Increasing crime, corruption on every level, abject poverty, harsh brutality and a handful of imperfect heroes are what provide the storyline for a series on Amazon Prime that has recently sucked me in. Though I like shows that center on intrigue, I usually don’t go for this type of program. Why? Because I have an acute sensitivity which cannot handle themes in TV shows and movies which highlight stories of grave injustice. But because this show is set in a real city I’ve been to a few times, and because the characters and storyline are so real, rich and deep, I couldn’t resist being sucked in.
“Where you go is where you are.”
By season four, one of the main characters finally left the troubled police force to become an inner city school teacher. He had made a mess of his own career as a cop and decided it was time to leave all his problems behind for others to deal with while he started over as an educator. However, he soon found that he couldn’t escape his troubles by just changing careers. In despondency, he confessed to one of his fellow teachers that he feared life would never be different for him; no matter how hard he tried to put his past behind him, he always found himself right back in the middle of the same old thing. Her reply was simple: “Where you go is where you are.”
Her short but profound answer hit me hard enough in the moment to make me press the pause button on the remote. For years now, my close friends and I have had a saying among ourselves: “Wherever you go in life, you always have to take you with you.” In other words, you can chase after new relationships, jobs, locations, churches and more all in the hopes of finding a better and more meaningful reality for yourself. But, if you fail to stay put long enough to become your best self you’ll always be gravely disappointed, no matter how hopeful your new relationships and surroundings are. Why? Because you always have to take you with you.
It’s ok if you want to hit the pause button right now on this article and sit with that thought for a while. I did two nights ago…
Two thousand years ago, Jesus talked about how we must die to ourselves, or we must “lose ourselves to find ourselves” (Mark 8:35). In recent centuries, this passage has largely been interpreted in a negative light, often leading to needless self-punishing applications the strict Puritans of old would have loved. It wasn’t until the 1960s that a very ancient alternative thought emerged due to the rising popularity of an obscure monk named Thomas Merton.
After receiving a street-side revelation in downtown Louisville KY, he saw himself, humanity and the above passage very differently. Rather than seeing himself and the world around him as items to escape from, he looked deeper within himself to see the false identities and biased perceptions worth losing and dying to. He called it the struggle to let go of the “False Self” to discover the “True Self.”
Merton rightly recognized that is was not the relationships, occupations and surroundings that necessarily had to be cast off or left to die. Instead, it was all the inner identities, purposes, false needs and wants which needed to be mined in order to unearth the diamond deep within waiting to be discovered in the current fields of our lives. Does this remind you of one of Jesus’ parables?
Upon receiving this life-changing revelation, Merton returned to his same monastery he had called home for years previously, to the same relationships and daily duties, but no longer the same Thomas Merton. The impact of his transformation could not be hidden for long; no pure diamond can be. It soon reached beyond the confines of his humble surroundings and challenged a nation to look beyond pigmentation, status, creeds and traditions to the God-placed-true-diamonds hidden deep within everyone.
Merton beautifully describes the True Self in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander:
At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched… a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God… This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us… It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely.
Wherever Life Leads You
So, here’s to taking our best self with us wherever life leads. And, here’s to unearthing diamonds in our present relationships and surroundings. Blessings my friend; I believe you are who you are and so much more. I believe in a God who got his hands dirty making humanity ages ago, and is still willing to get his hands dirty today. God knows a precious gem is laying deep inside you and everyone… and I do too.