When my email reminds me that Comment Magazine has published a new article online, I usually sigh. Not for the same reason I sigh about many other email notifications, but because I rarely have time to read it then and there, and know that I'll probably forget to go back and take it in before the next article rolls around. The authors at Comment consistently put forward articles that are not only theologically sound and culturally relevant, but are also stylistically superior...even poetic.
Thankfully, one of the articles I missed back in December, was highlighted on FB tonight (thanks, Ryan Van Horn!), and if you have 10 minutes, it is well worth the read! If you only have 4-5 minutes, check out the excerpt below. I'm warning you, though, you'll be compelled to go read the article in its entirety! And then...you'll want to subscribe (so you too can sigh when you find yourself too busy to stop and take it all in).
This particular article, Redemption, was the first published by James K. Smith after his recent appointment as editor. Enjoy...
But what does redemption look like? For the most part, you'll know it when you see it, because it looks like flourishing. It looks like a life well lived. It looks like the way things are supposed to be. It looks like a well-cultivated orchard laden with fruit produced by ancient roots. It looks like labour that builds the soul and brings delight. It looks like an aged husband and wife laughing uproariously with their great-grandchildren. It looks like a dancer stretching her body to its limit, embodying a stunning beauty in muscles and sinews rippling with devotion. It looks like the graduate student hunched over a microscope, exploring nooks and crannies of God's micro-creation, looking for ways to undo the curse. It looks like abundance for all.
Redemption sounds like the surprising cadences of a Bach concerto whose rhythm seems to expand the soul. It sounds like an office that hums with a sense of harmony in mission, punctuated by collaborative laughter. It sounds like the grunts and cries of a tennis player whose blistering serve and liquid forehand are enactments of things we couldn't have dreamed possible. It sounds like the questions of a third grader whose teacher loves her enough to elicit and make room for a sanctified curiosity about God's good world. It even sounds like the spirited argument of a young couple who are discerning just what it means for their marriage to be a friendship that pictures the community God desires (and is).
Redemption smells like the oaky tease of a Napa Chardonnay that births anticipation in our taste buds. It smells like soil under our nails after labouring over peonies and gerber daisies. It smells like the steamy winter kitchen of a family together preparing for supper. It smells like the ancient wisdom of a book inherited from a grandfather, or that "outside smell" of the family dog in November. It smells like riding your bike to work on a foggy spring morning. It even smells like the salty pungence of hard work and that singular bouquet of odors that bathes the birth of a child.
Redemption tastes like a fall harvest yielded though loving labour and attentive care for soil and plant. It tastes like a Thanksgiving turkey whose very "turkeyness" comes to life from its own animal delight on a free range. It tastes like the delightful hoppy bitterness of an IPA shared with friends at the neighbourhood pub. It even tastes like eating your broccoli because your mother loves you enough to want you to eat well.
So redemption looks like the bodily poetry of Rafael Nadal and the boyish grin of Brett Favre on a good night; it sounds like the amorous giggles of Julia and Paul Child and smells like her kitchen; it reverberates like the deep anthems of Yo-Yo Ma's cello; it feels like the trembling metre of Auden's poetry or the spry delight of Updike's light verse; it looks like the compassionate care of Paul Farmer and Mother Theresa. Redemption can be spectacular and fabulous and (almost) triumphant.
But for the most part, Spirit-empowered redemption looks like what Raymond Carver calls "a small, good thing." It looks like our everyday work done well, out of love, in resonance with God's desire for his creation—so long as our on-the-ground labour is nested as part of a contribution to systems and structures of flourishing. It looks like doing our homework, making the kids' lunches for school, building with quality and a craftsman's devotion, and crafting a municipal budget that discerns what really matters and contributes to the common good. Of course, redemption is the fall of apartheid, but it's also the once-impossible friendships forged in its aftermath. It's an open seat on the bus for everyone, but it's also getting to know my neighbours who differ from me. It's nothing short of trying to change the world, but it starts in our homes, our churches, our neighbourhoods and our schools.
It should not surprise us that redemption will not always look triumphant. If Jesus comes as the second Adam who models redemptive culture making, then in our broken world such cultural labour will look cruciform. But it will also look like hope that is hungry for joy and delight.