on how to be more spiritually competitive. And here's our friend: "My God! My marriage is falling apart because of infidelity." Or, "I've just been downsized, and my mortgage is going up." Or, "I think my daughter's doing drugs." Or... well, you get the picture.
Dostoyevsky can help us here. He casts a vision for a gospel of grace, because this literary genius, after spending a decade in prison came to the conclusion that, "in every man, of course, a demon lies hidden." Yes - every single person. Please don't pick on Dostoevsky's systematic theology, parsing the debate as to whether or not Christians can have demons. If you do you'll miss the point, for the real point is that the girl on the cover is a model, in a moment of victory like moments that we all have, but that she too has an Achilles heel. That spiritual hard body sitting next to you in church has her issues, pride, fear, addiction, self-righteousness, self-hatred. You can't really tell because church people try hard on Sundays to look like we're on the cover of "Competitor". I know people who have a hard time with it all because it seems so, I don't know, airbrushed.
Dostoevsky, and Jesus, would invite us to come with our wounds. "all those who are weary and heavy laden, burnt out on performance based religion, tired of air-brushed Christianity... come. Find rest. And in your rest, find healing."
I hope that the church can, increasingly, learn to relax and let who we really are be on the cover. Our brokenness IS our testimony. I spent the morning reading, "Back Care Basics" after discarding "Competitor". Listen to what it says: "...the good news is that bad backs can be healed, if you'll learn to rest, learn to deal with stress, and learn to move the way you were created to move." Oh that the church could be that encouraging to the walking wounded who come each weeking, hoping for a healing touch.