A few years ago, Stephen Colbert did a hilarious video about the need to make Catholicism cool again. He made it as a response to a Mormon video that shows Mormons doing cool, amazing things in their lives. Colbert’s video featured a surfer Catholic dude on a skateboard, playing the electronic guitar and high-fiving a tiger.
Check it out Here.
Colbert is poking gentle fun to lampoon the worldview of these church promotional campaigns. And, in case anyone thinks I’m picking on the Mormons, evangelicals and Catholics are often much worse. I sometimes feel like it’s a “please like us” campaign or maybe we think people will be lead into the kingdom of God because we can high five tigers and eat ‘za while do it.
Colbert’s video is meant, I think, to remind Christians about Jesus’ words in the Gospel reading for Sunday. The kingdom of God is for the last, the rejected and the losers. How do we know this? He uses the metaphor of the narrow gate. This is a powerful idea because it means we can bring nothing with us. A narrow gate means you have to squeeze, squirm and conform your body to pass through it. We’ve got to drop our cool lives, our perfect families, our amazing money-making jobs, and our beauty to even be a part of the kingdom of God.
This is a call for us to embrace humility and that’s really hard, especially for American Christians who’ve been raised on steady diet of success stories. Instead of trotting out stories of failure and loss, we bring out the athletes, the celebrities and the politicians as supposed validation of the Kingdom of God. But to learn true humility, you’ve got to fail and to fail big. This is especially true if your life is full of spiritual pride and arrogance.
There’s nothing cool about this process. It doesn’t look beautiful or hip. It’s messy, gross and terrible. Take it from me. The last four years of my life have been an unending series of catastrophic failures in my personal and professional life. In order to learn about the Kingdom, I had to learn my lessons in the schoolyard of purgio.
And, Christ have mercy, how I learned.
Here is my litany of failures:
I failed at everything. I failed at being a minister. I failed at being a husband. I failed at being a dad. I failed at being a good friend. I failed at being a good college student. I failed at being a good employee.
If you look at my life, there’s not a lot to be proud of, at least, not in the areas that count. No one is going to hold me up as the model Christian, model Catholic, model Dad, or model (ex -)husband. Nothing about me screams, “Hey, do it as I just did it.” Nothing about my life meets the American Christian model of success or vibrancy. And there is nothing really cool or mind blowing about me. People call me a geek. I have crooked teeth.
And now, I’m ready to move into the kingdom after 42 years. I’m ready to learn how to really be a saint, not just what I believed as a white American Christian. I can now enter the narrow gate, because I’ve got nothing left. I’m naked, alone and afraid.
The beautiful thing is, Jesus promises that when I walk through that narrow gate, I’ll find the kingdom of God. And it’s not going to be easy. It’s not going to be glorious. There won’t be many times I get to high-five tigers. But, for once in my life, I’m actually learning what it means to follow Christ, to take up my cross and stumble after him.
What does that look like? Honestly, I’m afraid to ask. I really don’t want to know what lies ahead of me on this last half of my life. Chances are, it’s going to mean a life of struggle, sadness, and pain. There are going to be things that happen to me that break my heart.
But, see, losers like me get our heart broken because we’re open to love. We’re open to the fire of the Kingdom and it’s dangerous. It requires us to constantly get our heart broken and unite with Christ in his suffering. You can’ t make a cool video about that, because there’s nothing cool about it.
The good thing is, we’re given other people to walk that journey with. For too long, I’ve tried to do things on my own and make myself the sole guardian of my spiritual life. Thankfully, I failed at that as well. When I look at this week’s readings for Mass, I see that I’m surrounded by a Great Cloud of Losers, Wankers, malcontents, bitches, douches, failures, losers, and other assorted broken people. We’re all journeying towards the banquet at the world’s end where true love comes to teach us about the narrow gate of love.
I’m thankful for them because they get what it means to fail. And be loved in spite of that failure.