It happens. Now. Everytime. Every big event. Every big moment. Every celebration. Everytime. It happens. Last Sunday, Jesus was held in comparison with the Grammys. Next Sunday, Jesus will be compared to the Super Bowl. Come february 14th intrepid souls across the social mediaverse will talk about Jesus as the bestest soulmate you could ever have. Come Memorial Day, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross will be juxtaposed with the U.S. soldiers who died in combat. It happens. Everytime. Don’t believe me? Follow the Things Christian Culture Likes Blog. You’ll see the tweets. Lots of them. It happens. Everytime. Lots of breathless Evangelicals with a burning need to reach the world, one empty tweet at a time. It happens.
There is no way to begin (other than a headshake and ugghhhh cartoon box under your mouth). So let’s start here. The people sending these tweets are good people. Well meaning people. The kind of people with whom I grew up and of whom I have great respect and admiration. There’ll good folk. They’ve been told to reach the world. They’ve been told to use the culture around them to do so. They’ve been trained to make facile comparisons quickly in order to build conversational runways to the cross. Their pastors have done this in millions of sermons they’ve heard. Jesus is like the Super Bowl. It’s timely. It’s fun. It’s relational. It’s relevant. I know this because they’re the kind of people I grew up for years as a church leader in the Evangelical world. I love these people. I have given my life again and again for these people.
Yet as I watch, I am reminded of the words of Paul. When you were young I feed you milk; but now I desire that you would desire meat. In the Evangelical world we’ve gotten real good at making milk. We’ve also gotten really bad at serving meat. An uber-facile comparison to the Super Bowl is what passes for meat these days. Because here’s the thing: comparing Jesus and the Super Bowl is not even an apples and oranges comparison. Maybe the soldier- Christ analogy may be close; but even that is not. Comparing Jesus and the Super Bowl is like comparing a Mac with an ant. It makes no sense. The tautology falls apart.
When Moses asked the name of the one who would save Israel, He was told, “I am.” He still is. Jesus. is. a. person. He is a living, breathing reality. He is. He cannot be explained or understood. He is. Just as I can never fully explain who I am. Who he is can never be fully or even adequately is. And He is just one part of who the Christian God is. He is a third of the Trinity. He is the one who walked the earth and explained who He was. If we cannot even grasp who he is; then how much more inadequate is our language about the other 2/3rds of who God is.
Granted when faced with this kind of situation. All we have is analogy. Sign. Symbol. It’s all we have to discuss who God is. One should not be laughed at for talking about God by way of something else. Hey, it’s what Jesus, himself did. But one should be careful at which pictures and symbols you pick up. And one should never get confused. These are but symbols of a larger truth; that none of us really understand anyway. We should not apologize for our symbols; but we should be careful. We should be humble. We should be mindful of where our symbols meaning is stretched beyond our reach.
The Super Bowl is an event. It happens once a year on Sunday. Everybody shows up. Everybody watches. Have no idea who Richard Sherman or Demaryius Thomas is? NP. Have some bean dip. Was that Doritos commercial crazy or what?
In this way the Super Bowl is a lot like church. Once a year all good Americans head into church (usually Christmas and/or Easter). Have no idea who Peter or Paul is. NP. Have some coffee and doughnuts. Boy that worship song was really good? Sounded just like that Coldplay band I hear on the radio.
This is what our erstwhile adventurers into the cultural morass that is Americanism mean. Our experience in Church is like our experience of the Super Bowl. Just funnier. But more Jesusy. The comparison is like that commercial, it’s Doroitos but now with more cheese. Our churches are the Super Bowl now with more Jesus.
Both are events. Americans love events. But God is not an event. He is a community (within himself). He calls us not to an event. But into a community. We are called not to a celebration but a community. Not the false community that arises around a bowl of salsa; but the kind that occurs when people come together to serve (and not be served).
Around me is what we are calling Snowmeggedon. If you don’t know what this. You are not currently living in the deep South. You are not in Birmingham or Atlanta. Right now our roads like eerily like scenes from any Apolcalyptic movie you’ve ever seen. Our Midwestern and Atlantic brothers and sisters can laugh; but what happened was a colossal FUBAR. Cars are abandoned everywhere. People slept in their cars in sub-zero windchills. Many walked miles to get to shelter. It was crazy. Yet in the midst of it; we saw people in 4 wheels drives giving total strangers rides miles out of their way. We saw neighbors opening their homes for others to stay. We saw teachers and bosses staying on site to take care of their charges overnight. You want to know what community is. It’s a 1st grade teacher hosting the world’s largest slumber party in their classroom (because the parents were stuck who knows where).
In his recent interviews, Pope Francis had this to say. The church is not a battalion of soldiers in a war. The church is a hospital in a war zone. Here is an analogy that fits (at times and places). God is like the doctor at Zaatari, the (big C) Church itself is like unto that camp, and the (little c) church is like unto that Doctor’s office. It’s not pretty. It’s not exciting. There are no commercials to distract us. It’s kinda bleak but it is there. It is. It happens.
And this what offends me. We in the Evangelical world are becoming more and more like unto the band playing as the Titanic sinks. Sure the water is cold and rising; but man is the music hopping. Our churches are becoming hotbeds of fun. Our churches are becoming swell places to meet and mingle. Our churches are so amazing that we can only compare them to the Super Bowl. Our Savior is so happening and swell that we can only think to compare him to a suave Valentine’s Day suitor. He dresses well. He smells nice. He even brings flowers and remembers to get a reservation at the best clubs.
These things are nice and have their place. I, for one, will enjoy the Super Bowl. I, for one, would love to have a suitor who would dress up and take me out for a nice steak. But that will pass. And the next morning I will awake and it will be in the past (and a year into the future). I will go on with my life. Maybe I will think about and hope for the next year’s festivities; but they will just be other things on the calendar. Just other things that happen to me. Nothing that I am responsible for making happen. Next years Super Bowl will in all probability occur as will next year’s Valentines. Nothing I do will change that (short of suicide, I guess).
I think about this and the comparison to Christ and His Church and I think what a shoddy comparison. What a weak and useless Savior and Community. If this is what it is. If this is what it is all about. No one people are fleeing in record numbers.
But this… praise be to God… it is not a whiff of what it is. God is so bigger. The Church is so much more. The analogy becomes so weak, it breaks into a million little pieces. Jesus is not and cannot be compared to something so insignificant as the Super Bowl. Not that the Super Bowl is insignificant but because He is so much more than an event. He is so much more than a party. He is…