What kind of success story is it which climaxes with a grisly execution of the hero?
Yeah, it’s the story of Jesus Christ. Following Jesus means I’m driven to fail in the same terms, that is, in terms of worldly success. I won’t make much money, and will probably lose a lot of it. Few people will remember my name, mostly because this is about Jesus, not me. Stuff I write is highly likely to be lost and forgotten, because all I’m doing is translating something ancient to my own snapshot of whatever passes for current culture. The only thing people are likely to remember is the few things I’ve written which connect them to eternity they find within themselves. That’s the whole point. We aren’t building anything here, but somewhere far beyond.
To make sure I fail completely, I’m even taking the step of joining a regular church in the next few weeks. Frankly, it won’t matter what brand it is, as long as they tolerate my presence and let me get involved. Yes, I encourage anyone who considers himself/herself a fan of my stuff to join a regular church, or stay with the one you now attend. Nothing I write here or anywhere else is intended to create a separate identity. That business of “Tribulation Church” is supposed to be as generic as it gets, while offering a nod at the times in which we live. If any local church will have you, get involved there, and let them see you are different, and tell them why. Don’t mention my name unless the context compels you to, just talk about your commitments. This is not about me.
No, I haven’t thrown away the house church model. But I hesitate to make that a defining characteristic. If you can manage your own church at home and it draws a wider community, do that. If not, don’t use it as an excuse to become isolated. We are not of this world, but we are in it. Touch it and change it. Don’t get hung up on methods. At the same time, know that the fullest expression of your faith and worship will always be something which does not arise from mainstream organized religion. Keep your church affiliations and your house church, both at the same time, because we are not building a denomination, even though we can’t avoid certain human distinctions which cause us to use labels.
Trying to make sense, and use, of what I offer of my faith should be one the hardest things you’ll ever do. You should always come away with the sense you aren’t too sure you understand everything I write, or at least that some of it just doesn’t work for you. No carbon copies, thank you. I don’t like cute, memorable lists of practical steps to whatever can be called “success” in my faith. Even my Three Pillars is nothing more than my personal organization of something nearly impossible to explain, and you really should make your own outline. Change the terms, rewrite the explanations, and renumber your own list. It takes a lot of work for any of this to accomplish anything at all. Then you, too, can become a failure like me.
And maybe something in our lives will reflect the sort of “success” which characterized the mortal life of Jesus.
On the way to this non-goal, I came across a marvelous critique of modern American churchianity near the end of this article. In keeping with my own principles, I am going to rewrite the thing, and lard it with sarcasm:
1. Everybody is looking for the next fresh fix of enthusiasm. We need something to stir our emotions, but not too much of our thoughts. Just gimee something I can carry in my pocket or wear with my current fashion statement so I can make Jesus part of the branding. Anybody seen my “Street Thugs for Jesus” rap CD?
2. I want it short and sweet. Drop me a little list of memorable, pithy ideas or rules. I need something I can recite on the way to work to keep my attitude up. Don’t make me work through normal human experiences, with all the highs and lows of the vast array of shadings. Keep it simple so I can pretend to have discipline.
3. Give me superstitions. Folks need to be spooked when I react strangely to common things in our world. Bonus points if my fad is a reaction to another fad. I want at least a half-dozen quirky fables so folks will know I’m “different” and I can use that as an excuse to rattle off my memorized gospel sales pitch. Isn’t “edgy” a current pitch term?
4. Lots of syrup, please. We need to touch base with the common cultural biases for pure comfort without content. Make it something which only seems daring when it shows up on TV or the NYT Bestseller list, but which is actually just a repackaging of common Christian myths. Gotta move those books and t-shirts, you know.
5. Make it patriotic. If I can’t wrap it in the flag, it just ain’t kosher. I want it to echo with cries of, “Make America morally strong!” Then we can justify all sorts of evils against whomever gets tagged as “enemy” this week.
6. Prop up some authority figure. We need a fresh Messiah, but somebody who doesn’t get crucified, this time. Let him walk through some hassles, instead, and come out on top. Then we can crush anyone who dares to question him, and anyone who dares to question us, because we stand next to him.
7. We need showmanship. It’s all about charming everyone, thrilling us with grand human talents. We need somebody who looks hot to play the audience, someone who knows how to make it seem all nice and proper when he gets caught with his pants down. Somebody with poise and stage presence, always drawing us into their little kingdom of fables.
Jesus spent endless hours talking about this “Kingdom of Heaven” and how little He was concerned for the things of this world. When a crowd tried to make Him their ruler, He fled. Instead, He kept pointing to something which touched this world, but was not captive to it. Indeed, it was actually the other way around. While it didn’t make sense such a powerful God wouldn’t somehow force things here to be right, Jesus never let that distract from the inescapable fact things weren’t right. Then He talked about a plan to end this world, to destroy it in some unspeakable dramatic fashion, and about trying to escape this world before that destruction happened.
Who needs success on this plane of existence when it’s time is limited?