24
Jan
17

Don’t Watch

spectatorsTravel – for the most part – is not something I enjoy very much.

Between the expensive airfares… cramped airline seats… jostling your way through crowded airports with long, often frantic walks between gates… stripping in public and being frisked by an intrusive, bored stranger; it is just not my idea of a good time.

Prefer not to fly? Welcome to long, tedious drives across miles of arid, dry, homogenous landscapes.

Let me clarify; I really like BEING IN a new or different place. It’s just the whole “getting there” piece that tends to rub me the wrong way.

But on a recent trip to the West Coast (for my father’s funeral), I rediscovered a part of the traveling experience that brings me a small measure of joy… and that is: PEOPLE WATCHING.

Look over there at the young woman on the other side of the plane: although she could not be more than 25-30 years old, she is avidly poring over the pages of a QUILTING magazine. I wonder how that affinity developed? Is she an Amish person in disguise? Did she grow up among generations of quilters from ‘way back? What is she working on right now? How do people come to be interested in quilting in the first place?

Or then there is the guy three rows up idly working on a crossword puzzle. Is he traveling to Seattle on some kind of work-related assignment? Is he going out to see family? Does he regularly work crossword puzzles or is this an activity reserved for airplane travel? What is his story anyway?

Then there is the man right behind me, pounding away furiously on the keys of his laptop. What is he writing? Is it perhaps the next chapter of the Great American Novel? Is he recording his innermost thoughts on a significant moment or chapter of his life? Maybe he is a traveling pastor working on this week’s sermon!

As I sat and scrolled through all of the options represented here with just these three people, the awareness dawned that there really is an infinite variety of intensely interesting, multi-layered, and powerfully human stories in progress here within a narrow radius of my seat in 21D.

As I continued to think about it, I realized I could also probably sit here and spend the entirety of the four hour flight watching the other people on the plane… conjecturing about what kind of people they are, why they are traveling, who is meeting them when they arrive, and what they each ate for breakfast, among other topics.

If we were so inclined, we could give this activity a name. If we wanted to be noble and highbrow, we could call it something like “OBSERVING the human condition.”

If we wanted to ascribe sinister motives to it we might call it VOYEURISM.

But if we wanted to be more straightforward and less judgmental we might just call it something like SPECTATING… as in, being a spectator to life.

And when you put it that way, it makes me stop and realize just how popular the SPECTATING pastime is for us humans.

We are big-time spectators. We spectate at sporting events. We spectate at an endless variety of forms of entertainment… on TV, at the movies, at church, at the drama in our families, or in the supermarket.

There are so many opportunities for SPECTATING on life in fact, that it would not be hard to imagine a person reaching the end of life’s road and waking up to the stunning realization that they had spent their entire life as a SPECTATOR rather than as a PARTICIPANT.

Because the truth about me is: I really enjoy being a spectator. Spectating allows me to be within range of the adventure of living without risking exposure to any of the attendant dangers. Spectating on life keeps me safely outside of the “splash zone,” as they call it at Sea World.

But the problem with spectating is this: God did not invite us to live life as spectators. God also didn’t promise us endless safety in life. Instead, God invited us to dive into life with both feet… to drink deeply from the well of life and to experience all it has to offer… the highs, the lows, the victories, the crushing defeats.

The prophet Isaiah mediates God’s wisdom this way: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” (Isa. 55:2, NRSV).

Jesus, in his day, did not say, “I came so that they might sit on the sidelines and munch popcorn.”

No… instead he said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10, NRSV).

We are called to face up to the reality that the life that is abundant, engaged, and rich is not safe. That abounding kind of life trades the armchair for the cockpit… the joystick for the steering wheel.

As we dare to answer God’s call to the full life, we are also called to rely fully on the same God who called us… and to remember that “… we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.” (Psalm 100:3, NRSV).

Today, be a bold sheep. Step out of the bleachers and onto the field and don’t worry.

God’s got this.


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