I think I had mine this week—but maybe I’ll have a few more before this is all over. The breakdown I had was along the lines of, “I’m tired of being good. I can’t think in six-foot increments anymore. I can’t Happy Birthday wash my hands. My stomach hurts from watching the pain in the news. I have been good enough. I am done being good.” Your breakdown may be different. Maybe yours includes children, or food, or alcohol, or fighting against systems, working a hard job, taking care of a parent or being a good neighbor. Whatever your breakdown is about, go ahead and have it. It may be just what you need. What we all need.
I’m not saying that I want everyone at Christ Church to have a spiritual breakdown, I just sense that may be where we are at in dealing with the twin pandemics of coronavirus and racism right now. There is this thought that being good should get you somewhere. Things should change because of our selfless acts of goodness. You should hear the grinding of the world’s gears to a new level, responding to our good thoughts and actions! But no such grinding can be heard. If our good deeds are worthless for saving us, then why be good at all?
I’ve been watching a new series called Upload that is about dying—or really about escaping dying by being uploaded into an afterlife virtual reality. The catch is you have to be uploaded before you actually die—and sign paperwork on the location of the afterlife you have chosen. The most prestigious of these is Lakeview, “the only digital afterlife modeled on the Grand Victorian Hotels of the US and Canada, with uplifting views, healthy pursuits and timeless Americana.” Your personal ‘angel’ greets you saying, “This is the first day of the rest of your afterlife.” This show has high ratings because all of us would like to believe that heaven is a five-star resort with an unending buffet. It is our newest form of science fiction- The Matrix meets Touched by An Angel. I visited the Science Fiction Museum in Seattle a few years ago and it documents how science fiction works to mirror our own fears and sets them somewhere in the future so we don’t have to deal with the reality up close. Thinking we can Upload into a new, carefree heaven, would rank right up there in the Hall of Fame of human desires. Especially when we are having to deal with the news on our screens every day.
What Upload cannot deal with is the reality of our lives as they really are. We need a God that understands that we don’t live in a virtual world—there is pain, suffering, death and hurt. We watch the show for entertainment, but we know deep down in our souls that there will be no beaming up for us, or our loved ones, to a virtual reality of our own making. We know we, like the afterlife at Lakeview, do not live up to our own hype. Our Avatar suffers from holding up heavy shields to protect us from the consequences of our own selfish behavior. We have a deep need for forgiveness that can only come from outside of ourselves. We get tired of being good because it becomes totallyabout us and it doesn’t work to keep the gremlins away. We do what we’ve always done, and we get what we’ve always gotten -not newness of life but the deadness of our self-centeredness. What Upload gets absolutely right is that you don’t need to be ‘good’ to get into virtual heaven because there is no such thing in the human heart. You just need to be ‘dead’- or at least sorta dead.
In ten short verses in Romans 6, Paul mentions death or dead fourteen times. Paul is not trying to be a downer—he is telling us the truth about ourselves. We are addicted to self and believe being good is a way to buy our way into glory. The chink in the armor that tells us that all of our efforts to climb higher and be better are for our own glory, not for God’s. We are headed for a breakdown—and it’s a good thing. We need to be sick and tired of being sick and tired before we will accept any help outside of ourselves. The breakdown of our strength, wisdom, positive thinking, goodness, and independence from God needs to happen before we will accept any divine intervention.
What happens in the breakdown? Surrender. It’s like an alcoholic admitting that they are powerless and their life is unmanageable. It is confessing, “I am a sinner, and I am sick from trying to fight off the dark powers of Sin, Death and it’s agent the Law alone. By myself, I cannot overcome these powers with my own goodness. The cross of Christ is the only intervention that will save me and the world.”
I’ve read quite a lot of books this week about being buried with Christ in baptism and rising again with him into new life, which is at the very heart of this theology of the cross. I don’t know why I thought I would have enough theological sense to make this perfectly plain to you when it is the cosmic mystery of our lives. The only thing that came to me was paragraph out of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, “If a mere code of morals or a better philosophy of life were sufficient to overcome alcoholism, many of us would have recovered long ago. But we found that such codes and philosophies did not save us, no matter how much we tried. We could wish to be moral, we could wish to be philosophically comforted, in fact we could will these things with all our might, but the needed power wasn’t there. Our human resources, as marshalled by the will, were not sufficient; they failed utterly. Lack of power, that was our dilemma. We had to find a Power higher than ourselves.”
The power of God is where the aliveness comes from. When we admit that we are dead—powerless to save ourselves—the Power of the Cross gives us new life. There has to be a death to have a resurrection. We die to self in order to be the life that Christ has given for us. We are relieved of the weight of the world and our need to be good to prove ourselves. In a way, we are Uploaded into the life of Christ. We see His reality in the world. His love and grace to respond to the world. We are no longer alone, struggling to understand and survive. We can release our stranglehold on our future and be fully alive to all of life, not yearn for a pain-free virtual life. This is called grace, the very core of the Cross. Your Breakdown is Christ’s Upload. Amen