The Not-So-Secret-Life of Walter Mitty and Ours

Last week I saw Ben Stiller’s fine portrayal of how a dutiful and timid man becomes the adventurous, brave, and creative man that he and his crush are looking for.  What he thinks is his “secret life”—the daydreams of heroism that distract him—becomes not-so-secret as he gains courage to show up in the moment and do what he wants to do.  I’d argue that his “secret life” was never really so secret in the first place: his lack of presence and attention to those around him (and to himself!) while he was locked in fantasy was hard to hide.

So it is with us.  We might be tempted to think that our thoughts and opinions are hidden from others, while most of us are probably not that slick.   Some of us may be tempted to think that the “mundane” work we do like taking out the garbage is unseen, unappreciated, and not a big deal.   We are probably tempted to think that we are less of a big deal than we really are, and less loved than we really are.

I think that we actually live in a context where everything matters and everything is known to God.  Everything is known—not just our actions (and not just because of the internet) but our longings, our thoughts, our inactions too.  And this is not a fearful thing.  In Christ we are uncondemnable; we swim in an ocean of grace. “Failure” is all part of the process—-God demonstrated that himself in weakness and in death.  It’s not the end of the story; resurrection is.

wm2I don’t just have a private life with God either—through this resurrection I am  part of the transhistorical, transnational Body of Christ.  Right now this body looks like the beautiful motley crew of all the people of faith who are the hands and feet (etc.) of Jesus in the world.  More locally it’s the Circle of Hope in Philly and Camden that I’m a part of.   So nothing I do is really private—it all affects the rest of the Body in a spiritual and physical sense, just like the inter-working parts of a human body.   We’re actually connected in a way that’s not ironic or fantastical or virtual.  We’re having a real life together.  It’s not just something I do either, it’s something I receive.  Last night my friends Keisha and Jernard and Judy cared for my kids and even fed my family so I could lead a meeting.  

The realness of the real life helps me understand why Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others…”  God doesn’t want to hide; God reveals.

My cell group is in the process of multiplying and several of my friends are stepping up to lead the new groups that will shine some light in two meeting places instead of one.  I love this crew and I’ll miss our time together.   It makes their very Jesus-like openness and courage and wisdom and love all the more obvious to me:  the openness to follow a God who is always making room for the next person (God who is more than a one-man show, as our Daily Prayer blog mentions today), the courage to start something new that could “fail,”  the wisdom to recognize that they have something to give as leaders, and the love it takes to give up what’s comfortable and trust God that there’s more than enough love to go around, even for those we haven’t met yet.

This kind of understanding about oneself—that we receive our life from God and we are not just “our own”—sheds light on the trend toward the privatization of everything in our culture.  In the west we are raised on a diet of distinction between “yours” and “mine.”  We are even taught that it’s healthy to divide up and compartmentalize different aspects of our lives for things like “work-life balance.”  Yet I can’t find this idea anywhere in the Bible.  We are whole people, made to live in unity with God and one another.  The individualistic, capitalist entitlement to “my private life” is more of a spiritual illusion than anything else, probably based on fear and greed.   This is why Jesus says, ” By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  Love gives, love takes risks, love is willing to be uncomfortable, love lays down it’s life for others and gets restored.

My favorite scene in Walter Mitty is when he takes a mountain in Iceland by skateboard.  He needs to get to the next town, so he straps some lava to his palms with his ripped-up work tie (a last vestige of his corporate life) and jumps on the only wheels he’s got.  This seems something like Jesus-following to me.   Sometimes you’re exposed to the elements at high speeds, and you’re not sure how it’s going to work out.  But the wind carries you, and the scenery is pretty great, and you get to the next place—a place with a whole new set of challenges.   Better than “private” fantasies any day.