My Jesus is upside down. There is something that is just wrong about that. I should have known that something was up when I only saw him right-side up in two places: Camp Bridgeport in Texas and the Disney resort we visited in December. I know what you might be thinking, “upside-down Jesus! What in the world?” I have two of them, one that was given to me years ago as a gift and one that I bought during my travels. They are, without a doubt, my favorite nightlights. The only way my Jesus nightlights will plug into the electric sockets in my home is upside down. Trust me I have tried to find an upside-down socket in my home, where he can stand upright and shine his light, but it is a no go.
When I’ve seen him upside down, I can’t help but reflect on the metaphor a little — OK… a lot. The “Christ of faith” that I believe in, the Jesus I have heard about my whole life; the Jesus I have given my heart to, is not always right-side up. There have been times when I have asked questions like those posed on a bracelet a few years ago, “what would Jesus do?” Or how would Jesus react? Or what would Jesus say? January 20th marks fifty years since President JFK gave his famous inaugural speech, where he posed a simple challenge, “Ask not… ask not what your country can do for you… ask what you can do for your country.” Maybe the message is not, “What would Jesus do?” But “ask not what Jesus can do for me, but what can I do for Jesus.” It’s a simple twist, but I know it will be a lifetime of each day finding ways to live that answer daily.
At the very least there was something very unconventional, maybe even upside down, about His perspective and position on things-the way He lived, loved and spoke about the kingdom of God and about how we are to love each other. Sometimes He seems to fit in a way that nothing else fits around Him. All the questions that I have been coming up with when I walk past my upside down Jesus in my bathroom and am reminded about that the way he works, remind me that he doesn’t work like anything else. In fact, he may be the only thing that’s right side up and the rest of the world is upside down.
I have had the joy of hearing and seeing the song “Live Christ”, that I wrote a few years ago find its way into the voices and hearts of several churches, camps, synods, conferences and events across the country. And I have been fortunate to share it in person with many. One of my favorite experiences related to the song was at a regional youth weekend retreat this past fall when I suggested I might end my talk with “Live Christ.” A college student in attendance had volunteered at the camp the previous summer, where the song had been sung each week. She responded, “cool, you know that song, too?” I chuckled and said, “yea, I do, and on a few occasions I live it.” Sometimes I do it. Sometimes I live Christ. Sometimes I live peace. Sometimes I live hope. Sometimes I live love. Many times it takes my seeing a situation upside down; having new eyes; stretching past what feels comfortable to what seems to others very awkward in order to really get a glimpse of what is right in front of me. I thought this week about that song. Maybe I should make it a prayer instead of an imperative statement… something like, “God I pray that I will, with all I am, live Christ; love Christ; share Christ; be Christ.” If I keep doing what I’ve always done, then change in me won’t come. If I continue to look at others, my circumstances, my shortcomings, even my successes, the way I always have looked at them, I can’t reach my goal of “What can I do for Jesus today?” I’m stuck on myself, on what I gain out of life. And that is no way to live a Christ-centered life… I’ll do great if I’m going for a self-centered life! If I’m not willing to be upside down, then change in my life won’t come.
True change comes only when I fully let go. I must let go of my seemingly right-side up self; my right-side up life; my right-side up faith and I must be willing to run the risk of appearing foolish or upside down. I must be willing to examine myself thoroughly, to embrace my beloved-ness, to embrace my true self in Christ so that I can embrace that in others so that I can see others as beloved as they really are — broken like me. I must be open to shining my light in a new way at this turn of the calendar. The thought of it makes me dizzy.
Recently, in another new song I co-wrote, we wrote the line “it’s free, but it costs everything.” That is really how I feel about grace. I guess it’s why I love singing Sweet Little Jesus Boy. When I was a child I didn’t think it was a very good Christmas song. My dad used to sing it every Christmas. It talks about Christ’s birth and about sharing Christ. It talks about His death in the second verse–what kind of upside-down Christmas song does that? I guess one that I should keep singing each year. Christ birth without the rest of the story is meaningless to you and me. Our lives simply singing or speaking of Christ is as equally shallow. If I am not willing to share Christ; to risk compassion, love, empathy, comfort to others no matter how uncomfortable I may feel; then what’s the point of faith-a real faith anyway. If I live my life and faith only right-side up, I may never know the pure joy of Jesus’ upside-down purpose. I may miss an opportunity to see the world and to be willing to love what I see. I’ll be honest, I often get caught up in trying to change the world, when maybe I’m called to love it in its current state and to let God be in charge of what is right-side up and what needs to change. Maybe I’m scared that I might be the one changed. I might be challenged with the realization that I’m the one who is upside-down.
All of those thoughts from one little yellow plastic Jesus nightlight. Thanks Ally for getting it for me years ago, but more than that small gift, thanks for being one of those friends who loves with a love that is upside-down. You have always seen me, all of me, and loved what you see. To all of you who love each of us with upside-down love; who have helped us grow by loving us, crying with us, laughing with us, and by challenging and stretching us; you have whispered to us of a Jesus who is like none other. Tonight when I see my nightlight, I’ll say thanks to God for the gift of today and also for those who live the faith. Thanks for helping me let go of what a perfect Christian looks like and to be willing each day, to be an authentic follower of Jesus, as upside down as that may seem at times. As messy as this life can be, it’s the only thing that feels right-side up.
Happy Upside Down 2011!