Thursday, January 27, 2011

I-Monk on the Suburban Jesus

I've been reading excerpts from this rant by the late Michael Spencer to my Gospels students ever since I came across it a few years ago, and thought it would be worth sharing here:
I am just amazed at why anyone would want to be involved with Jesus unless you were convinced that what Jesus said, Jesus taught and Jesus did was the truth. I cannot understand why someone wants to be involved with Jesus if they don’t either intend to believe and emulate Jesus or at least encourage, assist and applaud those who do. Taking the Christian label and then acting like Jesus was someone from whom we should never take advice or example is incomprehensible.

I used to get paid by large churches to tell their kids all about Jesus, get them into Bible studies and take them on mission trips- which I choose to be in the inner cities of Chicago and Boston, not the beach. The basic assignment was actually to keep these kids out of drugs, jail and pregnancy so they could go to college, make lots of money and pursue the lifestyles of rich Americans while attending large prosperous megachurches.

I figured this out early on, but I kept telling myself it wasn’t the case. I thought that if one of those kids becomes a serious Jesus revolutionary, going among the poor, giving up the suburban lifestyle, my churches would have applauded.

Then, a few years ago, a church kid from Minnesota came to talk to me. She’d been out of college for a few years, had come to Appalachia to teach English, then taught and coached at our school for a while, after which she took off for Africa for a couple of years. She brought me a letter from her parents where they told her what they thought about her life.
In this letter, the parents honestly said what they thought of this girl. They thought she was nuts. The called all the ministries she worked for abusive, slave labor operations. They begged her to come home, take her college degree into the city and make some money, get a house in the suburbs and find a husband with wealth and security.
Hey, I understand what parents go through. I feel their pain. I really do. But that letter told me, once and for all, that I had been right all those years ago, and I’m still on target today when I feel this way. Suburban Christianity is frequently not about an honest following of Jesus. It’s about an edited, reworked Jesus who blesses the American way of life and our definition of normal and happy.

It’s Jesus the sponsor of our beautiful church. It’s Jesus the bus driver of the ticket to heaven. It’s Jesus the guy who wants us to be nice to children. It’s Jesus who presides over all kinds of niceness.

...[I]f we don’t really believe Jesus is the one for whom we sell it all to buy the pearl of great price, what’s the point?

I also know my own answer. Learn to know the virtues of relative poverty. Learn to see poverty as Jesus and the saints saw it. Keep real poor people in view. Keep real poor churches in mind. Don’t listen to the broadcasted, published propaganda of the suburban Jesus. Read the sermon on the mount. Remember that Jesus is a true revolutionary, and those who want Jesus but reject the revolution always have a nice slide show and plenty of facts and figures.