The Dirt On Christianity
I was sitting in the window seat of Starbucks when I saw him. People were walking on the downtown sidewalk, busy and preoccupied. They didn’t see him because he was small and insignificant. I couldn’t see the look in his eyes, but I was sure he was out for blood, his kind always are. He was right outside of the window, tapping on it, trying to make contact without arousing suspicion. He kept tapping the window, confused by his inability to connect, over and over, furiously, but nobody paid attention to him. I watched him until he finally left, following someone on the sidewalk, I knew there would be blood, with his kind there always is.
He was a mosquito. Sorry, I know that must seem so anticlimactic, but it makes a clear illustration. I had been sitting there in that Starbucks on a hot summer day, the elements and the street noise, the pollutants and the mosquitoes were all held at bay by a clear, thin sheet of glass. The world was there, I could see it, but I was “safe” from it, sitting in my window seat thinking about Jesus. The thing that separated me from the world was invisible, like the kingdom of God. I started looking at the glass, not focusing through it, but focusing on it.
That was what Jesus came to do, to help man stop looking through the kingdom and start seeing it, right in front of their faces. He had contempt for the hierarchy that covered the kingdom in blue robes and gold shutters. That’s what we do. We cover the kingdom with fancy covers and scrub it squeaky clean on the inside, maybe that’s why people call clergy “men of the cloth.”
There is a movement abroad, though, to take the covers off of the kingdom, to make the kingdom clear to everyone, but I have to warn you about the danger of uncovering the kingdom and leaving it clean.
When I was in the fifth grade I lived in Odessa, Texas. That summer I took a road trip with the local Boy’s Club. We drove about two and a half hours north to Lubbock, Texas to go to a boxing match. It was great!
Everyone was excited and we met the boxing champion, Sugar Ray Leonard. He signed the back of my Boy’s Club member card.
We left there and on the way home we stopped in a little town called Seagraves at a Dairy Queen. I jumped out of the bus, racing the director to get inside. Neither of us saw the glass enclosure. It was so clean it was invisible. I never slowed down, not even a slight pause, and I hit the glass at full force. Just before I reached it I sensed it was there, and threw my hands out. Both of my hands busted through the glass. I remember looking up, confused and scared. I yanked my hands back instinctively and eight feet of clean jagged shards of glass rained down on my face. The noise was incredible, the blood was terrifying, people were screaming. I had fallen backward and was covered in glass and blood. It was all over my face and both of my arms and hands were lacerated.
I was in a state of shock. Both of my lips are scarred and I have a scar on my right forearm and just above my left elbow. They are there, permanently reminding me of the danger of invisible enclosures.
Jesus came proclaiming a kingdom but He didn’t allow it to be so clinical, so sterile and clean that people could look right through it. No, he smeared it with mud (literally in the blind man’s case) and blotched it with prostitutes and tax collectors and dead people and Romans and demoniacs. You can see glass, even clear glass, but only when it’s dirty. He wants the world to be able to see the kingdom, but the church has been so busy trying to rub out the spots that it’s still invisible.
We seem to think that we have to represent the church as perfect, spotless with no messy smudges or smears. The Pharisees of Jesus day spent most of their time washing the window and never seeing the lost and broken humanity walking by and being pursued by the enemy. We’re still employed as Holy Window Washers, doing the same thing. We pay each other with knowing looks and airs of self righteousness as the holiness challenged common man walks by outside of the window. (That’s politically correct speak for low-down and dirty, good for nothing sinner man.)
The danger is when the world tries to come to God, they come running, not slowing down, not even a slight pause and hit it at full force. They are wounded when it comes crashing down on them because they think everything is going to be perfect. Here in America they think they are going to get a fancy car and a big house and a perfect marriage and all of their blemishes and imperfections are going to clear up, and they don’t.
Their life keeps grinding on and they still get diagnosed with cancer and have to live with AIDS. We tell them that God will multiply their offering ten times and they give ten bucks and then go spend $90 on a new shirt and tie and get their electricity cut off. I’ve watched them walk around dazed at church, ran into them at Wal-Mart and seen the scars on their faces and arms and hands. They’re in a state of shock and it’s our fault. We’re trying to make the church transparent, but we can’t keep pretending everything is perfect once you give your life to God. We are promised abundant life, not abundant perfection. Life is life. Sometimes it’s incredibly good, sometimes it’s incredibly bad, sometimes it’s incredibly routine, but it’s life. The beauty isn’t perfection, it’s the blend of the invisible kingdom and flawed humanity.
I was sharing this with my friend, Lowery Stallings, and he made a great point. When the world comes crashing in and they’re wounded and lying on the floor covered in blood and glass, we don’t reach out to them, pick them up and hold them, or render aid. We stand there in our self righteousness, with our arms crossed or our hand on our hip and index finger in their face and berate them for breaking the window! “Hey, stupid, you must not have repented right or you would be able to see the invisible kingdom. Let me teach you some doctrine.”
That’s it, really. It’s kind of like the old story of the emperor’s clothes. In his story the swindlers convince the emperor that only the smart people can see the invisible cloth, in ours the swindlers say that only the “holy” people or the ones that give more in the offering or have the right denominational affiliation can see the invisible kingdom. YOU CAN’T SEE SOMETHING THAT’S INVISIBLE! That’s what invisible means. It doesn’t matter how smart or holy or righteous or indoctrinated you are.
On the sixth day of creation, God took dust and covered man’s invisible soul blended with His Spirit. When man sinned he was kicked out of the garden and Adam and Eve left the garden, dust without Spirit. Jesus came to bring the invisible kingdom back to the dust and on the day of Pentecost God finally reunited Spirit with dust.
Religion is pretending that you can combine Living Water with dust and not get dirty.
Of course, God knows that in our self-righteousness, we have an aversion to the dirty. He knows that we use the kingdom as our insulator instead of making it a refuge for the hurting, so He has enacted plan A.2 (there’s no plan B, right?) You know what plan A.2 is?
Signs. Yep, signs.
You hang a big fluorescent green sign in the middle of a clean window and even though you still can’t see the glass, you know it must be there. There are some incredible moves of God in churches and sometimes it’s not because of the ministry staff, but in spite of it. When we rub out the blemishes and run off the dirty, God will post a sign on the kingdom for the sake of the people walking by. We thought it was all about us, huh? Tongues and miraculous signs, all of these things are done for the unbeliever to have something to believe in, because they can’t see the kingdom in us.
The kingdom of God will declare itself when the prostitute’s life is transformed and the demoniac is delivered and the drug addict is cleansed. Jesus said that His works declared His identity. He prayed that the kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven. In other words, what He did among humanity, the healing and the serving, the restitution and reconciliation, these things were his proof of the kingdom. They were signs so we knew where the kingdom was. He came to bring the human element into the eternal kingdom and the eternal kingdom into the human element.
On a good day, when the Son is shining just right, the Light will reflect off of the Kingdom so brilliantly that you won’t be able to see past it. The only thing you’ll see, of course, is the Son.
The trick to it all is really just to change your idea of what God is trying to do. He didn’t call us to be perfectly transparent. He called us to be translucent. The difference is just allowing the light to shine through, minus the perfection.