I’ve been a Christian for a long time. Long enough to see items in Christian bookstores go through their cheesy phase. Testamints, anyone? Remember, it’s not just a mint, it’s a mint with a message. I worked in a Christian bookstore in the mid-90s and one of the trends was to take t-shirt slogans and put a Christian spin on them. Budweiser became Budweiser became Bloodweiser. Gold’s Gym became The Lord’s Gym. They were so prevalent and so horrible, they turned me off of Christian t-shirts forever. Forever. To infinity. During my most recent stint in a Christian bookstore, I discovered they hadn’t gotten any better. Now there’s one for sale that has the outline of Darth Vader and underneath it reads “I am not your father. God is your father.” Nope.
But the pièce de résistance isn’t a t-shirt. It’s what I lovingly refer to as Burlap Jesus. Burlap Jesus is exactly what it says. It’s a 3-D sculpture that you hang on your wall made entirely of burlap that is meant to resemble Jesus’ face. I don’t feel you can’t fully appreciate just how creepy it is unless you see it in person. Or you’re opening the store and go into a dimly lit back room and get the poo scared out of you when you see it staring at you. Apart from the kitsch, it is quite a work of art with remarkable details in the hair, mustache, and crown of thorns. It’s not the craftsmanship that I have an issue with or the person that makes it. It’s the fact that Burlap Jesus, along with the t-shirts and Testamints, symbolizes that we have allowed Christianity to become a poor representation of what it should be.
Christian bookstores these days generally have more pictures, crosses, plaques and other “gift” items than Bibles or theology books. One could argue that there are a time and place for those, but these items all derive from someone picking and choosing Bible verses out of context to use for inspiration and such. And don’t get me started on the books that are readily available. Many mainstream Christian authors today write books that dumb down Christianity to the point where they bear almost no resemblance to anything theological. To be brutally honest, we’re probably to blame for that. As a Christian people, we want to feel our Christianity rather than learn about its history and the theology that encompasses it. I confess that before entering seminary, I had little interest in either. I wanted books that I could easily consume, believe, and not have to wrestle with. I didn’t want anyone – or any thoughts – trampling inside my perfect Christian world and rearranging things.
But all of that changed during my first semester last fall. I was exposed to views much different from those I grew up with. At first, I balked against everything that didn’t agree with my so-called theology, almost to the point of being offended. But then I really started listening. And I started to really think and pray about what I was hearing. And then my world got turned upside down. And if you’ve ever spent any amount of time upside down, you know how uncomfortable it gets. I’ve been that way for over a year.
And now something wonderful is happening. Instead of believing everything I hear, I’m learning to question. I’m starting to really think about what’s being said and if it lines up with what the Bible says. This doesn’t make me holy or a good Christian. In fact, it probably makes me prideful in many instances. But it’s a start. I have a long way to go that will be filled with confusion, anguish, and, above all, clumsiness. But I think this is part of the discontent that we all have inside us because we were made for eternity. We are all working out our salvation with fear and trembling. Hopefully, we can learn from each other along the way.
Grace and peace,
The Clumsy Pilgrim