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Subtracting Distracting Abstractions

headinclouds.jpgWe have names for it and them: head in the clouds, spaced-out, zoned-out, out-to-lunch, in a fog, unrealistic, lost, dreamy and living in a fantasyland. You know the type. They see complexity before they see simplicity. They zone out on the minute detail that nobody else pays attention to instead of considering the main object. They can look right at you without seeing you. They can hear you speak without knowing a word you’ve said. They are more apt to contemplate some obscure paragraph they read yesterday than zero in on what is happening at the present moment. They ponder the psychological and emotional reasons which would cause someone to stand there and aim a gun at them before they realize that the trigger has been pulled and a bullet is heading in their direction. Their mind is a million miles away. They don’t know how it got so far out and they don’t know how to get it back.

I have been a long time coming to this admission. I live way too much in the abstract. God has been a fascinating subject to ponder; eternity has occupied the machinations of my mind; the concepts of virtuosity have drawn me ever farther into nebulous realms where each thought births a hundred more thoughts, and each one trails off in a hundred more trajectories. Without boundaries, without real-time constraints, without flesh and blood demands, this cerebral journey pays no obeisance to measurable and quantifiable results.

Abstraction distractions are easier now than ever before. Computers and CAD (Computer Aided Design) programs have brought the abstract into vibrant view. Home owners can now walk through their homes, paint the walls, see carpet on the floor and arrange the furniture even before the footers have been dug. Car designers and engineers can view their concept cars from every imaginable aspect before the tool and die makers ever start production. Video gamers can put on a set of goggles and play tennis, go bowling or shoot decoys from the comfort and safety of their family rooms. Keyboard synthesizers can duplicate sounds of nearly every musical instrument or noise maker under the sun. We can see things that aren’t there, hear sounds from sources that don’t exist and interact with totally imaginary, computer-generated beings.

Jesus was an intellectual giant who, at twelve years of age, enraptured doctors of the law for hours. And this was only the tip of the iceberg for him. I marvel as much at the restraint he placed on his knowledge and wisdom as any attribute he possessed. Think about it. He could have blown away the scribes and legal experts. He could have engaged contemporary scientists and professors, inventors and innovators, doctors and engineers, researchers and technicians—the list is endless—in countless hours of discussion. He could have befuddled Socrates, stumped Plato, spun DeCartes in circles and sent Sartre up a wall. Had he unleashed another fraction of his brain power, he could have started the industrial revolution and sparked the superhighway of information centuries before they became realities. Omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence are the closest humans can come to describe his awesomeness.

But something fueled the passions of Christ beyond ingenious inventions . Something existed in his mind that surpassed any possible technological advances that may have come along centuries sooner than they did in human history. Jesus focused on a commodity whose value has no price. He came to seek and to save that which was lost. The gripping prophecies of the Old Testament, the marvel of the incarnation, the agony of Gethsemane, the ignominy of the cross and the glory of the resurrection all converged on this one vision—to purchase his bride for the ceaseless ages. Of all the vast array of divine tools at his disposal, he most certainly could have opted for a virtual Calvary, a display of mental calisthenics that would have accomplished the goals of redemption. He did no such thing.

No one was more capable than Jesus to live in the abstract. He is the God of the Logos. He chose, instead, to enter into the real world that he had created. He transformed the abstract into the actual. If the abstract was just as valuable and powerful as the actual, why would he have left it to enter the actual? Evidently, the conceptual, the theoretical, the hypothetical and the imagined must lack the fundamental quality of real experience. It is in the real world—restricted by time, vulnerable to pain, sensitive to loss and exposed to thousands of rogue forces and influences that external controls cannot insulate against—where we discover real truth. Mind games would not suffice when a baby had to be born in Bethlehem. When five thousand had to be fed, when Lazarus had to be raised, when moneychanger’s tables had to be upset, when a cat-o-nine-tails had to draw blood from a back, when a lonely figure had to be lifted up on a cross, the exhilarating ventures into abstract thinking would not work.

We stand around debating concepts and posing hypotheticals far too much. If there were no crises hanging over our heads, perhaps we could indulge in such leisurely activities. But, if the world needs to be saved, how much more do we really need to think about it? In every business, there comes a time in which the theorists need to turn over their ideas to the strategists. Then there comes a time when the strategists need to turn their plans over to the producers. Heap all the acclaim you want on the thinkers, but nothing substantial happens until the man on the backhoe, the guy with the trowel, the machinist leaning over his lathe or the nurse with her assortment of dressing bandages starts to work.

How many more ways can we explain Calvary? How many more versions of the Bible can we compose? How many more seminars and conferences and retreats can we have? At what point do the thinkers suck up so much of the oxygen that the workers fall in the streets? When abstractions become distractions we need some subtractions. How many xyz’s does it take to change a light bulb? Guess what? Just one. You. Go get the bulb, find the ladder, climb up and get it done while everyone else is still trying to figure out why the old light went out.

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