"I believe because it is absurd." - Tertullian
Last week, Andrea and I spent the week in beautiful Northern Ireland with artists, pastors, and seekers at a festival in Belfast. The exploration of the week focused on the concept of "the absurd." The absurd can be a confusing topic but it essentially acknowledges the contradictions and difficulties of finding lasting "happiness" in life because our desires in life do not align with our reality, and when they do, we become unhappy. One example of this is the football player who's entire life is about the pursuit of a Super Bowl ring, but when he finally wins it, he experiences an extreme sense of loss.
The festival considered the absurd in art, comedy, poetry, music, and Christianity. In short, effective comedy, art, theology, and liturgy uncover things that we wrongly idealize or repress in our lives and the arts use those to demonstrate truths that we tend to hide from. For example, one night the comedian and musician Teresa Livingstone performed a set of songs from the perspective of a lonely woman singing about how she's REALLY REALLY happy for all of her successful, attractive, amazing, and rich friends. Her performances bring to the surface an unspoken anxiety (we don't like it when good things happen to our friends, family, etc. and not us) that exists in all of us, which is why her performances are so relatable and hilarious.
So, what does the absurd have to do with Christianity?
The absurd is the risk of faith in the midst of a hurting world that continually promises you can finally be fulfilled if you buy the new product or read the right book. Faith in the absurd is living boldly in the present moment through all of life's twists, turns, and bottoming out. Faith in the cross of Christ is absurd in a culture that demonstrates its power through violence. Faith in Jesus is absurd when Jesus says to also give up your coat when someone exploits you for your shirt. Faith in Jesus is absurd when the president of a "Christian nation" wants to strip people of their healthcare and Jesus' mission was to heal the sick. The absurd in Christianity is God inhabiting creation with love and presence while Western Christianity sings "I...am happy and blessed--watching and waiting, looking above." The absurd in Christianity breaks the cycle of projecting our fantasies of a future heaven and invites us instead to break bread with the stranger today. The absurd in Christianity proclaims "Your will be done on earth!" rather than allow Exxon to destroy our planet. The absurd in Christianity invites us to create beauty in a culture of economics and practicalities. Jesus invites us into the absurd that we may be set free from the tyranny of 21st-century "happiness" and find joy in the complexities and ambiguities of a life spent together. May we experience our lives as poetic and awkward in the embrace of the absurd.