Nothing curbs the appetite of my fierce personal preferences or consumerist instincts like falling in love with someone else. Doing so means entering the comic tragedy of living with, caring about, and wanting the best for someone who has their own set of appetites and preferences. In this spirit, I believe that life together, in committed community, provides the most viable antidote for the consumerism with which I am grown so fatally sick. That I will die is a foregone conclusion. But the character and nature of my death is exactly what the Christian story aims to redeem. There are better, more beautiful, truer deaths, the pursuit of which, in my estimation, determines the quality of life I lead.
I want to die well. I need you to kill me.
Dying to myself ends up being a far less individualistic discipline than I had imagined, as John’s oft quoted aphorism makes clear. “He must increase, but I must decrease” presupposes another person’s presence and role. I had generally thought of the practice of “dying to myself” as an endeavor of isolation, like Thomas Merton or Carlo Carretto, hidden away in a cave, high on a cliff-side, eating dust and stale bread until I’ve sufficiently starved my selfish desires away. But that’s not been my practical experience. The most powerful impetus for my self-denial has, instead, almost always been the desire to make room for those I’m given to as Family, those with whom I follow and worship Jesus. Often, I want blessed goodness for those I love more than I want it for myself. Seeking it for them has frequently meant putting my needs, tastes and preferences aside… and when I have been lucky, it was long enough to see just how small and petty they were.
And sometimes, that moment of clear vision grants me wisdom enough to leave those tastes and preferences at my periphery…. further from the core of my own identity… making more room in me for the blessed goodness I want for you. Help me displace them. I need you to kill me that I might live again.
Strangely, many of my best efforts to snuff-out my consumeristic impulses become simply more nuanced forms of consumerism. I strive for self improvement through the belief in self reliance - and I end up chasing after the latest, best, most moving version of my own faith. On the other hand, nothing has been as effective or (dare I use the word) authentic as dying to myself in order to make room for you.
My theology. (and yes, I’m suggesting that personal preference plays a significant role in the development of my theology)
…all become secondary aspects of my person.
You are more important than my politics.
You are more important than my theology.
You are more important than my sexuality.
“The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes,” writes Bonhoeffer “the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and His work become the one and only thing that is vital between us.” - Life Together
I need you to kill me that I might live again, in and for Christ, with and for you, and in loving, hospitable pursuit of those who have been unable to find a place for themselves in the Kingdom.
A few years ago, reflecting on this same principle and practice, I became keenly thankful for the central role the eucharist has played in church life. As part of a longer piece, I wrote this:
“I spend a good deal of my social energy trying to surround myself with a tribe of people more reflective of my tastes and preferences. Then, at the communion table, Jesus asks me to do something dramatically different: deny my expectations, my tastes and my preferences and receive into my life and family anyone God gives me to.”
And still, it is true. I want to live well. I need you to kill me.
Justin McRoberts is a singer, songwriter, blogger, pastor and teacher living in San Francisco He is also the mind behind the CMYK Project. You can follow him on Twitter @justinmcroberts and find more information about his other endeavors here.