I'm a huge (and hopeless!) idealist. So if you find idealism frustrating - well, maybe you should skip this post. Don't say I didn't warn you! If you're a hearty realist, well, this one may be a bit frustrating...
When I was a teenager (many, many years ago!) I was intensely disappointed in the church. It seemed to me that if what the bible had to say was really true - and I believed that it was, albeit based on a somewhat limited understanding! - that the church wasn't living up to it's potential. It seemed that human frailties of various kinds - pettiness, ambition, intolerance, selfishness, pride - all conspired to undermine the church's integrity and effectiveness. Like many other young idealists, I suspect, I became quite disenchanted with the church and left, in search of a more authentic spirituality.
Fast forward about 14 years - the approximate length of that phase of my spiritual pilgrimage - and I had come full circle (including ups and downs and lots of spiritual experimentation) back to a pretty orthodox Christianity, including regular church attendance and even employment in the denominational office! And now, many years later again, I find myself STILL critical of the church as an institution. The difference is that as frustrating as I find the "church", I'm convinced that even with its flaws and foibles, it's the "body" of Christ. It's the "body" in that we Christians - still a motley crew - ARE the incarnational presence of Christ in the world. That is, we are the ones entrusted to carry on the work that Jesus began - the spreading of the good news that the kingdom is near.
What exactly did Jesus mean when he said (repeatedly) that the kingdom is near? If we don't have a clear understanding of this, how can we live up to our purpose? Here's where my idealism comes in, but it's also going to sound pretty critical. See, I think that Jesus intended for us to live and think very differently from the world around us and, bottom line, very differently than what we think and how we live today. I think that we've got caught up in all kinds of currents that have way more to do with how the "world" operates than how the "kingdom" operates. And to the extent we conform to the world, we're basically ineffective as witnesses.
So, you may be thinking that this doesn't sound like an idealist rant... quite true. But my point is simply this: if we are followers of Christ we should live as if we are already living in the Kingdom of God. We should live UP to what the vision is. We shouldn't live DOWN to what the world expects. The problem these days - or at least ONE of the problems - is that Christians are way too busy thinking about the future rewards and we're spending way too little time and effort living up to what we believe. I think we should live as if we are already IN the kingdom, which of course, we are!
What does this look like in practical terms? It means that we treat people as if they are honest and compassionate and hopeful and full of the fruit of the spirit - even when - and especially when - they don't act that way. We get past appearances and we fix our eyes on Christ and live the way He taught us to live, no matter what! That, I believe, is what it means to BE an incarnational presence of Christ in the world. We deny ourselves... we take up our cross (whatever burdens we bear)... and we FOLLOW CHRIST into the mundane, messed up, everyday world as a beacon of light.
This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine. This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine. This little light of mine - I'm going to let it shine, Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!
See, the thing is, we forget - we mean well and we are sincere when we think it's more complicated than this, but ANY effort on our part to do God's work ourselves, is doomed to fail. The battle is not against flesh and blood but against the powers of darkness. But we forget. We think we can take on the enemy. We think we know what we're doing. But we don't. Like Peter when he stepped out of the boat and was literally walking on water, we forget who's in control and we focus on our circumstances, our frustrations, our problems, the failures of others to be good people - the waves that threaten to pull us down...
If we are going to live in the Kingdom, we must live according to the principles of the Kingdom, even when they seem inadequate for the challenges of the day. Faith is believing in things not seen... rememmber? When we live by faith, and not by sight - well, then we will see the alternate reality. The realist - poor soul! - will never see past the reality that is to the reality that could be. The realist is trapped in the kingdom of this world and will live and die according to its principles.
Why not give it a try? Here's what I challenge you to do - give God a chance to prove that he's actually way bigger than your mind and imagination. Make a point of living idealistically - living as if the kingdom of God IS the reality in the here and now. And pay attention - you just might be in for an amazing ride!