Last night my wife and I watched a 2004 movie starring Mandy Moore, Macaulay Culkin and a few others called Saved! The plot description piqued my interest (homosexuality, teen pregnancy, and hypocrisy in a Christian high school), but, I still braced a bit for what I thought would end up being a groundless and critical ambush on Christianity. What I found, though, was that it was a pretty accurate portrayal of the paradox that breeds in the evangelical Christian subculture: Christianity for the sake of convenience and good feeling, but, stopping short of carrying out what Jesus modelled and actually instructed his followers to do: love.
I’ve had my head stuck in the thick smog of evangelical pop Christian subculture before. It was comfortable and made me feel warm on the inside. On the other hand, my mind has also been disoriented by smoke-filled rooms crowded with other people in need, seeking something to make them numb. That was a time when I took great satisfaction in acquiring even a crumb of attention from a stranger in a bar, mixed in with my Molson, as if it were bread handed to me by Jesus Himself. And then, far too often, there have been moments when my brain has been sent for a stroll for the sake of some form of instant gratification, regardless of the possible consequences. I’ve seen and been somebody on the inside looking out and over everyone else from high upon the mountain of self-righteousness and I’ve also journeyed through the valley of self-centeredness, glancing up occasionally, yet always arrogantly, at the ignorant and self-righteous, before shaking my head and walking on to continue looking for the next distraction.
The most important realization that I’ve made as I look back on these experiences is that the various facets of culture that I’ve been alternately secluded from and submerged in throughout my existence in this world are really one and the same. People everywhere are in need and they try to meet or at least pacify their needs through a variety of means. The stubble-faced drunk stumbling down the sidewalk is in need of the same hope and peace that the tight-laced, smiling megachurch pastor needs.
God created each and every person on earth and each is valuable. So, the question then becomes, why do so many Christians cut themselves off from the rest of the world that Jesus came to save? If Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick…For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners,” (Matthew 9:12-13) why is the gospel preached almost exclusively behind closed church doors, at high-priced Christian concerts, on Christian music cruises, and in Christian high schools like the one depicted in Saved!? Better yet, if Jesus told us that, “all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another,” why are we as Christians known for preaching, but, not for actually loving?
I really believe that the most important Christian work is not being done by the televangelists, the well-paid, best-selling Christian authors, or the top-selling Christian musicians whose CD’s are featured in big endcap displays in Christian bookstores. Instead, the people who are really doing God’s work are those who are aiming their efforts at those on the outside. I believe that the gospel message means more when discussed sincerely between two friends over a couple of tall stout drafts than it does when it is packaged within the context of a sermon preached to the flock on Sunday. It becomes even more believable when those of us who claim to cherish the gospel actually live it out by putting the needs of others before our own.
The sincerity of the love that Christians are supposed to communicate becomes evident when the person on the receiving end understands that the giver has nothing to gain in the transaction. It should now be my goal, as a Christian, to actually live out God’s love more in my daily interactions with people instead of placing my needs and desires ahead of theirs as I so often do.
I can think back to this past Wednesday morning when a couple of people that I really respect made accommodations to meet with me and talk over breakfast despite the fact that they really had nothing to gain by giving that time out of their day to me. A tinge of guilt then sends shivers through my soul when I think about how much I take those around me for granted.
I have my work cut out for me.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34
At this point I should note that I’m writing this blog post, as many of mine are written, from the perspective of someone just attempting to work my way through these ideas and beliefs as a humbled and broken human. The ideas that I put down here, I believe, are based on eternal truths, but, as a person I am completely incapable of following through with. My only hope is in the grace of God as I continue to put one foot in front of the other.