i hate to pick on fabio, but honestly, I do not know what his appeal is. he’s just so….perfect. those abs, the flowing hair, the perfect smile, those penetrating eyes. if you could can the world’s view of “perfect specimen” of course he would be it. (i will admit i do have a weakness for long hair, jose had me under his spell when he grew his hair out last year and had that liberal-lawyer-surfer look! too bad he has to keep his job as mr. conservative united pilot) but, back to fabio. and Jesus.
a few weeks ago, I was watching the trinity broadcasting network, the home of christian-evangelical-name-it-and-claim-it-craziness. we are talking a serious multimillion dollar industry—all in the name of Jesus. it actually is quite nauseating but our friend nadia was asked to write a book about her experience of watching TBN for 24 hours straight. she wanted to add some flavor to each hour, so she invited karl & i over to offer our perspectives since we are now pretty much former good evangelicals who now live in the sh**ty christian camp. well our hour slot included a ½ hour program called God Wants You to be Wealthy where the “speaker” wore a silver trenchcoat mini-mini dress with 4 inch heels and tried to hock her book “God wants you to be a millionaire.” She encouraged us to “sow our best gift now” by donating to her program. don’t even get me going on that one. but my commentary for the moment is that she was perfect in every way, with off the charts confidence, and an absolutely convincing delivery to all of the poor souls who are just hoping for some kind of crumb to make their lives better. her promises were ridiculous and using God that way just really gets to me…the other 1/2 hour program featured the Holy Land Adventure theme park in orlando, with Jesus reenactments throughout the day. guess who Jesus looked like? yeah, fabio.
have we simply made God in our own image? we want Jesus to be hip, cool, appealing. that’s what we are drawn to—images in people magazine & cosmo. christianity (mostly the american version) have become the root of a money making machine, a business that is fine-tuned and finessed to perfection. we like to watch and listen to people who are good looking, smart & make life look simple. this flawless, easy, and comfortable appearance has become a staple of church programming. we want to make the gospel easy for people to get. we want to make their church experience comfortable, distraction-free. we don’t want anyone to be offended. we want Jesus to be attractive. what Bible are we reading for goodness sake? Jesus was ugly. not cool. not worldly. not slick. not hot. the old testament prophet isaiah describes him this way:
he had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
he was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (isaiah 53:2-3)
does this look like the Jesus most churches are trying to sell? does this look to you like any of the pretty, neat, and tidy intact families you see on most church programs & websites? I don’t want to dismiss all those pearly white teeth and smiling faces, but come on, people that look like that, really only “look” like that. and here’s the rub–these are the people most churches are trying to attract. pretty, happy, smiling, successful, confident, married with 2.5 kids. they look great—on the outside.
well, Jesus surely wouldn’t have made the photo shoot cut. there’s no glamour in who He was, what He did, and what He has called us all to. in fact, not only is it not glamorous, but it’s downright stinky, dirty, and as ugly as you can get. feed the poor, hug the lepers, give away all of your money, care for the prostitutes, share your stuff, sacrifice your pride & comfort & family’s name, lay down power, hang out in the slums, be honest about all the daily struggles in your imperfect life. that, my friends, is the gospel. you see, it can’t be cleaned up. because real humanity, people trying to live this difficult Genesis 3 life, isn’t pretty. it’s full of pain and insecurity and shame and sin and craziness and desperation. i don’t care how pretty you try to dress it up on the outside, it just isn’t all that attractive. now I personally find it beautiful beyond words—all that rawness, dirt & sweat rubbed up against honesty, unconditional love, grace, healing, and hope. to me, it’s glory. i believe wholeheartedly that Jesus came to dwell with us in the stench and offer beauty and redemption in the midst. He sits in the muck and isn’t afraid of it because it’s real.
so why are we so afraid of it? i am. i admit it regularly. i think it’s because i often make God in my own image. i lump Jesus into all my worldly ideas about success and value and beauty. everything has to be fabio-like, but in reality, life gets ugly. yeah, i can clean up the outside pretty nicely, but it’s just christian window dressing. my faith isn’t strong enough to heal me, victory is not my middle name, shame is. i can never really measure up. i keep screwing up the same things over and over again. i know that’s the big idea of the gospel—we can’t. i can’t. it’s why i so desperately need the real Jesus and His grace, His hope, His help. the whole big idea here was always our heart, the stuff on the inside, but that is always the most dangerous place to go. my hour of TBN tv-watching just reminded me how often the current contemporary “church” (and me, when i’m making God in my own image) isn’t into the real Jesus. and i think that there’s a simple reason—the real Jesus is unpredictable, wild, crazy, and asks us to do hard things in our life that require us to get up off our comfy seats, peel our eyes off the video screen, and engage in the ugliness & beauty of other human beings. to bring what’s underneath our veneer and coverups to the table and look beyond what we see on the surface in others, too. money, power, comfort. strength, worldy beauty. none of it means a damn thing in God’s economy but it sure gets some serious airtime in the american church, and not just the ones on TV. Jesus, forgive us, for making you in our image. we admit, it’s a really bad (albeit easier) idea.