What is the appeal? The drawing power is the beauty of God’s unconditional love embodied in the self-giving of Jesus.
What does “the Christ life” look like? (This is what John’s Gospel calls “eternal life”; I like to call it “the good life”). It is a life of non-violence and one that exposes the myth of redemptive violence. It is a life of grace and goodness, a life of forgiveness and moral strength and courage. It is a life that confronts the false claims and values of “the System” (what John’s Gospel calls “the world” in its delusional and alienated state) and refuses to get sucked into a spiral of bitterness and hate. It is a life committed to compassion and justice for the disenfranchised and most vulnerable among us. It is a life of loving God, loving others, and loving self in healthy and transformational ways. It is a life of balance between joy and sorrow, giving and receiving, suffering and contentment.
I believe that when the beauty and goodness of this life is manifested in our lives and relationships, and when somehow people can see beyond their own self-interests and selfish passions, this “good life” has magnetic power.
But to enter into the good life, we must be willing to die to some things. Jesus said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life [the good life described above]” (John 12:24–25). In this rather paradoxical teaching Jesus is talking about dying to the ego-driven life in order that we might live the good life.
In a picture book for adults titled, Hope for the Flowers, Trina Paulus weaves a wonderful story about two caterpillars named Sripe and Yellow. In one part of the story, Yellow comes upon a gray-haired caterpillar who tells her about becoming a butterfly. “But how do you become one?” Yellow asks. Gray says, “You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.” “You mean to die?” asks Yellow. “Yes and No,” says Gray. “What looks like you will die but what’s really you will still live.”
Some parts of us have to die in order for that which is really us, that which is authentically human, that which is true and good to emerge.
But it takes a compelling vision. Gray says, “You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.” What are we willing to give up, to die to, in order to live a life of beauty and goodness?
All caterpillars do not yield themselves to the cocoon at the same time. Some of them actually resist the process and cling to their caterpillar life. They put off entering the cocoon until the following spring, thus postponing their transformation.
It would seem that all God’s creatures have trouble letting go. What can we not let go of? Unforgiveness? Grievance stories that keep us bitter and resentful? Guilt or shame over past failures? Habits of attitude rooted in comparison and competition? Ingrained prejudices against people who think differently or look differently or believe differently than we do? The need to be great; the need to accumulate more or achieve more so that our status is enhanced? What are we still clinging to that would prevent us from dying so that we can live?
Sometimes it takes an experience of some kind to move us to a different place. I heard about a very successful business man who was happily married and seemed to have everything he wanted. He was all closed up in his own private world. He lived for his own personal fulfillment and the well-being of his immediate family. Then one of his children developed a severe psychotic disorder. He felt lost, angry, and utterly powerless. Nothing seemed to help his son. Then he met other parents living similar situations and he discovered a world of pain that he had previously ignored. It moved him beyond his own closed-in, private world and led him into a new openness and commitment to help others. It led him to become part of something much greater and larger that transformed him into a more compassionate person.
What will it take to move us to larger, more compassionate place? What will it take for us to stop clinging to our selfish, small lives so that we can become more spiritual, more loving, more humble, and more sensitive people, engaged in relationships and service that advance God’s good and gracious will for this planet and the diverse people and creatures who dwell here?