Keep it real. The only true path to Christian discipleship is through being a real person.
You know the disingenuous type. The dude who sits in the church pew looking like he’s never passed gas in his life. The lady who can purse her lips so tight she looks like her head’s going to implode. The poor kid who wants to break it down in the church aisle, but Mom and Dad are so into how it all looks that they shush him like a steamroller over marshmallows.
Then, there’s the pastor. Sometimes he (it always seems to be a he, not a she) is either so stiff and bashes on every people group on the planet except his own that you wonder if the guy’s ever been seen in public without a chaperone, or he’s overly trying to be hip and cool to the point of looking like a hippo stuffed into skinny jeans.
C’mon, man, let’s just keep it real, okay!?
How about we drop the pretense, the preening, the posturing, the positioning, the pedigree-ing, and any other p-word we can come up with? Let’s try on something else on for size: humility; vulnerability; authenticity; genuineness; and, being real. That’s the cost of discipleship.
Let’s consider Jesus for a minute. I just can’t bring myself to ever picture the Lord of the universe looking like any of the dubious aforementioned persons in the church. But I certainly can envision him just the opposite of them all.
I’m not trying to make Jesus in my image. I’m just attempting to gain a glimpse of the unfiltered Jesus, minus the weird white-European-I’m-stuffing-all-my-emotions-down-to-my-intestines Jesus. The unvarnished Jesus we see in the New Testament Gospels is a God-Man who gets angry at injustice, cries with others over a death of a loved one, has unbounded words of grace for marginal people, heals those who know they need it, and has no problem knocking down proud Pharisees to size, instead of cuddling up and trying to make them happy. The Lord I see is a complicated bundle of emotions, paradoxes, seeming contradictions, and eagle-eyed and laser-focused on doing his Father’s will.
I don’t know about you, but I want to be like Jesus, not anybody else. I want to learn to love with abandon, teach like I mean it, be secure and confident in my own skin, and constantly commune with Father God. I want to get rid of anything that gets in the way between me and doing God’s will, and to speak with authority without being a jerk about it.
Maybe you, like me, are concerned for all the “none’s” out there, that is, the persons who don’t affiliate themselves with any religion, much less Christianity. I feel like I understand them. In a way, I feel like I’m one of them. I find myself having a zero tolerance for pretentious “Christians.” The fact that I keep sensing the need to put adjectives in front of the word “Christian” tells me that something is terribly awry in the church – “real” Christians, “fake” Christians, “authentic” Christians, “Pharisaical” Christians, “grace-filled” Christians, “legalistic” Christians… on-and-on ad nauseum. Sometimes I get fed-up with the adjectives and just want to start labeling myself a “fartknocker” Christian just to keep everybody on their toes.
If you’ve stuck with me this far, I’m finally going to get around to quoting some Scripture. Jesus said:
“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25, NRSV)
“I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:61-62, NRSV)
“There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22, NRSV)
“Those who serve me must follow me. My servants will be with me wherever I will be. If people serve me, the Father will honor them.” (John 12:26, GW)
And the Apostle Paul said:
“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1, NRSV)
“You imitated us and the Lord. In spite of a lot of suffering, you welcomed God’s word with the kind of joy that the Holy Spirit gives.” (1 Thessalonians 1:6, GW)
Christians are people who follow Jesus, period. They live into the words and the ways of Christ. Many of the “none’s” just can’t reconcile their experience of church and their observations of Christ, so they jettison the church while finding Jesus compelling.
But what if they found church compelling, as well? What if, instead of seeing pursed lipped women, uptight men, and restricted kids they instead found a bunch of fartknockers just trying to discover Jesus and live for him?
Maybe I’m preaching to the choir, or perhaps I’m ruffling some peacock feathers. It could be that I’m being too banal with sacred things, like some cornfed yokel. But it might be that I’m not being hackneyed enough and need to go further into the ordinary. Maybe we have come to the place of so much bromide religion that we are left with a vapid soul. In short, we’ve lost our way.
Well, if that’s the case, Jesus is the only person who’s going to save us from our humdrum life and platitudinous pandering of kitschy Christianity (there I go with the adjectives again). It’s likely high time we leave it all behind, get real with ourselves and follow him. Wax figures sitting in pews can’t follow anybody – only real blood and guts people with actual insides can do that.
Lent is almost over. If you haven’t gotten around to reading one of the Gospels, hurry-up! Get to it! Okay, I’ll throw you a bone: The Gospel of Mark is the shortest of the four. For the compulsive overachievers out there, Luke is the Gospel for you. Whether you need to get up earlier or stay up later at night, I encourage you to make it happen. I’ve never known anyone who has read an entire Gospel in one or two sittings and not walked away profoundly changed in some way.
If you do it, come back and tell me what it was like to read a Gospel. I’m curious and wonder what you get from it.
And give it to me straight. Keep it real.