“Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” (Read the rest of 1 John 3:16-24)
I actually have this Sunday off because I’m heading down to Tampa for the 2012 General Conference. You’ll hear more on that after I get back.
But it’s Easter season and the series in 1 John on “Passed Over” continues. Today’s reading gets at an idea we’re more than familiar with: that anything we do needs to have substance, or needs to be backed up by follow-through, or sincerity, if it’s to be worthwhile. There are infinite trite tag-lines for this — “You gotta walk the walk, not just talk the talk”…”Don’t be all blow and no go”…”Put your money where your mouth is” and so forth. These phrases get at the pretty universal idea that people can say or think one thing, while actually living or doing drastically differently. Why? Because our mouths and our minds work almost instantaneously, sometimes with little or no energy or preparation; saying/thinking costs us little. But living/doing demands more.
Frankly, humans seem to have a great knack for mistaking words for deeds. If you’ve ever seen “spectator’s disease” at work in the stands of some stadium or coliseum, you know what I mean. It’s a disorder, mostly of the mouth, that involves someone sitting alongside some kind of action but feeling entitled — nay, required — to critique others participating in the action. The infected person’s critique usually erupts with great volume, astounding self-confidence, and/or colorful imagery/language. But too many times for me, this critic is someone who is so past their prime, or out of shape, or otherwise physically/mentally slack, that it was a laborious effort for them just to mount the stands to their seats. Or the critic has never touched a ball in their life, or worn cleats/pads, or taken a hit, or worked through an injury, or practiced for anything. Or the critic, like most of us, has already complained abundantly about heat/sun/thirst. Heck, even if the critic is the picture of pristine physique, and an NFL MVP, or a lifelong professional coach, have they earned the right to be belligerent in the stands?
Because all the while the action on the field is under way, and young men or women are pouring themselves out because they’ve made the sacrifices, pursued the competition, known the love of the game, and/or have their personal livelihood attached to the outcome. A spectator is a lovely thing until he/she mistakes watching for playing, or talking for doing.
Vicarious living is a gift to humankind in many ways. We’re able to picture ourselves in the shoes of others, or pretend what it would be like to experience what we never have. It helps us to empathize and relate to our brothers and sisters; it teaches us so much. But living vicariously has a deep flaw, and it shows up in spectator’s disease: we can convince ourselves that we have done something, or are doing something, when in reality it’s the farthest thing from us. And, so, in the upper-deck the loud redneck with the beer belly shouts at the star running back: “Come on, boy, you tired already?! Somebody put me on that field, I’ll show you how to take a hit and get in that end zone!” And he actually believes it a little bit.
And, so, some of us say, “I love God, and I love my neighbor; let me spend myself honoring Christ Jesus, and serving people’s real needs, and upholding the kingdom of God.” But we say it from a place alongside the action, and outside of harm’s way. We prioritize life around work/money/things that are intended as a bulletproof casing around us and our families, to protect us from discomfort and ensure a good level of happiness/fun. We live and worship in the most insulated ways: among people who look/think much like us, and without committing too strongly to this ideal or that. We get close enough to God to feel forgiven, loved, and assured of eternal life, but remain far enough away to avoid real conviction or call. And all of that, we have become convinced, means we are loving, Christian people. Yikes.
What is there to do about it? Well, what do you think our redneck friend in the stands needed more than anything? A brush with the truth. Like if Coach called a timeout, sent for the man in the upper decks, fitted super-fan out in gear, and invited him to take the field. Sweet justice would it be for him to have a few of these 18-20 year old “boys” show him what speed and strength and training really feels like. And not just justice — let’s not just punish super-fan and enjoy his misfortune — but the hope that after a good 30 minutes on-field, I wonder would he ever open his mouth in idle speech again? I wonder how it would alter his understanding of the players and the game. I wonder if, given long enough, he wouldn’t start to enjoy it on some level, and for the first time truly. How about if Coach was graceful enough to invite him to practices, and to join them the next season as a walk-on, and our old boy dropped 80 pounds and learned what he was capable of? How about if, after joining the action on the field, he could never sit in the stands the same way again?
THERE is a picture that draws closer to yours and mine. Some of us are sorry spectators of Love because we never went for, or ran after it, or sweated in pursuit of it. Some of us are on the sidelines because we don’t think we can do it; we don’t think we would survive on the field. Some of us stay in those stands because we’re convinced we’re already a part of the action, nestled in our safe perches. But all of us are invited to step on down into the thick of life and actively Love. We’re invited to feel it and even get knocked around in the world and struggle in it; we’re invited to experience Love and share in it in such a way that it destroys our vicarious fantasies and maybe merely spectating will never be enough ever again. Scripture says to love in truth and in action.
And having done so, we might just find that we’re commanded to love not just for our own sakes, or for our own experience, or for our own taste of the action, but even more for the sake of everyone else around us. For the teammates that need us by their side on the turf. For other spectators who need the challenge to get up and get on the field, too. Our brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents, friends and enemies and strangers. If we believe and proclaim that we are those who in Jesus have been passed over, then what should keep us alongside or outside of the deep action of life? What have we left to fear? Why…not…Love?