Recently, I wrote a post entitled Jesus Didn’t Come to Make Your Life Better. As I’ve meditated upon this, I’m more and more convinced that it’s true: Jesus didn’t to make our lives better; rather he died to give us better lives. The distinction is far more than semantic; in fact, there lay a vast gulf between the two. In the one, the expectation is simply to improve upon the existing, e.g. make life better. In the other, well, it’s something else entirely, e.g., a new life.

Jesus didn’t come to improve the exisitng life, as if to renovate it. Rather, He came to tear it down and build something else–something better–in its place. So let us stop with the pandering nonsense of having our best lives now. Jesus came to resurrect the walking dead, but only those who know they’re dead can be raised. In simple point of fact, and in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “when Christ calls a man he bids him come and die.” There is no improving death. A corpse may appear animate, but is no less dead. This is a paradigm shift of monumental proportions.

It means we die:

To oursleves

To everything we hold dear

To what itching ears want to hear

To self-actualization

To the life we’re trying to build

To all the ways and means of trying to make it day to day which have never quite worked.

In short, we must die to the notion that Jesus came to make this life better, embrace death, and let him raise us into the better life he’s promised.

It’s not easy–far from it. “Consider the cost,” Jesus said. Have you?

If you believe this is true, that a paradigm shift is needed, will you join me in a community project to write it down for posterity? If you’re tired of the lies, of the easy believism, of trying to animate the corpse of a dead life, will you consider sharing the story of your life with me here? Who knows, this may grow into a movement.

The world needs your voice.

There’s a persistent misconception propagated by a certain segment of the church that coming to Christ will make our lives somehow better. This is a nice sentiment, and certainly a prima facie case can be made for its veracity.

There’s just one small problem:

It’s not true.

Jesus Himself said “In this world you shall have tribulation.” In other words, trouble. He promised us trouble. Not only this, but He also counsels us to “take up your cross, and follow me.” That doesn’t sound like much fun.

Elsewhere, we are told to “consider the cost,” “deny yourself,” and that we will be hated.

The fact is, Jesus never promised a best life now, but rather lives full of trouble, where we are often at odds with the world… and with ourselves. “The Spirit lusteth against the flesh, and the flesh against the Spirit.” Point is: being a Christian ain’t easy. In fact, it’s harder to believe than not to. It would be far easier to go along, to stop swimming against the stream–to surrender to the voices and vices clamoring for our attention.

But who else has the words of life?

To whom else may we turn?

Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. There’s no other. The world screams that this is too exclusive, and something in us wants to whisper consent: it is too exclusive–there’s got to be another way.

There isn’t.

The late, great Chesterton said it best [regarding Christianity], “God and man made it, and it is making me.” And that is our problem: we don’t want to be made, or re-made. We’re just fine thank-you very much. Which proves how not fine we are.

And how much, loath we are to admit it, just how much we need Jesus. Which is just where He confronts us: right in that place of need. But we don’t want to need. We’re strong, independent… and full of pride.

Just what, I wonder, is easy about confronting the pride inside? Yet this is what Christ requires: this unflinching look within. It’s… painful to say the least. And pain is the one thing we instinctually withdraw from–because that instinct counsels self-preservation. Which is what Jesus says will kill us: “He that saves his life shall lose it, but he that loses his life for My sake and the Gospel shall find it.”

We, as Jesus did for us, must give up that one thing which is most precious to us: our one and only life.”

And it hurts.

And it frequently does not make this life better. Because Jesus didn’t die to make this life better, but rather to give us a new life–one filled with live, yes. But one marked with sacrifice, denial, pain.

Much like His was.

Have you consider the cost?

I’ll give you the TL,DR (too long, didn’t read) now: I loved Paddington. Watching it, you’ll believe a bear can talk. It was by turns smart, charming, whimsical, and had just enough slapstick for the kids (and the kids at heart). It really is that rare live-action family film which rises to Pixar levels of quality.

The movie with a prolog showing an expedition to darkest Peru. It is here that an intrepid British explorer encounters the rarest of bears. As he’s leaving, he tells them that if they’re ever in London they should look him up… Forty years later, we see those bears–Pastuzo and Lucy raising their nephew, as yet unnamed.

Something happens which necessitates the sending of the young bear to London to find a forever family. He means well, doesn’t mean to be disruptive, just wants to fit in. But he is after all a bear in human society. He meets the Browns, who take him in, and comic misadventures follow.

Hugh Bonneville is a delight as the play-it-safe Mr. Brown, Nicole Kidman chews the scenery as film’s antagonist, and Peter Capaldi (the current Dr. Who) plays a nervous, nosy NIMBY (not in my backyard) with his usual flair and timing.

Since I don’t want to venture into spoiler territory here, I’ll say this: Paddington is a change agent. Sometimes (often), we get so comfortable in our safe lives we’re afraid to take risks. What Paddington tells is that life is not life without risks, that we need to sometimes embrace the disruption instead of eschewing it. Especially if if makes us uncomfortable.

I give Paddington two unreserved thumbs way up.

Have you seen Paddington? Are you you going to?

Your Last Day

randomlychad  —  January 21, 2015 — Leave a comment

The following is a story I submitted for consideration in a contest last month. It wasn’t chosen as a finalist. It represents the first time I’ve used the  second person in fictional form. A friend of mine read it, and pronounced it the most intriguing, evocative thing I’ve written. This piece is an adaptation from  a much longer work in progress.

Your Last Day

You awake in the dark. You hear the howling of a biting wind outside. You know that chill, you can bundle up for it. Chillier still is the city itself, and the cold within your soul. You don’t want to get up. You don’t leave your cracker box flat. You’d rather listen to the scurrying of your only friends: the rats and roaches.

But you know you’ve got to go.

You know you failed. Spectacularly failed. You wanted a little for yourself, so you reached for the brass ring. And it didn’t pan out. Not only that, but the boss found out. Mr. Osgood doesn’t suffer fools lightly. You knew the risk, but you were so alone, so unseen, so unknown. You’ve practically been invisible your whole life through, with no one taking much notice of you. No notice at all, really.

Except when you bolloxed things up.

Then they noticed you. Parents, teachers, employers: they saw you for the colossal failure you were…

You get up. Woolgathering won’t make this any easier. You shiver in the cold, stumbling towards the light switch. You flick it on, pass into the bathroom, relieve yourself. You flush, looking down into the swirling water, and see your life going down the drain with your urine.

If only.

But it didn’t.

Why did you cross Osgood?

You don’t know. Except you do: you did it to be noticed. But now you’re not sure you can take the heat your rash choice has brought.

Why?

Why?

WHY???

You’ve been noticed alright. Maybe for the last time. And when you’ve gone no one will know of your demise. Looking in the mirror, you see eyes bloodshot, red-rimmed. You should be weeping–the tears want to come. But you’ve none left.

They’ve been burned out of you, leaving just a cold shell of a soul. The things you’ve done. You knew there was no turning back.

But you had to try.

You turn on the shower, waiting for it to warm. It doesn’t. You get in, shivering all the more. You soap, lather, shampoo. Turning off the water, you reach for your towel. Drying quickly, you get out.

Do you even recognize that face looking back at you in the mirror as you shave? Who is it? Whose is it?

You don’t know. But you do know that it’s like looking at a dead man.

You finish, dressing quickly. Cold as it outside, you don’t bother with your coat. It can’t be colder than it already is inside you. All the tender, soft, human parts of you have long since turned to ice. It would have to be very, very hot indeed to warm you, bring you back. You chuckle, a sardonic warble in your throat.

You leave your apartment. It could burn for all you care; you won’t miss it, or its old, moldy smells of decay. You look down at  your hands, imaging you can see right through them. Alas, you’re not that invisible–still essentially a man.

Maybe Osgood will have mercy.

And maybe whales don’t swallow tiny Krill wholesale.

Mercy?

Where is it? You’ve never seen, nor given, it.

Mercy is the dream of children. But you’ve awoken. And it’s not the world you know. Especially not here. Not in Osgood’s city. Where every dream is a reality. And nightmares lurk just beyond the veil. You know. You helped bring some of them to fruition.

Making your way down the stairs, you want to stop. But don’t. You know better, know nothing good awaits. But you’re drawn by some strange magnetism. You’re drawn to that great man, Osgood, who’s both more, and less, than that.

Had you but known? It wouldn’t have mattered: you would have done the same. You had your time in the sun.

Now it was time to pay the piper.

You make your way out of your building, into the street, not flinching at the cold. You pass the unseeing throngs, bundled against the chill. All your life this is all you’ve known: the hustling bustle of the salmon hordes, streaming this way and that. Everyone fighting for their piece, their dream, their brass ring.

You wish you could watch them burn, but as you head to the subway you know you won’t get the chance. If you were a man of regrets, that’s your only one: that you won’t live to see the world burn.

You deposit your tokens, passing through the turnstile, head onto the platform. Almost you look for number 9.5, but know he would find you even there. There’s no running. Your train arrives. You get on.

It’s a quiet ride to your stop. Cold and dark, people are more insular than usual. Nobody looks up, or around. No one wants to be bothered. Least of all you. You are cold and hard as a glacier, moving inexorably on to what comes next.

You tense your jaw, square your shoulders, squint your eyes. The train arrives at your stop. You get off, make your way back up into the world above. There it is, two blocks over, surpassing every other skyscraper with its sheer size: Osgood Tower.

You swallow. You will not plead. You will not simper, or cower. You will face your fate like a man. You don’t hurry, but you arrive at the building altogether sooner than you suppose. You enter through the revolving door, heading for the elevators.

You get on with a group, punching the number for the highest floor: 144. Osgood’s personal penthouse. They all quickly look at you, and just as quickly look away. They want nothing to do with you, or your fate. It’s almost like they can smell it on you, your utter failure. Your uselessness.

They shrink back as much they can. You don’t blame them. Then you do what you do best, and kill them all. All five souls who thought they were so much better than you. Looking up, you know all but Osgood’s private camera had been disable the moment you stepped on.

“Good, Jud, good,” a voice rumbles over the intercom. “But it’s not enough. Not by half. If anything, you may bought yourself some company for your journey.” The elevator continues to rise.

And rise.

Then it stops at floor one hundred forty-four.

“You know what this is, Jud, right? This is the end. The end of our journey together. The end of what I had hoped would continue to be a fruitful relationship. Alas, it was not be,” Osgood intones with a sigh.

“Goodbye, Mr. Mericot.”

“You’re the devil,” you hear yourself say. And the elevator, Osgood’s elevator, begins to make its plunge.

“No, Jud, nothing so dramatic. Not as far as this world knows. I’m merely your disgruntled former employer,” he says with a chuckle.

The elevator is falling so fast now, the blood you spilled begins to rise, spattering you, the ceiling, the mirrored walls of the car. Like the famous NASA plane, the so-called “vomit comet,” you begin to rise from the floor, feeling nearly weightless.

You feel like you’re falling forever… Forever falling. But you know there will be a sudden stop at fall’s end.

You keep falling, picking up speed.

And then you stop.

The bodies around you float to car’s floor; you follow them.

You’re not dead. At least you don’t think so.

Then the bell dings, doors sliding open.

“Welcome, Mr. Mericot,” a raspy, grating voice intones. “We’ve been expecting you.” You’re suddenly cold–colder than you’ve ever been. The last thing you want to do is leave the confines of the elevator. You try to hold on, but can’t–invisible hands drag you through the air as if you were so much ephemera. The corpses around you rise, streaking up, out, and away.

You know where you are. The one place colder than you. You try to scream, but icy air suddenly solid occludes your throat.

“Mr. Mericot, welcome to Hell.”

—————-

You awake in the dark. You hear the howling of a biting wind outside. You know that chill…

—————-
You awake in the dark. You hear the howling of a biting wind outside. You know that chill… You’ve been here before. The sense of deja vu is a palpable thing. Like someone with synesthesia, you can taste it in the cool air.

Then it dawns on you: you’re reliving your last day.

For eternity.

I find the older I grow, and the longer I walk with the Lord, I’m less apt to pray for justice when I’m maligned, slighted, hurt, what have you. Oh, don’t get me wrong: I pour out my frustrations to Him with Whom we have to do. It’s just that when I’m just about ready to hurl damming imprecations heavenwards a funny thing happens:

It dawns on me that I’m a sinner, too. That there but for the grace of God go I. Because if I start praying that God would exact righteous justice upon those who have hurt me, what can I reasonably expect from Him? I deserve His justice just as much.

So I beseech Him for His mercy. For those who have hurt me (who are so obviously hurting themselves), and for myself. As it says in the Scriptures, “In wrath remember mercy.”

We are all of us alike before Him. We are all alike in our need of Him. “All we like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way, but the Lord has the caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.”

Remember: hurting people hurt people. Don’t be so eager in your quest for swift justice that you forget it’s justice you yourself deserve, too. Thank God for His mercy today, my friends.

Because none of us deserves it.