For many years, I ran an adventure camp in northwestern Wisconsin. We offered a wide variety of activities to our junior and senior high campers, including mountain biking, ropes courses, whitewater canoeing, sea kayaking on Lake Superior, rock climbing, etc.. There was an activity that we tried one summer called Bubble Ball. Basically, it was a no-holds-barred version of soccer, but each player was encased in a blow-up body bubble made of clear flexible plastic, sort of like a human-sized beach ball that extended from above the head to just below the waist. Bubble Ball players could run full steam and crash into each other with abandon… and there were no consequences! It was immensely fun, and with little to no pain or injury. We did all recognize, however, that because there were no consequences, Bubble Ball bore little resemblance to reality, that is, to an actual game of soccer. To be honest, after a while, the appeal of Bubble Ball expired. There was something about the artificial nature of it that just got old.
In retrospect, much of my early life feels as if I was playing Bubble Ball. Growing up in a white, upper middle class family, there was never a time when I had doubts about whether I would have three square meals provided each day or a roof over my head at night. All of my friends pretty much looked like I did as did all of my teachers at school. Church was no different. I went to an Episcopal church where all the families looked pretty much like our family. The swim club that we frequented on the weekends was a little bit different in that everybody was wearing fewer clothes, but really, it was just the same as everywhere else — very middle and upper middle class and very, very white.
I knew that there were other people who weren’t as fortunate as we were, and certainly I knew that there were other people who had a different skin color than I, but I only knew about them, conceptually, that is. They lived in a different part of town and moved in different circles. I didn’t really know, that is, in a relationship sort of way, many people that were in a different economic state as we, and I certainly didn’t know anybody with black or brown skin. Truthfully, I had an immensely happy childhood, but in retrospect, I think that there was something a bit surreal about it all. It was as if we were in our own bubble, playing our own game of Bubble Ball.
In the tenth chapter of the book of John, Jesus makes the purpose of his ministry clear. He says, “I came that [you] may have life and may have it abundantly.” Abundant life. That’s the reason Jesus came. He was sent into the world so that you and I and every living thing on the face of this earth may have abundant life. Further, this abundant life that Jesus brings is not always immensely fun or immensely happy. Abundant life is about receiving the sacrificial offering of Jesus and, in turn, offering our lives as a living sacrifice for others. In other words, abundant life is anything but a game of Bubble Ball.
The abundant life that Jesus lived and calls us to live is genuine, real, oftentimes joyful, rarely convenient, sometimes uncomfortable, painful and even deadly. Abundant life is filled with some people who look and talk like we do, but filled also with folks who look and talk nothing like us. Living the abundant life that Jesus offers means bumping into people without the protection of a bubble. It entails being vulnerable and refraining from judgment. It requires a willingness to seek understanding and a commitment to justice and mercy and love. The promise is for relationship, real relationship, with God and with others. Abundant life is not easy, but it’s good. It’s really, really good.
So, take a few minutes and consider your life today. Does everybody kind of look and talk the same? Do the people that you bump into on a regular basis pretty much have the same sort of life as you with only small differences here and there? Are you really experiencing the abundant life that God offers us in Christ Jesus?
If not, then maybe it’s time to pop the bubble and get to know somebody whose skin is a different color than yours or whose bank account is less full. Maybe it’s time to become acquainted with somebody who experiences God in a different way or whose family history is so unlike your own. It takes guts to live without a bubble. But therein lies the life, the abundant life, that Jesus offers us all.