A Little Out of Place
A Little Out of Place: April 15, 2018
“God comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.” I’ve always admired the apt theology in this statement. It’s spared a saccharine mushiness by the muscularity of justice. I keep wondering who’s feeling comfortable these days.
Yesterday Daddy and I got our bees! This will be our third attempt at beekeeping—our colonies have not survived either of the previous two winters. Two hives, two queens and 24,000 worker bees whose lives and industry I will observe with fascination and joy. At the height of the summer there may be 120,000.
Such precision of navigation; such refinement of duties and roles; such dedication to one larger, communal goal. No apparent grumbling or rebellion. Everyone content and consistent. Bees do not exhibit much in the way of free will. Or perhaps each one’s will is perfectly attuned to the directive of her undisputed queen. An admirable, but unlikely state of human affairs.
I believe the bees are embodying exactly their divine portion. The beauty and sincerity of living that shared calling exclaims glory to God each day.
But for me, the bees are too comfortable in their precision. I would soon long for freedom of expression, for sleeping late on Saturdays or painting the hive instead of gathering nectar. The queen herself is more royal drudge—laying a thousand eggs a day until she doesn’t, and is replaced. Hardly the American dream. And the very few males that exist in this system are called drones. Just sayin.
Yet I can’t deny the desire to feel so aligned, so rightly used. To feel God’s pleasure in my service.
There’s a daily devotion app I use called Sacred Space based on the Spirituality of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Today I discovered this saying attributed to Pedro Arrupe, SJ:
That is the alignment I seek. Falling in love and letting that love decide everything.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
This verse comes at the end of the passage where Jesus warns us not to be hypocrites, not to parade our prayers in public. He teaches us how to pray (Lord’s Prayer), and then he tells us not to lay up treasures. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. He ends with the kicker: “No one can serve two masters…You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matthew 6:1-24)
Wealth can be money or influence. It can be surrounding yourself with a silo of people who think just like you do; or surrendering to the despair of feeling powerless.
Where is your heart? If you’re too comfortable, you’re probably feeling too safe to be living the gospel of all-inclusive, no-boundaries, room for all sinners and saints gospel.
Oprah recently aired a Super Soul Conversation with Lin-Manual Miranda, the American composer of Hamilton. His first big hit was In The Heights, and he said this about his experience taking that musical to Puerto Rico. “It closed something in me I didn’t even know was open. To be a kid whose Spanish sounds kinda gringo to Puerto Ricans, spending a month a year there, and feeling a little out of place there, a little out of place at home, a little out of place at school…that’s a great way to make a writer. Be a little out of place everywhere.”
I would say that makes a pretty good disciple, too. Don’t get too comfortable.
Resurrection is about the freedom to dare to live in a way that trusts God’s truth above the culture’s truth. It is freedom to live from a place of love, but not ease. Our culture claims that we value moderation, a 'Protestant work ethic’ and integrity. But we reward money and power and surface beauty.
In fact, those who do dare to live the stated values are often persecuted, because their very moderation rubs our noses in our own deceit and hypocrisy. Some folks then turn to Jesus, they thank God for Jesus’s sacrifice which cleanses us from our shame: "His pain, your gain.” I can hardly type that, it’s so distasteful to me.
It’s not distasteful because I disagree, necessarily. It’s distasteful because far too often the penitent checks the box of repentance and returns, refreshed, to the business of being a cultural success. A sincere apology, at best, but without the change in behavior that would truly honor the one who forgives. Again and again and again.
Where is your heart?
Yesterday, for me, it was in the beauty and precision of the bees, the joy in spending time and sharing a hobby with my father, the delight in having too-seldom-seen friends for dinner, the exuberance of children on a warm Spring night and even the morning funeral of an elderly friend—a life well lived and now free from pain—grace upon grace upon grace.
So much pain in the world. Chemical weapons and retaliatory air strikes. Scandals and coverups and name calling. Identity politics and identities stolen and identical blame casting stones. #NotMe supplanting #MeToo.
Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. It’s a phrase we might want to heed in our era of "alternative facts" and "fake news". You see, it was coined in 1902 by Chicago journalist Finley Peter Dunne, who, in the voice of his fictional Mr. Dooley, wrote that to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable was the job of the newspaper.
We faithful are called to lives of industry, servitude and unique expression. We are called to be the precise embodiment of God as given to us to be.
You are the only one God has called to be you. The rest of us are counting on you to do it well. The way to do that is not to try to be like everyone---or anyone—else. The way to do that is to fall in love with the risen Lord who calls you to follow to the beat of your own drum. Be bold!
Fall in love with the truth and let it order your steps. That love is your alignment; it will mean more than safety or worldly position.
Don’t get too comfortable.
Be a little out of place everywhere.