Over the course of 34 years on the Internet (that’s no typo, either), I’ve acquired a set of Internet friends, people with whom I’ve interacted regularly but I’ve also never met in person. It’s a phenomenon of our age.
A common thread among those folks is their contrarian natures. They don’t think like the crowd. They plunge deeper than others into deep topics. They ask harder questions. They don’t settle for simple. By being this way, they rankle the complacent. As a result, the majority of them have struggled to fit in, whether in their local church or in what we consider “normal” life. Their work lives are almost always more challenging than the norm, and almost all have fought for years to find a place that suits their differentness.
Many years ago, I was asked to read a children’s book, Tales of the Kingdom by David and Karen Mains, as part of a job I had taken working with children. The book consists of a series of vignettes in the life of a young teen who flees a dystopian city of fire to find refuge among a rebel group living in the forest outside the city’s gates. Along the way, he meets a series of unusual people who are preparing for a great feast.
Based on The Story, Tales of the Kingdom is filled with biblical allusions and continues the tradition of Christian books such as Pilgrim’s Progress. My task was not only to read the book, but to find myself in it. Not surprisingly, I identified with the apprentice juggler.
Part of a troupe that entertained the king in the forest kingdom, the apprentice juggler hid a secret: his inner juggling count was off. He would throw at the wrong time. Tense catches didn’t happen according to expectations. When he performed the way that felt natural to him, his act teetered on disaster because it wasn’t smooth and didn’t conform to the standards of the troupe.
As a result, the apprentice juggler fell into despair and exhaustion at trying to hide his “broken” inner count and to please others.
In a performance before the king one day, fighting to act like his fellow performers, the apprentice juggler succumbed to his off-ness. Instead of jeering, though, both the king and the troupe master recognized him for having an unusual and rare gift as a clown juggler. He indeed lost his place within the troupe, but he took on another, more specialized role, one only he could fill.
At the time, I figured I was one of the few on staff who identified with the apprentice juggler. At almost 30 years later, I now understand that most people will see themselves in him. We all have our ways in which we fight to appear normal. We all have an inner count that’s offbeat, even if only by a fraction.
For some people, though, that unusual inner count comes by them naturally and defines them. The square peg in the round hole, no matter where they are or what they do, their lives–in thought, emotion, and soul–are not like the crowd. And despite the truth that all of us have a count that doesn’t perfectly conform, for these folks the difference is all the more glaring, especially when they are on the stage of life, beanbags in hand, ready to throw.
But it is one thing to be the contrarian in the human. Being one in spirit is quite another.
In the story, the king recognized the distinctiveness of the apprentice juggler’s inner count. He could because he does not conform either.
Jesus Christ came to us with an inner count we could not recognize in any way. It manifested in a manner we could not comprehend. For this, and for how He made us feel about our own inner count, we nailed Him to a cross. Even the apprentice jugglers of that age, who had waved palms at his arrival, stood among the crowd later that same week and demanded death.
The way of Christ means taking on His inner count. Not simply by being a contrarian in natural practice or thought, but in the way we engage Christ’s life and manifest it in our spirits. To be one with this King–and to be for His Kingdom–our inner spiritual count must be at odds with the world. By necessity. To try to be normal by the standards of the world is to concede. To force the traditional inner count of the rest of the jugglers is to deny the King.
Some of us are apprentice jugglers by the very nature of who God made us. In truth, though, His remaking us by His Spirit should always lead to an inner count that causes tension in the complacent, joy in those expecting the unexpected, and peace for all who struggle to find what is true and who long to see it reign. For this reason grace exists, that we can walk in that Kingdom count without fear, to be the men and women Christ is making us, without a care as to what the world thinks or what it might costs us to be like Him in His inner count.
Some apprentice jugglers are born, but all who desire to be in the Kingdom must be born again to experience the natural rhythm of living in Christ. In this, we all must be apprentice jugglers in the Spirit.