I see the world through a lens of metaphor and story. The magnolia tree near our chicken coop is a love letter. The window in our stairwell is a promise.
Like a pair of good eyeglasses, metaphor helps me see the world and my life more clearly. It is the tool I use to scratch beneath the surface of things.
These days, I am learning its limits.
Or, maybe, I am learning my own limits.
I plunge my arms up to the elbows in a deep farmhouse sink. Snap peas, carrots, a rainbow of swiss chard, and heads of broccoli so richly green they’re also purple. In every moment I can spare, I am harvesting, washing, blanching, freezing, eating, feeding. The kitchen garden we rushed to build and plant this spring has become a fountain. Between the rain and the explosion of good things to eat, that is no metaphor.
Apparently, metaphor has been more than a pair of eyeglasses to me. It has also been my preferred tool for setting up distance between the spiritual world and my own. I have used it to say here are my life and my world and way over there? Can you see it off in the distance? Those are the promises of God. The things that truly matter. We will get there someday.
Except, someday is today.
The things of God are here.
The things of God are now.
In my Bible, I can point out an inky smear of a date. Also, a little scribble of a star. They remind me that two years ago, I heard God say this, “they will make gardens and eat their fruit.”
Those words felt like a promise, and I held on to them through two very unfruitful years. In other words, I believed them. Yet, I know now that I believed them in a hazy, over-spiritualized kind of way.
What if God means exactly what he says?
What if his metaphors indicate, not distance, but nearness?
He promised, and, today, I am eating those words. I have sautéed them in oil and garlic, roasted them at high heat. I have shredded them and peeled them into ribbons. I have tossed them in salads and shared them with neighbors.
They taste good.
How’s that for a title? Did it draw you in? Turn you off?
To be honest, I’m trying not to care whether or not His name is an effective lure for a blog post. I’m trying not to care because I’ve realized something important: it’s all about Him, but I make it about so many other things.
I’ve tended to think that this is a problem for “those other” Christians (and, I promise you, there will always be “others” in this gorgeously diverse body of Christ).
I point my finger at an earlier generation of believers and say, “Thanks to you, too many people in this country think Christianity is about right-wing politics, pseudo-science, celebrity preachers, and churches that look like clones of corporate America.” I may be the quiet, introverted type, but I’m quite good at pointing fingers, even if only in my own mind.
However, I’ve been convicted (a heavy, old-fashioned word, right? Yet, I think it’s the only one to use). I, too, have made this believing life to be about so many other things: social justice, creation care, orphan care, free-trade coffee … well, you get the idea.
Surely those are good things? Justice for the poor, caring for widows and orphans: aren’t these necessary components of a religion that pleases our maker?
Yes, I’m quite sure that they are. I’m not about to buy chocolate harvested by trafficked African children, and the grief I personally feel over abortion and capital punishment can’t be untangled from my Christian spirituality.
And yet … I’m beginning to see how a commitment to good things (to causes, to ideals) is not exactly the same thing as a commitment to Him. To Jesus. One certainly flows from the other, but they are not interchangeable.
If someone asks, “What is Christianity all about? What does it have to offer?” the right answer is “Jesus,” not “feeding the hungry” (though that doesn’t, for one minute, let me off the hook for feeding the hungry).
I pray that my life speaks on behalf of justice for the least of these. I must do (and keep on doing) some serious self-reflection about the size of my house, and the overflowing state of my children’s toyboxes (not to mention my own closet). In my view, following Jesus demands these responses. Yet, I can no longer live as if this is the heart of the Good News that Jesus came to preach.
The treasure we’ve been given, the treasure we should be proclaiming, the treasure we should always be giving away … is Jesus himself. Emmanuel. God with us.
I have hardly begun to see how this Jesus-centered faith will reveal itself in my life. Is it only semantics? What, really, needs to change?
I can point to small things. Reading the Bible with my kids, I try not to reduce the story of Noah and the ark to a moral lesson about obedience or trust. Jesus told us that Scripture was all about Him, and I want to take that seriously. I want my kids to see Noah and his ark, not in isolation, but as a part of one beautiful, world-changing Jesus story (thank you, The Jesus Storybook Bible!). I’m also grateful to attend a church where the Eucharist (Communion, Lord’s Supper) is not an afterthought but the highlight of our weekly gathering. The sharing of this Jesus-meal is the purest, most compelling sermon we can preach. It communicates perfectly to seeker and believer, child and adult.
I sense that there’s more … much more. What a relief to know that this is not merely one more theological knot to untangle. This is not one more item to check off of some spiritual to-do list.
This is far more personal because it’s all about a person; it was, is, and always will be about the One who sits enthroned. Jesus.