There is a lot of talk about Jay’s book. I mean, you don’t have a reality TV show made about you if you are boring (…well, in theory). From the context of Australia, it’s interesting to look out over the very different (and sometimes bizarre and disturbing) landscape of American Christianity and see how people are responding… and what people are focusing on.
People seem to like the tattoos. An inked up evangelical is apparently still a novelty for the press. When the conversation moves beyond being skin deep, there is much talk about how Jay has survived that very strange (and uniquely red, white and blue) eighties cocktail of media, faith, celebrity and scandal. It’s a small minority of us who could attend a support group for kids who watched their preacher parent go to jail and be mocked on Saturday Night Live. Fewer still who would come out of such a harrowing experience with the kind of lucid and generous faith that could turn potential bitterness into sweet generosity of spirit and real compassion. Sure there will be many who will revel in what some evangelicals have worked so hard to hide; the reality that ‘all have sinned’, there is not one group of humanity less problematic as the rest of us, that we are all continually (not just once) in need of God’s healing grace. It is this healing grace that drips from the pages of Jay’s book as it declares that our brokenness can speak of the beauty of the Gospel.
Maybe it’s because God’s gratuitous grace is still such a scandal that other conversations about Jay’s book are dominating the discussions. Conversations around the ‘shape of things to come’ for the future of American Evangelicalism and how it relates to issues of Biblical interpretation, justice and human sexuality. Reading Jay’s book I’m struck by the reality that those who would run to the Lord Jesus’ strange holiness of inclusion and embrace often run from Christians who embody a damaging ‘righteousness’ of exclusion and rejection that would rival the Pharisees.
On a personal note there is something that many will pass over that I want to thank my brother Jay for. This book is a hidden victory. Jay goes public on what many of us work our whole lives to hide in the shadow of the shame that we were schooled in daily from the time the bell went for our first class. Jay writes;
“My family crises were compounded by my problems with classwork in junior high. I had severe dyslexia, a condition that would go undiagnosed until seven years later, long after I’d dropped out of school. It made learning virtually impossible for me. And when I couldn’t keep up, I gave up and did what any frustrated son of fallen televangelists would do … I rebelled.”
Dr. Gorden Serfontein in his book by the same name “The Hidden Handicap” vividly sketches the reality for those of us (like Jay and myself) who have severe dyslexia who have had to struggle our whole lives leaping over invisible hurdles to achieve with what comes with ease to most. It wasn’t until I was involved in prison ministry for juveniles that I realised how this “hidden handicap” dictates the destiny for so many young people. In Western Australia the Aboriginal population makes up 2% of the overall population (due to a colonial of horrific oppression.) The population of people with learning difficulties or disabilities (those like Jay and I who are on the “neurodiverse” spectrum) are about 5%. Yet over 72% of the youth population in prison are Aboriginal and over 80% have some form of learning disorder. Either there is something inherently wrong with black kids and kids like Jay and I with dyslexia (*dose of Australian sarcasm*) or there is something seriously wrong with our society that this is where these young people in their pain end up.
Not just our rates of incarceration, but the rates of self harm, eating disorders, addictive behaviours and suicide dramatically outweigh the rest of the population. Brother Jay, this book is a hidden victory for all of those of us with hidden handicaps. Your depth of presence that comes from such pain, your wrestle with what so many have called a curse until even this is redeemed by grace to be a blessing, this is a thing of beauty.
So across the theological spectrum we thank you Jay, and thank our gracious Lord, for this hidden victory where we not only glimpse your humanity but the glory of the new humanity that is revealed in Jesus to be grace. It’s amazing.
Jarrod McKenna is the National Adviser for Youth, Faith and Activism for World Vision Australia. He is a co-founder of the Peace Tree Intentional Community in Perth, and the founder of EPYC for which he received an Australian peace award. You can follow him on Twitter here.
For more resources on Bakker’s new book Fall To Grace, including an excerpt, visit the Patheos Book club here.