The young adult conference in Denmark had just ended. I was now in Odense, walking around the city with my hosts. At the risk of triggering your inner Lewis Black, eager to keep you from enjoying something innocent and sincere, I’ll say this: it was Life. The weather, the conversations, getting beat by Jasmin in card games, the encounters I had in parks and restaurants, all of it…
Life. Rich, delicious Life.
But there’s a problem with using that word. It doesn’t mean anything to you anymore. It’s possible it never did.
When I try to tell you about the morning I walked around Denmark, eating the most fresh, delicious Danish of my life, I have a problem conveying it correctly. If you’ve lived your life grabbing a “Danish” from gas stations, the kind that come wrapped in plastic with orange stickers on them telling you it’s best you eat them before June of 2021, you’ll fluctuate back and forth between self-doubt and disgust when I say this Danish was to die for.
I say Danish. But you’re thinking, Gross gas station snacks?
You’ll think two things, one after the other.
- Something is wrong with me. I don’t enjoy gross gas station snacks like Arvin, Sara, Segun, Mohammad, etc. I need to try harder.
Then, when trying harder only makes you sick—
2. Something is wrong with Arvin. He’s not being honest. I need to bail.
When I describe to you the feeling I had walking around Paris at sunset, the streets full of people and the Eiffel tower lighting up the horizon in front of me—you’ll have trouble sincerely agreeing with me if you’ve only been to Paris, Texas.
I’ve seen it, Arvin. It’s not that great.
I say, “Wow! Paris had me speechless.” But you’re thinking of paris.
You’ll think two things, one after the other.
- Something is wrong with me. I hate paris. I couldn’t wait to get out of there.
- Something is wrong with Arvin. His appetite for excitement must be more easily satisfied than mine.
“I have come that you may have life.”
Oh Jesus, Did you really?
Because T-shirts that rip-off real brands to celebrate Christian puns and music limited to a tired vernacular with forever-predictable chord progressions and awful movies guaranteed to disappoint due to their blatant dishonesty and disregard for basic principles of Story and communities of people who’re just “doin’ life together” do not taste at all like Life. They taste like Diet Life. “All the taste with none of the guilt…” until we find out the chemical secretly being put in this stuff is actually much worse for us…so we bail.
I’ve grown up thinking these two thoughts, one after the other:
- I’m not enjoying the life Jesus has for me. There must be something wrong with me.
- I’m not enjoying the life Jesus has for me. There must be something wrong with Jesus.
I can count on one hand the number of Christian kids I grew up with that still consider themselves Christians today. They landed on the second thought, deconstructed their childhood faith…and never moved on. They’re still discussing what’s wrong with the Church or short term missions or “Insert Your Personal Beef with Christianity Here” while drinking the $7 cup of coffee, the details of which they can religiously explain to you.
But there is a third thought—
What if your Danish, your Paris, your Jesus, your Christian Life—are all Diet versions?
I shared drinks with a friend who informed me she was no longer a Christian. But as she described her reasons for departure, they sounded precisely like my reasons for diving deeper and figuring things out. To this day, her and her boyfriend are some of the most Christlike people I know.
We’d both left the diet versions behind…but she didn’t know what she’d been encountering wasn’t the real thing. Those church people who rejected her weren’t wearing the belt of truth, they were beating her with it. The truth can either set you free or be your weapon in enslaving others; and you must pick—you cannot have both.
Growing up, I was always perplexed when I’d vent my frustrations about Diet Jesus and Diet Life to my Dad, and he simply couldn’t understand.
He’d been rescued from several suicide attempts and ideologies that forced him to hate anyone who wasn’t like him. Jesus didn’t just “save” him, Jesus got him out of his execution date. He got him through heavy interrogations and whatever else they did to him in that Iranian prison where his friends had been murdered. My Dad was delivered from prison to Paris, and he never fails to enjoy the scent of fresh baguettes.
I, on the other hand, found western Christendom to be a different sort of prison—one where Jesus is either my favorite pimp or porn star, depending on how I’m feeling that day. I didn’t need to be delivered from suicide attempts or interrogation rooms, I needed help getting out of paris, Texas.
Dad couldn’t talk about Jesus without crying.
I couldn’t talk about Jesus without sighing.
As I sat back from the greatest meal I ever had in Odense, Denmark,
or observed the beauty of a cities both ancient and modern around the world,
or encountered the Mountains I’m looking at in Denver where I’m currently writing this,
I begin to understand.
Jesus did not come to provide Diet Life, he came to get rid of it. He came to rescue us from it. The enemy of an Abundant Life is not death, it’s fake life…Diet Life.
As I let that settle in my heart, I realize what my Dad was crying about this whole time— and I think it’s time I joined him.