Perhaps the couch potato’s life isn’t always bad – especially when mammoth powers shove us down, sit on us, and give us an excuse. We can’t get up. It’s not our fault. We’re forced to renew our perspectives, nurture our prayer lives, and learn from other captives. Christian activists like me might even rekindle the “Christian” part.
Such has been my experience.
Not that this is the most opportune time: I’ve been cooped up and rendered speechless while our nation gazes over the Earth’s jagged edge, seemingly ready and willing to swim with the sea monsters. One science-denying party gives us an unhinged candidate wallowing in resentment over a former Miss Universe while extolling a Russian bully. He thinks the monsters are our friends. The other nominates a veteran stateswoman with little political acumen. Both parties drift far from their foundations.
I should be speaking, joining committees, and writing volumes in such times, but I’ve morphed into a limbless potato. A recurrence of tongue cancer chased me to the operating table on August 24th last year, where reconstructive surgery replaced 60 percent of my body’s strongest muscle with skin from my left arm. I was intelligible by early December and eating pureed food, which surely meant I could rejoin the fray and play my small role in backing us from that edge.
Not so fast. The cancer re-surged in January and blanketed my lower mouth. I was spitting blood. My life soon revolved around three week-long inpatient chemotherapy sessions, spaced by two-week breaks. Five once-a-week outpatient chemotherapy injections and radiation treatments followed, topped by inpatient radiation delivered in high doses through surgically implanted tubes. I lay in the ICU and caught pneumonia, which imprisoned me on that man-eating couch throughout July.
How does a Christian activist act when forces beyond his control stymie his action?
A renewed perspective
I’ve rediscovered that dormancy isn’t always bad.
First, I’ve seen, once again, the issue with which religion grapples and all other disciplines evade: Despite medicine’s laudable advances, for which I am deeply thankful, humanity’s death rate lingers at one hundred percent. We all die, which means the activist’s remedies for earthly issues are inevitably tentative.
Suddenly, the age-old questions revolving around Heaven and Hell reek of relevancy despite their unpopularity at cocktail parties, especially when my mouth bleeds and poison drips into my veins. Our causes – even our vital campaigns over human-induced climate change – pale when measured against Eternity. In the words of CS Lewis,
We are very shy nowadays of even mentioning Heaven. We are afraid of the jeer about “pie in the sky” and of being told that we are trying to “escape from the duty of making a happy world here and now into dreams of a happy world elsewhere.” But either there is “pie in the sky” or not. If there is not, then Christianity is false, for this doctrine is woven into its whole fabric. If there is, then this truth, like any other, must be faced, whether it is useful at political meetings or no.
The eternal perspective, on which a healthy contemplative centers, gives context to my temporal causes. And, strangely, it makes me a better activist. Lewis sheds insight again:
A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great [people] who built the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the slave trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become ineffective in this. Aim at heaven and you’ll get the Earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.
A healthy eternal perspective, ironically, revitalizes and deepens our action because it illuminates human potential: Who we are now shapes our distant future. The kindly old woman may evolve into something magnificent in a thousand years. We might mistake her for a goddess. The famous CEO may fade into a growling, pale shadow. The woman embraces God and thrives in intimacy with the divine. That’s Heaven. The CEO sees God as a threat and ducks for cover. That’s Hell.
Some may suspect that I just read CS Lewis’s The Great Divorce. They’d be right. I find his Heaven-Hell portrait compelling.
Our Earthly actions are crucial for the same reason a pregnant woman nurtures the child in her womb. Perhaps her conduct, including her overall emotional state, makes little apparent difference as the baby sucks its thumb in the amniotic fluid; her influence plays out after the child is born and grows. Likewise with the Christian activist vis-à-vis humanity’s earthly prenatal existence. We care about the present precisely because we’ve glimpsed timelessness.
Perhaps that’s why I itch to rejoin the fray. I’ve seen the eternal perspective. I long to be one of God’s many catalysts through whom Heaven’s atmosphere comes into the present. It’s an atmosphere of love and harmony instead of competition, including harmony with God’s creation.
Nurturing my prayer life and learning from other captives will help me as I return, God permitting. I’ll write more on those two subjects in the future.