It’s amazing how easy it is to let the study of problems and solutions distant us from actively engaging in problems and implementing solutions. It has been my ongoing pursuit to never let my mind drift too far from my will to act. I don’t know about you, but it’s extremely tempting for me to remain in a theoretical state where I dwell in concepts and analogies. In fact, many including myself, often assume that gaining ground theoretically can justify our physical paralysis. We carry on in assessing cases and constructing models. We swim around in the realm of abstraction only to eventually find ourselves living a life that requires no courage or faith. We sit around in our Bible study groups, interpreting scripture and analyzing intriguing facts about biblical history. We do this only to come back the next week to sit back down and dig deeper with no end in sight. It takes wisdom to know what to do with knowledge and it takes courage to put feet on what we know. While some believe that we must be informed before taking action, I’ve come to think that information is grasped and embraced most in the midst of an act.
I read this quote a while back describing the difference between the balcony and the road. The author paints this picture of a family gathered on a balcony in the evening “gazing spectator wise upon the street beneath, or at the sunset or the stars beyond.” He says that “the balcony thus conceived is a classical standpoint, and so the symbol of the perfect spectator, for whom life and the universe are permanent objects of study and contemplation.” In contrast, he describes the road, “the place where life is intensely lived, where thoughts has its birth in conflict and concern, where choices are made and decisions are carried out. It is a place of action, of pilgrimage where concern is never absent from the wayfarer’s heart.” (John Mackay)
The balcony reminds me of all the news I see flash on my web browser. I have no doubt that we can have genuine concern for those we watch on CNN.com, but something deeper occurs when we come face to face with those we desire to help. I don’t think we realize that monitors create a subtly but great distance between the viewer and the issue. Ironically, as information streams faster before our eyes, the issues seem to feel farther from our reach. As news pops up all over the media, an internal dialogue may rage in our minds with protest, ideas and solutions, but more often than not, those thoughts rarely manifest in the flesh. Just as Mackay points out, the issues become “permanent object of study and contemplation.” We just can’t expect these screens to inspire us to take action. However, the road presents a raw reality. You can smell its stench and touch its wounds. It’s where we can stand eye to eye, in person, upfront. Where thoughts are “birthed in conflict and concern”, where our arms can actually reach, and where our words can actually be heard.
Jesus brought his conceptual analogies as close as he could to the issues around him. He referred to himself as the “bread of life” after feeding the five thousand and named himself “living water” while talking to a woman by a well. He addressed legalism by healing a man with a shriveled hand and broke bread the night before getting beaten and hung on a cross. Jesus left no room between concept and reality. He knew that we were too prone to dwell in his ideas, so he made the word become flesh. Simply raw and in your face. Jesus could have remained in his heavenly balcony, examining the world from a distance, but he chose to take on the form of a man. He chose to walk along the roads of this world to show us the extent of his love. He experienced rejection, pain and death to narrow the distance between his intangible heaven and our palpable reality. What a great example to follow.