In the last 19 years we have had some wonderful times.
We have led a fantastic youth ministry, traveled a heap around Oz and overseas, had 2 great kids thru IVF, moved house 6 times, taught in various Bible colleges, pioneered an experimental mission project, directed Forge locally and nationally, given up my teaching career, lived on mission support, started a business, lost a quarter of a million bucks in a dodgy investment and traveled right around this beautiful country of ours.
Surely it must be time to settle down…
I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately and actually writing much more on my private blog than on this one, especially around this question of where life is headed now that we are back from our round Australia trip and working a regular job as a church leader and a retic bloke.
For better or worse I am both middle class and middle aged. This is not a bad thing in itself – in fact it can hardly be helped. It is what it is…
But it is a dangerous place to be, because now more than ever in my own life there is a temptation to simply fall in line, earn a good dollar and chug along as middle class people do in suburbia. You know the deal… do your job, look after your family, pay off your mortgage and generally try to live as comfortable and safe a life as possible. Oh – and ‘give a little back’ if you can find the time.
I remember as a teenager or ‘20 something’ looking at some middle aged people I knew and wondering ‘What happened to you? Where did your passion go? When did you stop dreaming? How on earth did you slip into that depressing rut of conformity and pseudo contentment that you now call ‘life’?’
Surely it wasn’t a conscious choice? Was it?…
Maybe it was.
I actually feel like I am being faced with that exact choice at this stage in my own life. I can feel the seductive lure of financial security and material possessions beckoning and promising me a comfortable life – perhaps even a ‘happier’ life than I currently experience.
You know the deal?…
Lately I’ve been wondering if I should be replacing our 68cm clunker of a TV with something a bit more hip and sexy. It seems everyone else has a whopping great plasma and I don’t. I somehow find myself drawn by this need to acquire one of these items, as if it will transform my life.
How dumb is that?…
I read the real estate section of the paper each week wondering if we should ‘upgrade’ our home and live in a better suburb closer to the beach, one where the capital growth will be stronger and the future prospects healthier.
Would I actually be a more content bloke in a bigger house, closer to the ocean?…
And as I consider these and other absurdities I see that what happens next is that we go into debt to finance the life we are told we ‘should have’ and then we are shackled to 20 years of hard labour to pay for it all.
It seems this is the routine – it’s the middle class suburban script – and it’s a very easy one to slip into. And when life gets busy it’s even easier because we don’t have (or make) time to reflect on who we are and where we are headed. We simply fall in line, take a number and join the crowd of people all vacuously moving in the same direction even if we don’t know where the destination is.
If everyone’s going there then it must be good… you’d think…
My personal reflections over the last couple of months have been rumblings – rumblings of discontent, admissions of failure and at the same time a dogged reluctance to simply do what’s expected.
At this point in life, I actually find myself simultaneously yearning after and yet retching at the thought of a safe, secure and comfortable life in the suburbs.
I am very conscious of my own selfish desires for more stuff and a nicer house with ocean views and a bigger TV, but I am equally conscious that (while these things aren’t bad in themselves), to actively pursue them is to invest my life in them – to give my heart and my energy to the pursuit of ever increasing personal comfort and security.
And what’s most disturbing is that it feels really normal to do so.
In fact it feels like the script I am supposed to be following even within a Christian community … and to break with it is to be something of a nutjob.
I am concerned by it all and especially by the temptation I feel to just quietly roll with it and accept it as ‘how things are’ these days.
I seriously wonder how we live distinctly as the people of God when we blend in so easily with the world we are a part of. I don’t for a moment think we ought to get more denim skirts and head scarfs to stand out (I’d look pretty silly in a skirt anyway), but I do feel like one of the ways we lose our ‘saltiness’ is by chasing the ‘dream’ and making optional the things of the kingdom and the call that Jesus places on our lives.
Because what happens as we pursue affluence, comfort and security is that our life then starts to revolve more and more around these things. Our whole ‘vocation’ shifts from that of following Jesus and his call, to kicking the Jone’s arse with our bigger TV and better cars.
We can’t really call ourselves disciples of Jesus when we aren’t chasing after the things he sees as important – can we?
No. We can’t.
We can be lovely, church going people who live decent moral lives and give every appearance of being devout Christians but when the soul is rotting from self obsession then we are kidding ourselves.
That so called ‘radical gospel’ of dying to self and taking up our cross that once inspired us, becomes something that we did as teenagers when we were young and idealistic and didn’t know about how life really works, but it just doesn’t fit with our lives now…
It just isn’t practical – what with kids and a mortgage…
I’m thinking screw that.
I don’t think Jesus ever intended for it to be ‘practical’! I don’t think he was trying to somehow pre-emptively mould his call around 21st century suburban life so that we could squeeze him into our busy schedule.
I am convinced his call is as stark and as confronting as ever, but the dominant expressions of the Christian life in our country at this time would suggest that Jesus call actually results in a comfortable self focused middle class life, not a sacrificial, other centred life.
And we are fed so much bullshit both from within the church and without that in the end it appears to us as truth.
I realize this post pops up like a dunny in the desert in the middle of a blog that has seen little action in a long time, but it reflects some of my journey at this time and I felt like it belonged ‘out there’, for those who still read and wonder what’s been ticking away in my inner self.
And, yeah – sure its a rant, but more than that it’s a confession that I am not living the life that I want to live and that I am struggling with my own self deception and conformity, with my own muddled motives and desires. I feel the allure of the comfortable life and I know its not wholly bad in itself – I really do know that – but I also know that very few who choose that path live with the kind of vigour and passion that I want my life to have.
I’ve been back 6 months and I’ve been finding it hard – hard to follow Jesus when there is so much else competing for my passion.
Where it goes from here I’m not sure. I might be middle aged and middle class, but I sure as hell don’t want to live like it.
I am reminded of that line from Robert Frost:
“Two roads diverged in the middle of a wood. I took the one less traveled by and it made all the difference”
The last fifteen years have seen us take plenty of roads less traveled by and in spite of the allure of a comfortable life I don’t see that now is a time to make any changes to that.