By Larry Chouinard
Does life ever feel like a series of disconnected scenes with no discernible plot, a mere random collection of episodes fragmented by one crisis after another? Is it only the tyranny of the particulars that scripts our lives? We seem driven by a series of episodes, like a weekly TV sitcom whose events are only loosely connected. Success in life seems determined by how well we are able to juggle the particulars and achieve some kind of rhythmic balance.
But for some of us, as the particulars multiply (e.g., family, job, children, health issues, financial security), maintaining that balance becomes increasingly difficult. Our life story seems to have so many twists and turns it appears more chaotic and out of control than any sort of rhythmic flow with discernible purpose.
With all good intentions, churches often assume that broken and fragmented lives can be fixed by spicing the particulars of life with a Christian flavoring. As long as the program or product is designated “Christian,” or the name of Jesus is somehow woven into the activity, the particulars of life are now sanctified and given meaning. So if we wear Christian T-shirts and listen only to Christian music, and attend only Christian weight-loss programs, or get into shape only by Christian aerobics, our lives will soon have a coherent core.
The reality is that while we may build institutional loyalty and grow a prime-time audience, there’s usually not much thought put into how our programs connect the participant to a story with universal and cosmic significance. And the attempt to inject the event with spiritual significance strains credulity and sounds at best silly, if not blasphemous.
In ancient Israel the daily reaffirmation of the Shema—”Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4, 5)—provided Israel with a unifying and cohesive vision that shaped their everyday lives. As noted by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch:
It is a call for the Israelites to live their lives under the Lordship of one God and not under the tyranny of the many gods. In other words, it is a practical call not to live one’s life as if there were a different god for every sphere of life—a god of the field, a god of the river, a god of fertility, a god of the sun, and so forth” (The Shaping of Things to Come, p. 127).
The stuff of life was fused with significance and meaning by linking it to God’s holy purpose. For ancient Israel the ordinary of everyday life was sanctified and made holy by their participation in God’s missional intent for all creation. Their security and well-being were dependent not on merely believing the right things, but on their willingness to embody and express the character of the God who rescued them.
May God help us to see the big picture.
Larry Chouinard lives in Post Falls, Idaho. This essay is adapted from a posting on his blog, which can be found at lchouinard.blogspot.com.