Like so many of us who are of a religious ilk, I function in two worlds. The first world seems to dominate most of my time and energy. It involves getting my work done in a timely manner, writing thank you notes, trying to dress myself so I look professional and not, what I term, “comfortable.”
Being in this world also involves a lot of my ego and raises questions about who I am and whether I matter. Am I too old? Too ugly? Am I successful enough? In fact, in this world the question of failure dogs me. As I honestly and wholeheartedly celebrate the successes of my colleagues, I also wonder if I’ve done enough. Are my accomplishments significant? Am I loved? I, like so many others, tend to attach success and attention and beauty and money and youth to my self-worth.
The other world I live in is God’s world. At least it’s the world I inhabit in the pulpit, at the communion table, at baptisms, at confirmation retreats, and hospital beds. It is a world that reeks of hairy, unwashed men and hopeful, courageous women, of mustard seeds, and fatted calves, and mud and words that heal. Here, there are not enough fish, and then, there are too many.
As ordinary as it might appear, this world also bears a bit of the fantastical; a world so extreme as to challenge belief. It is the world of the gospel; it is the world of Christ’s grace. Here, my standards are altered because this world is altogether different. Here, we are not measured by age or beauty or accomplishment; we are loved, simply because we’ve been deemed so by Christ, as a child of God. Here, my heroes are Ruth of the Hebrew bible or Rahab and her red rope or Nicodemus who is full of questions but keeps seeking, or Elizabeth whose child leaps for joy, or Mary at the tomb who grieves for the loss of Christ, who is all the while standing right in front of her.
Here, the heroes I have, the people I preach about, the texts I love, are full of broken, unsuccessful, stubborn, lonely, worn-out folks who live by faith and act out of love and compassion in cultures that are racist, misogynist, ageist, have little tolerance for disabilities, and most of the time are very, very violent.
Martin Luther termed these two worlds as the kingdom of the left and right, terms I find helpful in their distinctions but dated in their language. Still, it’s sort of an odd comfort to realize that even Luther was torn in his feelings (whether he can be deemed a success or not is best left to the reader), between his hope for a kingdom on the right run on the bad economics of forgiveness and sparrows, and the kingdom on the left, a kingdom that makes sense, a kingdom that tallies citizenship not by affection, but by survival.
Yet, every now and again I sense, or perhaps more accurately it is revealed, that beyond my own doubts and failures and ego-driven fantasies there is more out there. That, beyond this world we know on the left, there is a world of love waiting for us, where dark waters rush over us, and we innocents don’t even know that we are not just sustained, but protected. That we live as if a bit blind but there is something, Someone, more real out there, loving us into our full being, while impulse and darkness are pushed aside.
That this world is not an idea, or concept, or a strategy, or a theory, but what is real is God, who like a midwife, is reaching into the womb of this kingdom on the left (all we have known) to turn us, so that we might live. That we, so ignorant, so much on the cusp of death and life, are grasped by this One who will not let us die, who grabs us wholeheartedly, who is waiting to greet us as the helpless creatures we are, and breathe life into us. Who will hold us forever, a beloved child, and never let us go.
Every now and then, you might glimpse the colors of the horizons, pink and blue, and wonder. Every once in a while, you might sense ripe swelling of harvests and fruit. Every now and again, you might ponder if you make a difference, if you’re loved, if you matter. You might think this world is real, and it is. But there’s more. Someone, somewhere, right now is praying “Thy kingdom come.” And in response, a lullaby is being sung where you are called by name. Christ’s world is for you.