God is Not Safe, So Why Do We Play So Safely
There are lots of books, stories and examples displaying how we tend to play life too safely at times, and the need for us to overcome this complacency. One of the examples that is always in my mind is this exchange in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis:
“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King I tell you.”
It’s a reminder to me that we worship a God who is not safe (but good), yet we tend to want to live within the boundaries of safety. If we are honest with ourselves I think we find ourselves most often identifying with Susan, seeking safety, and being comfortable, rather than stepping out into faith and into new and unknown territory.
Or what about Donald Miller who reminds us in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years that not all of us are living a good story…and that to live a good story requires some risk on our part to go after something bigger than us…something that isn’t safe and secure (my paraphrase). Miller puts it in another way that many of us can relate to:
“I think this is when most people give up on their stories. They come out of college wanting to change the world, wanting to get married, wanting to have kids and change the way people buy office supplies. But they get into the middle and discover if was harder than they thought. They can’t see the distant shore anymore, and they wonder if their paddling is moving them forward. None of the trees behind them are getting smaller and none of the trees ahead are getting better. They take it out on their spouses, and they go looking for an easier story.” (pp. 179)
These are good reminders…welcome wake up calls to me when I find myself living a complacent, yet very safe life that limits risk, while at the same time limiting all that God is calling me into.
Two of My Traveling Partners
Two writers have been great companions in this journey, and I want to mention them to you. They are probably not unknown to you, but maybe these ideas are.
First, Walter Brueggemann, and his concept of orientation, disorientation and new orientation have been playing in my mind ever since I read his book Message of the Psalms during my first year of seminary in 1998. Here is what Brueggemann says:
“Poems of orientation, poems of disorientation, and poems of new orientation. It is suggested that the Psalms can be roughly grouped this way, and the flow of human life characteristically is located either in the actual experience of one of these settings or is in movement from one to another.
a) Human life consists in satisfied seasons of well-being that evoke gratitude for the constancy of blessing. (ex. Psalm 1, 8, etc.)
b) Human life consists in anguished seasons of hurt, alienation, suffering, and death. These evoke rage, resentment, self-pity, and hatred. (ex. Psalm 13, 86, etc.)
c) Human life consists in turns of surprise when we are overwhelmed with the new gifts of God, when joy breaks through the despair. (ex. Psalm 30, 40, etc.)
But human life is not simply an articulation of a place in which we find ourselves. It is also a movement from one circumstance to another, changing and being changed, finding ourselves surprised by a new circumstance we did not expect, resistant to a new place, clinging desperately to the old circumstance.
The dominant ideology of our culture is committed to continuity and success and to the avoidance of pain, hurt, and loss. The dominant culture is also resistant to genuine newness and real surprise. It is curious but true, that surprise is as unwelcome as is loss. And our culture is organized to prevent the experience of both…
This means that when we practice either move—into disorientation or into new orientation—we engage in a countercultural activity, which by some will be perceived as subversive…Such a practice of the Psalms cannot be taken for granted in our culture, but will be done only if there is resolved intentionality to live life in a more excellent way.” (The Message of the Psalms, Walter Brueggemann, pp. 19-20, 22-23)
Second, Henri Nouwen and his concept of “voluntary displacement” was what led me to quit my job in 2001 and move for three months down to Guatemala to study Spanish and serve in a children’s hospital. And since then, this concept has been one of my guiding principles in how I try to live my life. Nouwen says this:
“The Gospels confront us with this persistent voice inviting us to move from where it is comfortable, from where we want to stay, from where we feel at home (Lk: 14:26, 9:60, 62; 18:22).
Why is this so central? It is central because in voluntary displacement , we cast off the illusion of ‘having it together’ and thus begin to experience our true condition, which is that we, like everyone else, are pilgrims on the way, sinners in need of grace. Through voluntary displacement, we counteract the tendency to become settled in a false comfort and to forget the fundamentally unsettled position that we share with all people. Voluntary displacement leads us to a deeper solidarity with the brokenness of our fellow human beings. Community, as the place of compassion, therefore always requires displacement.” (pp. 63-64).
Moving in the Right Direction
Visually I’ve tried to keep in mind these concepts this way:
Safety/Orientation–>Voluntary Displacement–>Disorientation–>New Orientation (Reorientation)
It’s a reminder to me to not simply walk through life, but to really live it. To step out and embrace the unknown, and in that process grow as a human being. I love the poem by Mary Oliver, When Death Comes (thanks to Anne Jackson for turning me on to Mary Oliver’s works) — but I particularly love the last couple of paragraphs:
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
So what do you do to deal with not becoming too complacent in your own life?
Who are your traveling partners on this journey?