Saturday, August 9, 2008

American Pop Christianity

There is nothing that makes my blood boil more than what I like to call "American Pop Christianity". Basically it works something like this. "If I am a good American, I'm a republican, hold up good American values, submit to the government, have a car with a fish on it, and say the pledge of allegiance while saying God bless America, I am a Christian". Not to mention that individual wants God to bless them as well, in very material ways.
Interestingly enough, Jesus wasn't an American. He was middle eastern. He probably looked a lot like the terrorists we see emblazoned on the news. Dark skin, dark eyes, dark hair. Scripture says he was unattractive. At times I find myself questioning if the Jesus American Pop Christianity serves, and the Jesus I serve are the same person. Then I begin to wonder if the Jesus I claim to serve, is just a version of Jesus I feel aligns with my ideals, instead of learning to align my ideals with his?
I remember reading somewhere that it is so much easier to serve a god we have formed into our own image, than to be formed by the horrifying, amazing, all-powerful God of the universe. Often, we just take what we've heard about Jesus, and warp it into our own image.
Renowned Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann goes as far as to say "the contemporary American church is so largely enculturated to the American ethos of consumerism that is has little power to believe or to act (The Prophetic Imagination, 1)." What a sad day. To not have the power to believe or act because we have so enmeshed ourself into the ethos of society, rather than transform it by our presence.
The oddest part about it all is, we are supposed to look radically different. To be the image of Christ to the world, yet are we the image of Christ when we look exactly like it? I sometimes find myself staring in the mirror for long amounts of time. I kick myself sometimes for being so preoccupied with my appearance; obviously there are levels of concern that should be taken into consideration, it's ok to brush one's teeth for example (please, please brush your teeth) or comb your hair. Those aren't vanities, just hygiene. However, I have been known to go to a rally opposing war in Uganda where kids are kidnapped into being children soldiers, and then go spend $100 bucks to get my hair done, for no other reason than pure vanity... i want to look good.
The Nazarene church, at its inception, began in downtown LA. The goal of the church was to reach a community that no one else was reaching, with a message of hope. This message of holiness, that God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and the death and resurrection of His son Jesus, has given us the ability to live free of sin. What an amazing message for those on skid row, who have seen nothing but darkness for years! The church, however, got some flack on this holiness mission because of the standards they placed on those who were a part of the church. They were too "legalistic" many would say, and for better or for worse, many still say. They made a rule (not a doctrine... it's not a biblical statement about who God is, but a guideline for living a life in better relationship to Him) which said that women (and I suppose men) couldn't wear jewelry. Though this may seem silly, they had a deep reason. There reasoning was that Christians look different than other people, and they spend their money in different ways. They don't flash vanities, but live humbly, in order to give to others. After all John Wesley said "Earn all you can, Save all you can, in order to give all you can" and died with only enough shillings to pay for his funeral expenses.
Thus I ask again, if the goal is to be set apart, different, why do we strive to look like the nation we live in? Aren't we resident aliens? Citizens of a higher nation? A nation who calls us to do more than vote, but to die to our own wants and desires for the sake of a Christ who loves all nations? Not to mention, if we truly lived as 100% sold out citizens of this state, wouldn't our daily choices and actions (and maybe even our dress) be completely different?
Shane Claiborne says it this way in his book "Jesus for President" which I highly recommend (if for no other reason, than to begin thinking, especially before the upcoming election), "The church is a people called out of the world to embody a social alternative that the world cannot know on its own terms. We are not simply asking the government to be what God has commissioned the church to be. After all, even the best government can't legislate love. We can build hundreds of affordable housing (a good thing by the way) and people still might not have homes. We can provide universal health care and keep folks breathing longer (another nice move), but people can be breathing and still not truly be alive. We can create laws to enforce good behavior, but no law has ever changed a human heart or reconciled a broken relationship. The church is not simply suggesting political alternatives. The church is embodying one (Claiborne, 228)."
Thus I pose this question, how do we separate true Christianity from the look alikes that seem to wander around in sometimes very convincing clothing, alluring us into a conformity we were never meant to belong to? I pose this question first and foremost to myself, because I tend to talk a good game, go to a few good rallies, talk to a few homeless people, allow the occasional person to live in my home, volunteer time to support women with unwanted pregnancies (instead of just holding a sign and condemning abortion), yet those are meaningless if they are just empty things to appear edgy, or compassionate. If they aren't born out of a true love of God and others, and a true allegiance to this community we call the church (also known as the kingdom of God) then I might as well just stay at home and watch another mindless television show, eat, drink, and be merry, because all of it is meaningless.
The nice thing about being angered with American Pop Christianity (creating a Jesus to fit our own political agendas and lifestyle) is that I have discovered I am not alone. Donald Miller, for all of my extreme words and attitudes, sort of just throws it all out there when he says "if I weren't a Christian, and I kept seeing Christian leaders on television more concerned with money, fame, and power than with grace, love, and social justice, I wouldn't want to believe in God at all. I really wouldn't. The whole thing would make me want to walk away from religion altogether because, ... their god must be an idiot to see the world in such a one-sided way. The god who cares so much about getting rich must not have treasures stored up in heaven, and the god so concerned about getting even must not have very much patience, and the god who cares so much about the West must really hate the rest of the world, and that doesn't sound like a very good god to me. The tele-evangelist can have him for all I care (Searching for God Knows What, 28-29)."
So maybe it isn't Christianity non-Christians aren't attracted to after all? Maybe it's this cheap watered down lukewarm version they are so repulsed by. Maybe they see the inconsistencies in us (myself included) that we are so unwilling to see in ourselves.

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