For… a plea for beauty

YouTube Preview ImageOur church staff was looking at this article yesterday, which articulates some data from the Barna research people about how Christians are perceived by those who are not.  I wonder if the real Jesus, not the one conservatives and liberals have fabricated, would be perceived as boring (remember when he walked on water, remember the accusation that he went to the wrong parties, the ones with unreligious people), or judgmental (remember the women caught in adultery who, in accordance with Levitical law should have been stoned, and he found a way to forgive her?), or insensitive to others?  The people who hated him the most were the religious experts – seminary trained, with big Bibles that they used to prove to themselves that Jesus was a heretic worthy of death  (John 5:39, Acts 13:27).  They’re the only people Jesus angered, at least until those people nearly incited a riot in their efforts to get him killed.  Then Rome stepped and helped put him to death.

The normal run of the mill people though?  They seemed drawn to the man, which is baffling because they’re not generally drawn to his body on earth today, the church.  Why is this?

Of course, this could be a huge conversation, because there are many reasons.  But let’s tackle just one:  We’ve become, frankly, rather utilitarian in our approach to relating to God, each other, and the world.  What do I mean?  I mean that we may well have the right ‘WORDS’ about the sin nature of humankind, and our need for reconciliation with God, which has been miraculously provided through the incarnation and death of Jesus (I John 2:1,2).  All of this is good and true, but it’s sort of like a house without any beauty  (see the attached movie).  The ‘gospel’ is good news, not only because it gets us justified… it’s good news because God is reconciling people to Himself and each other, breaking down dividing walls.  If we start breaking down walls too, by reaching across doctrinal divides, not to shoot our brothers but to share and learn from each other, we’ll add the beauty to the message.  The gospel is good news because the entire earth is going to be transformed (Romans 8, Ephesians 1:10,11), and so we can embody a little glimpse of this earth renewal by caring for our environment because God cares for His creation and we’re in His family.  The gospel is good news because, according to Luke 4, people are healed, debts are forgiven, captives are set free.  Unless you want to spiritualize all of that, and turn those things into a tract about getting to heaven, then maybe we ought to be working to set people free who are caught in human trafficking, and feeding the hungry, digging wells and opening clinics.  This stuff is beautiful.

Instead, we’re boycotting Old Navy, not because of unjust labor practices, but because they don’t say “Merry Christmas” in their ads.  This is more than embarassing, it’s angering.  It’s just another exercise in missing the point, and our house continues, to look to the world, like a prison camp filled with boring haters, rather than a welcoming home, the place where the beauty is so inviting we can’t help ourselves… we’re drawn.  This is what the church is supposed to be, and can be.  But only if we start behaving like Jesus.  Until then, we’ll continue to be like the people Jesus struggled with the most:  religious prigs.

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • http://arrowthroughthesun.blogspot.com/ BenMc

    … This is why I’m in the choir … which, like any service, can ossify into outward form rather than heart, but, like any service, can be used by the Spirit when God wills.

  • Kevin

    Can we take this rhetoric one step further and say that not only is the entire earth going to be transformed, but that it in fact has been transformed. Where once we the world was trapped in a cycle of life defined by death, every facet of the created world is now pregnant with the potential for life eternal, life unbounded. This to me is a wonderfully optimistic view of the world, and instead of seeing the work of the Kingdom akin to that of a quarryman, bringing about peace and justice by hammerblows, I participate in the Kingdom like a gardener, drawing out the seed’s potential for peace and justice slowly and lovingly. One does not rebuke a flower into blossom.

  • http://heritageofgrace.blogspot.com Rochelle

    This seems to line up so well with what I have been studying lately and that is the importance of the home and as a woman making it a home not just a place to live. Weather working or not, married or not we should make it a place of peace and welcome, where people want to be, a retreat for family and friends and strangers alike.
    Is the church not just this same concept in larger form? Should our church not feel like an extension of our home, inviting, a place of peace and refuge? I fear though that the homes are not this and we may not know on a small scale what this looks like to be able to replicate it on the larger scale. I pray that we would know that hospitality and practice it, large and small.
    Go Community dinner this week for your example in this practice!

  • Lamont

    Recently I was passed an email asking me to petition Metro to remove the ahteist coments about X-tianity that are plastered all over some of their busses.
    I refuse to do this! I want them to be free to state there opinions! Just as I want to be free to state mine (X-tian World view).
    I cannot disagree w/the article you noted above! I believe he is spot on!

    On the other hand,

    We’ll alway’s have differences in doctrine, but, how great is the difference? toungues, baptism, etc…
    I find it interesting though, that you seem to be writting from a vantage point where your niether a conservative, nor a liberal, Calvinist, nor Arminian. Your just…. right?
    Can you really pin point all the things wrong with all of “those others” out there, and how we need to jettison doctinal differences w/o difining what true Christian doctrine is? (Who is a X-tian?)
    For instance, Christians have no business uniting w/the Roman Catholic church on joint ventures, due to the fact they preach a different gospel? (Not that there aren’t saved catholics!).
    Wouldn’t you agree?

  • http://www.adrieldesign.net Adriel

    Growing up in the church my whole life, I never heard a directive to suppress my creativity, but as an artist, I felt like my imagination was constantly under fire. I felt like my particular church upbringing was fearful of imagination. After all, we might imagine bad things, right? “Oh no, don’t think of that, it may lead to imagination, and remember that leads to sin.” In a sense, I began to think that my God-given gift did not belong. (I knew it belonged in community, and art class, but certainly not the church.) Then after college, I stood in front of the Duomo in Milan. Groundbreaking took place, about a hundred years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Then they wrapped up construction around the time that the U.S. had completed 6 manned space missions. That’s a long time. I know we may never embark on a construction project like that again, but while standing there, I kept thinking, this was built to be a house of worship; beauty, creativity and Christ all in the same space. What a soul-searching concept. Now that I have been a practicing creative person for some time now, I no longer think artists are “different” than everyone else. The idea that artists are different from everybody else is a dangerous idea, an arrogant one. I believe a connection to beauty is strong in all of us. I believe that creative, created and Creator are often in a battle for feeling connected to one another. At the same time that the Duomo was reaching completion, and man was flying rockets into space, what were we Christians doing? We were lining up outside of the Beatles venues protesting; holding signs that read, “More Bible, Less Music!”

  • stephen

    Just seems like another example of Christians taking on more than their burden. They feel like it is their responsibility to transform the world, instead of letting the Holy Spirit do that and jumping on board with God’s mission already in progress. People see different ways to transform the world. I like Kevin’s point about ‘gardening’ the Kingdom rather than ushering it in through hammer blows. Either way though, God makes it grow, not us. So the only stress that we should have about the Kingdom is if we are refusing to be involved. We shouldn’t stress that it’s not happening fast enough. We shouldn’t stress that if we don’t do it, it won’t get done. (not saying we shouldn’t do it!)
    My point is that the anger seems to be from this stress of taking on more than our burden. Let the Holy Spirit do its work and be available when called upon to partner with it. It is not our responsibility to change the world. God is doing that. We just need to get on board. Am I wrong?

  • Jude

    I agree that scripture tells us many of the Jewish leaders were hostile toward Jesus. However, I disagree with your general assertion that the run of the mill crowd seemed drawn to him. There were three types of responses to Jesus – belief, indifference, and hatred. We see the hatred in stories of Jesus visiting his home town, in his followers abandoning him because of hard teachings, in multiple descriptions of people trying to seize him or picking up stones to throw at him. Those attempts were prevented because his time had not yet come. We know eventually the crowd did call for his death and succeed. People today respond to Jesus in these same three ways. As he said, “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil.” (Jn 7:7)

    You then suggested that people are not drawn to his body, the Church, today. I would counter that by pointing out the amazing growth of Christianity around the world. For example, in Africa in 1900 there were 9 million Christians, in 2000 there were 380 million Christians, and trends suggest by 2055 there will be 633 million Christians. Other areas where Christianity is growing are China and Latin America. Yet, we also see staggering persecution of the Church around the world, again evidence of the polarity of reactions to Christ.

    You said in closing that if the church were behaving more like Jesus, and showing a “welcoming home”, we would see people drawn without being able to help themselves. I suggest that if the American church is behaving like Jesus, we will be both welcoming like Jesus and bold about sin like Jesus. We should expect to see many who are drawn to Christ, many who don’t care, and many who hate him.


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