Part I and Part II of our most recent vicarious life series, spurred on from Sam’s most recent post, “Our life and death is with our neighbor”, has been a strange endeavor for me. It has consumed my thoughts and left me restless at night – not an unfamiliar phenomenon – but one I thought I discarded in the doldrums weakly built by a sensory addiction to my smart phone and tablet. Oddly enough though, there is a pleasant familiarity to the persistently obtrusive obsession of the mind. A comfort in the discomfort, so to speak. A strange place to be, I must confess, but one I missed, yet hope to one day manage.
I think the last two posts represent this a bit. There is a distance. There is a missing thread connecting the two. Or maybe the thread is so miniscule it seems non-existent. World history uncomfortably merged with the history of a woman. Russia meets the West, or maybe it doesn’t meet. It is hard to tell. An imperfect attempt to reveal the nature of an un-vicarious life…
History, philosophy, art, and stories of the past 200+ years were funneled to the final, almost passing point, of Part II – as if the tip of the iceberg was unimpressive and the hidden parts needed no further examination. Because of the ultimate failings of the past, our culture, including Christians, have embraced
…a radical form of individuality – that in and of myself, I determine the truth either through my use of cognitive systems, ironic wit, or seasonal whims of desire. In other words:
The antithesis of the vicarious life.
There is, though, another option…
Another option. Ha! It seems silly, even detestable, to suggest that another option would be more suitable and capable of correcting or redeeming the sins of our generation and the sins of our fathers, our grandfathers. Aren’t there enough options out there??
I know the simple option to living the vicarious life in many Christian circles is the tried and true response, the one all middle school students use during breakout sessions at their youth group functions: Jesus. There is no doubt that the simple option is foundational, and that the vicarious life is predicated on the recognition of who Jesus truly is, the son of God, the second part of the Trinity, whose life is interwoven with another, the Father, the Spirit, and the heirs of his kingdom; he is our advocate to the Father and our Savior.
But, the “Jesus” option must be rightly oriented. As seen in the unsatisfying philosophical and artistic history of the past few years, the flourishing seed which has infected all aspects of our life, even our theology, is the cult of individuality. In Christianity, our personal, rigorous piety is the sole marker of a life well lived in Christ. It is not that these philosophies are entirely wrong and useless in our lives and the lives of the world. I would say my faith has grown through the creative agnostic work of the 20th century. But, if it is our foundational framework, it leads to an crippling isolation untethered from the Gospel.
Jesus is the means to redeeming our time and the things of our world (oftentimes he is doing it unbeknownst to the artist and world, but it is evident through the lens of Christ), but it doesn’t occur through the individuation and might of our personal faith. The vicarious life of the Trinity is the very life we are called to live within.
When Jesus walked this earth, he explicitly distinguished himself from the pagan gods of the ancient world. In ancient Greece and Rome, the gods essentially used man for their own benefit, whatever the cost. They were jealous and vengeful, all to perpetuate some selfish, destructive goal; they were self-absorbed. Jesus throws everything on its head with what many commonly call the institution of an upside-down kingdom.
Brene Brown, a sociologist from the University of Houston, defines vulnerability as allowing oneself to be truly seen, and it is reflected in an honest attempt to connect with others. Is this not what Jesus did for us? How he differentiated himself from the gods of old? Did he not make himself vulnerable, did he not connect with us, so we could, in turn, be connected back to our Father? Did he not fully reveal his humanity – through compassion, righteous frustration, suffering, and love – so we could experience what it means to be fully human?
If this is true, then why do we cling to the philosophies of our post-enlightenment days as if they are the components that bring life? Why do we choose them and the subsequent isolation and individuality over the vicarious life that Christ himself lived and promised? Why do we hide ourselves out of fear of rejection, even from the people who truly care about us– who wouldn’t use our weakness to destroy us or wouldn’t be swayed by the dark recesses of our soul?
I’ve lived most of my life under the assumption that people genuinely don’t care about your life or mine. I’ve misconstrued St. Paul’s mandate to be all things for all people in order to hide my true self. I’ve become a master of post-modern deconstruction in order to elevate my own status amongst perceived subordinates; I’ve attempted to use art as a means to put together the pieces of my own fragmented soul, so that I can avoid the shame of unveiling the darkness behind the curtain of my life to those who love me; I’ve rationalized it all within the framework that God will sanctify me through the silent, secret work of the Holy Spirit – that others are not needed for the work to be done; I’ve withheld myself from others because of this intrinsic, incredibly human, imperfection we all have and experience on this earth – a natural consequence of our fallen world.
As Brown put it, I have wanted
to go in there (relationships) and kick some ass — when I’m bullet proof and perfect. That is seductive. The truth is, that never happens…when you got in there [as “perfect”], that is not what [others] want to see. We want to be with you and be across from you…
This is the vicarious life – to be with others and to be across from others. This is the life Christ lived. This is the life he called us into — to press into the lives of others and to allow others to press into our lives. As Sam mentioned, “Every life is forever tied to the lives before it, past lives are lived on in our being, and our present lives are intermingled with every other living soul.”
So what are we going to do? What am I going to do? Will I live the vicarious life?
Will you live the vicarious life?