For the first time (I think), I’m about to post something I wrote in my capacity as a “real writer” rather than spontaneous and disjointed blog musings. I crafted this really witty, clever bit about posting my real writing, complete with all sorts of self-disclosure (the kind that begged for all you amateur psychologists to have at me) and self-deprecating humor about whether or not I am a real writer. Then, in a twist of divine irony, I mistakenly erased it all. The irony, of course, is that a real writer should always know to always save his work always. Always. But I didn’t. So now you get the sad second effort. And that was it.
Before the essay, let me try to briefly describe two processes that are significant to the daily goings-on in Thadland. The first is mostly mental. I constantly ponder and analyze and theorize about how I view life, how others view life, and how life really is despite the warped ways we all view it. I don’t claim to be contributing anything important or lasting to the global thought pool, but I’m thinking nonetheless.
The second process is more earthy and emotional. It’s me trying to actually live the results of the first process. This, of course, is much more difficult and humbling. I can be a genius in my living room and a fool in my front yard. Some of the time I try hard to be a good guy, to pursue integrity of belief and action, and to live a useful, sacrificial sort of life. Sometimes I watch four episodes of Seinfeld in one day. For better or worse, more than anything I want to follow Jesus. Sometimes I think that means I need to try harder. Sometimes I think it means I need to quit trying so much.
Wrapped up in all of that is a big, ongoing wrestling match between one set of assumptions about what it means to follow Jesus and a growing sense in my soul that Jesus didn’t author many of those assumptions. The challenge, then, is to continue to pursue the true Jesus—knowing who he is and how his followers are supposed to live in the world in 2004.
So, because I’m a compulsive belly-button staring philosophically obsessed pinhead, I think about this stuff all the time. Well, not all the time, but at least when I’m not watching Seinfeld. While thinking about some of this, I pasted together this little essay that I’ve decided to call: The Great Omission – Why Jesus didn’t call people fags or preach about pledges to flags. Isn’t it a great title? The brilliant poetry notwithstanding, it’s just inappropriate and long enough to be utterly unprofessional, which should help me convince you that I’m a real writer.
Anyway, this essay was inspired by many years of questions…by debates about school prayer…by lawsuits over the words “under God”…by the images of people weeping on the steps of the Alabama Supreme Court as Judge Roy Moore and his Ten Commandments Monument were defiantly hauled away (I really just wanted to give those folks a hug)…and by many well intentioned people I know and love who long for a return to an America I never knew.
The Great Omission – Why Jesus didn’t call people fags or preach about pledges to flags
As if my inbox wasn’t already bloated with unsolicited email offering me great deals on prescription drugs and other products to “enhance” my life, I recently received another shamelessly rehashed email forward. You know, one of those with a subject line that starts like this: “FW: Fwd: Fw: FW: Fwd: FW:” where you have to scroll down for three minutes just to locate the actual message. This one came from a well meaning Christian acquaintance, and it urged me to take up arms against yet another part of the culture whose apparent aim was the destruction of Christianity, the church, the family, and everything I stand for.
There are seventy-seven thousand (roughly) of these things floating around, but this was one I’d seen several times over the past four or five years. After receiving it the first time, I had to dig for all of thirty seconds to confirm that the tale was a gross mutation of an actual event. The email’s author—and perhaps a few “editors” along the way— altered, abbreviated, and exaggerated the story to convince me (and, I suppose, the other 4.3 million recipients) that the world is going to shut down the church, ban God, and eat our children if we don’t stand up and fight. Ok, so that Mike Tyson bit wasn’t in the email, but you get the point.
These emails remind me of something I don’t like about “us” very much. We Christians have a peculiar appetite for inflammatory tales—stories that make us mad and give us a chance to rant about other people’s sin. We’ll even avoid or alter the truth if we feel like we can slay a few dragons for God along the way. It’s a weird little subculture we’ve perpetuated, and I’m not sure we realize how little resemblance it bears to the Kingdom of God.
In more ways than I have space to list, we’ve embraced a warped and treacherous reality. In fact, I’m convinced that the greatest threat to “us” is us. In spite of our fondness for casting it in this role, the culture is not our true enemy – not rock bands, TV networks, or political agendas. Scripture defines our enemy pretty clearly, and all these other objects of our wrath are merely players in a drama whose nature is far more spiritual than is our standard cache of moralized weaponry. Indeed, our own obsessions and fears may be the greatest threats to tear our attention and affections from the very Gospel we’re so anxious to defend.
So then, how should we respond to the ever accelerating erosion of decency? Do we surrender all efforts to elicit a greater morality from our culture? It’s a tough question, but one worth pondering. Even if our desire for an essentially decent culture is well-intentioned, is it realistic or even biblical to expect unbelievers to live according to our moral code? We seem convinced that, if we could only get the world to clean up its act, God would be happy and our lives would be more comfortable. While the latter may be true, that assumption seems to put the sanctification before the salvation (to theologize a cart and horse metaphor). At the very least, some of our crusading seems symptomatic of misplaced priorities.
About 100 years ago, the London Times asked a number of writers to submit essays in response to the question, “What’s Wrong with the World?” Pause for a moment and consider how you’d answer that question. Think about the responses you’d get if you had everyone in your church answer it….
Terrorism. Pedophiles. Drugs. Pornography. Britney. Gigli. Elimidate. Bill Clinton. (We just can’t let go of that one, can we?)
And those are just the reasonable answers. I’m sure you can conjure up a much longer list of what’s wrong with the world. I know I can. We’re all experts on everyone else’s sin.
One of the essayists surveyed by the Times was G.K. Chesterton, a brilliant, prolific writer who was also a Christian. The essay he returned to explain “What’s Wrong with the World?” read as follows:
My process of sanctification is messy, sporadic, and wholly dependent on grace. I don’t know if you can relate, but Chesterton’s honest humility is a nice reminder that I’m not alone. If it’s like that for those of us who claim to be in relationship with God, can we really expect godliness from a culture that ascribes no value to Christ? Moreover, do we really want a manmade holiness from people prior to them knowing Jesus? Sure, a cleaner, safer world would be nice and cozy, but do we so covet a revival of a bygone era that we’ll spend our time and money fighting for a culture that’s apparently moral but fundamentally Godless?
My questions aren’t intended to discourage, but rather to wonder aloud if we may have missed God’s heart in how we interact with and respond to the world around us. Let’s ask Jesus.
As we read the stories of His life, we find that Christ’s interactions with the people He encountered—prostitutes, drunks, thieves, demoniacs—drip with love and grace. He doesn’t ask them to clean up their own mess—morally, mentally, or emotionally—apart from or prior to knowing Him. Jesus certainly speaks bold and hard truths, but His harsh (different than hard) words or actions seem to be reserved for the religious establishment. I’m not sure, but I think that should be alarming for a modern religious establishment that tends to direct its venom at the world (paging Reverend Falwell).
The consequences of our confusion are grave. If Christ left the Church to “go into all the world” with His Gospel, surely He isn’t pleased with our tendency to view those in the world, as Brian McLaren accurately describes, “through the gun slits of a Christian bunker.” Perhaps it’s time we start to approach the culture the way God approached us when we were separated from Him.
Ours is the ultimate tale of being saved because love found us despite ourselves. God looked down at lost and dying people and, rather than standing afar and demanding right behavior, actually became one of us. The Incarnation of God in Christ is the most dramatic and compelling model (and, frankly, the only legitimate model) for how we’re to carry the Gospel to those around us.
We aren’t here to prove that we’re right or morally superior; we aren’t called to create or proclaim rules and standards for people to follow; we weren’t commanded to hide in our churches and Christian campuses and lob God-grenades over the wall at those who are, according to our particular matrix, already perishing. Our call is, as God did through Christ, to dwell among the people, befriend them, love them as they are, and—with our mouths and our lives—introduce them to the true Christ. That’s God’s response to the culture, and that’s how the culture will discover redemption, righteousness, and the life that is truly life.
Oh…and if you still can’t give up the email campaigns, find someone else’s inbox to incarnate with that stuff. Mine’s full.