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I have been thinking a lot about the difference between the ideal and the actual.

The ideal is who we want to be, what we project ourselves to be to others, and where we believe we are.

The actual is who and where we really are.

Honestly, it’s much easier to focus on the ideal versus the actual.

Academia, American culture, white culture, and even Western Christian culture often focuses on the ideal over the actual. But when we do this, we sometimes ignore the brokenness and injustice in ourselves and in the world.

This is how the religious leaders of Jesus’ day could have an ideal for upholding the law while neglecting the vulnerable ones the law aimed to protect.

This is how America could have an ideal of liberty and freedom while enslaving millions. Or have an ideal for justice while incarcerating more people than any nation.

This is how institutions (whether families, churches, political parties, or media) can have an ideal for truth and honesty, but stay silent in the face of abuse.

This is how you and I can talk and read and learn all about the Christian life, but still have shadow sides that we don’t want others to know about.

The truth is, the actual is much harder to look at.

The prophets point out the gap(s) between the ideal and the actual. This is why many of them are killed. This gap between what we say we believe and what we are actually living is what Jesus is getting at when he says be doers of the word and not just hearers. Or when he says to remove the logs from our own eyes first.

I went to a Christian college in undergrad where we attended chapel three times a week for four years. By the time I graduated I had heard a lot of sermons and frankly, I had heard enough. I was ready to go live it out.

So many people are talking about justice right now, but when will we actually do justly? There’s nothing wrong with being idealistic, but at some point the ideal has to be lived.

Our real work, in all areas of our lives, is to mind the gaps between our ideals and our actuals. This is what discipleship really is.

It is the embodiment of the things we say we believe. It’s what we actually live. It’s the practice of our values and beliefs not just the declaration of our values and beliefs. It’s the word become flesh.

In order to mind the gaps, we need authenticity to confess where we actually are and accountability to hold us to the ideals of who we say we are as individuals, institutions, and nations.

For the last 14 years, Mission Year has been an authentic space and Christian community that challenges me to see who and where I actually am so I can become who I say I want to be.


Image credit: Death to the Stock Photo



shawn-2Shawn Casselberry is Executive Director of Mission Year, the author of God is in the Cityand the co-author of the forth-coming Soul Force: Seven Pivots toward Courage, Community, and Change. He lives with his wife, Jen and dog Colin in North Lawndale, Chicago. Follow him on Twitter to read more.