Competition and the Christian Narrative pt. 3: Heartspace
I want to revisit the idea of our focus in competition, Paul’s “prize/reward”, from a slightly different angle.
The first defense of Christian Competition is almost always, “well, it’s a matter of the heart”. Thank God. I am thankful to be living in a time when there is some vein of the Church that has moved beyond an external-acts based salvation to one that seeks the inner motivations. This to me virtually screams out from every page of the New Testament, particularly in the words of Jesus as he describes the Kingdom of Heaven. For too long we had missed the mark in reimagining covenantal law by our accomplishments and birthright; essentially wallowing in our disbelief that the gospel really is big enough to redeem all of creation devoid of our own effort to obtain righteousness.
The matter of the heart then is described as some sort of pursuit of excellence. An attempt to “be the best we can be”; which again, perpetuates the empire-building emphasis of the American Dream. Now, I’m not championing some sort of pre-Renaissance self-loathing mentality here; I absolutely believe we should celebrate the beauty of humanity as God’s finest work of art, as long as it is in the proper light of God’s glory. But sometimes it seems to me that the line between celebrating God’s handiwork and becoming prideful in earthly value-based identities is tip-toed along in a careless fashion. Too often we de-spiritualize compartments of our lives or twist the ethereal heady things of the Spirit and Soul to suit our concrete application of the resurrection in everything we are. This is perpetuated by a culture that has promulgated this idea that one incorporates Christ into one’s life as a part of who we are, rather than allowing Him to become the lens through which we peer at every aspect of who we are. Even the matters of the heart must be painfully examined through in the light of His good will.
The problem I see here is that the matters of the heart still tend to focus on self. To glorify God through our talents is one thing, but to use them to rank ourselves among our fellow humans is quite another. We align our personal best with a gospel that either seems legitimized by our own performance or preaches that is it BECAUSE of the love of Christ that we are winners. It’s akin to the gospel that preaches success, or prosperity; a sort of self-help program for those who don’t have it together. The irony is that the cross does not gloss over our weakness, but it blossoms in the midst of it. The more I grow in Christ the more I realize my dependence on him in my weakness. The minute I start denying my lack, my reliance on Him, to present myself as some sort of “winner”, I have cut the power out of my witness and turned the focus on myself.
And what about spectating? Taking pleasure in the physical exultation or demeaning of another human based on some sort of earthly criteria? Is that really entertainment? Our culture’s obsession with standing on the sidelines of some else’s success or failure in this hierarchical system permeates every bit of the media. Even the Discovery Channel, TLC, and the History Channel have followed MTV in putting forth imperfect people as punchlines to a joke none of us should be laughing at. I wonder what the difference is between Survivor, Iron Chef, the Kardashians, and the Olympics, the Stanley Cup, or the Hunger Games. Seems to me its just the glorification of the very human traits the New Covenant delivered us from. None of us are smart enough, beautiful enough, strong enough to bring one ounce of meaning to our eyes devoid of God’s justification through Christ. Yet we keep pretending that matters in some way. Our hearts deceive us to our own ignorance.
What we rarely acknowledge is the gradual transition that takes place in the old hymn: “I was lost, but now I’m found”. It takes us a long time to learn the language and customs of our new homeland. The Kingdom of God is an alien and confusing place to live at first, for it rubs up against everything we had taken for granted in the ways of the World. Yet as we are persistent, so we become acclimated to our New Home, and the country of our birth becomes a distant memory. Sometimes our heartspace is telling of the old habits that we begrudgingly hold on to in, remnants of the old life. We try to rationalize their existence, but the light of Christ shows them for what they really are.
Are we so sure of our motivations that we can safely say we are not relegating the Other to be a footstool for our own success? Or taking pleasure in performance without being sensitive to the fact that someone had to lose for our benefit? It is our natural, human tendency to reduce our rival to being a Thing we need to overcome, not seeing them as a beautiful creation of the Living God.
So, to quote Francis Schaeffer, how then should we live?