God has an insane tendency to pick screwed up people for doing big things. In fact, if we take even a cursory look, it seems that the business of God interacting with humanity is all about screwed up people, which causes me to ask, “Am I screwed up? That was a rhetorical question. Some of you are a little too eager to chime in. Thanks a lot.
There's a bumper sticker that comes and goes in popularity that reads, “Christians Aren't Perfect We're Just Forgiven.” It’s a true enough statement. What interests me most about it is that it needs to be said at all. There has grown this assumption that Christians are, in some manner, positioned as better than some other group of people – non-Christians for example. The erroneous process behind that thinking is that there is an initial condition of imperfection, often seen as sinfulness, brokenness, or being generally screwed up, and that this condition needs to be fixed via a religious course correction. The next step is for the person to engage in the particular faith and spiritual rite of passage that addresses this condition and then through the wonder of one doctrine or another (take your pick – sacrament of baptism, sanctification, redemption, indulgences or scape goat sacrifice) the broken person is fixed and the problem solved. It’s a great story (brokenness gives way to perfection) and it is told over and over again from pulpits, podiums and stages. There’s just one problem. For many people, their experience is that it doesn't work that way.
If we give this broken-to-fixed process even a cursory thought, we know it isn't true. How many people do we know that have been indoctrinated or converted into a particular religious system and are now outside that system still struggling? Or, ask yourself, how many people do we know who are still within their religious system that are struggling with deep and personal demons? The myth that religion is a magic elixir that once drunk will fix us, must be abandoned. We are creatures with complex and enduring psychological and behavioral habits: some of them very destructive and many of them highly entertaining.
Have you ever had a deep, flesh ripping, and blood gushing wound? The kind that is worthy of a medical slide next to the term “complex laceration?” Well imagine placing an adhesive bandage on it and calling it fixed. Yet, we somehow expect a momentary religious experience to fix deep seated issues in our life. Some of us need more.
Think on this. Our religious beliefs and practices are only part of what we need to learn, develop and do to be better humans. If our faith journey isn't about more than a chronological event that designates us as saved versus condemned, then we are all in trouble. Here’s why.
Look at the people, traditionally, that God called to do wonderful and amazing things. Moses reportedly couldn't speak very well and complained to God about this. Yet, God called him to be God’s spokesperson to Israel. David, the greatest King of all Judaism started as a shepherd boy, followed his lust to the point of arranging murder and having an affair. The first disciples were vagabonds: fishermen, tax collectors and prostitutes. Paul was originally a persecutor of the early followers of Jesus’s way. Jesus was the son of a carpenter. Do you see a pattern here? God has an amazing tendency to choose the least, the last and the lost among us to do God’s work.
I have a favorite Christmas TV special. What’s yours? Frosty the Snowman? How the Grinch stole Christmas? The Charlie Brown Christmas special? How about White Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 42nd Street? Nope. Mine’s Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. You with me, yet? I’ll bet you a sleeve of communion wafers you will be in a few sentences. Here goes.
The whole Rudolph story is about how certain characters don’t fit in. Obviously there’s Rudolph. His nose is too bright. He looks and talks funny. There’s the elf who wants to be a dentist. The there’s this prospector, Yukon Cornelius, looking for gold by licking his mining pick. Top all that off with a terrible beast that turns out to be a bouncy ride and you have a group of odd and abnormal characters. They all end up exactly where they belong – on the island of misfit toys. There they are with the swimming bird, the square wheel train and the Jack in the Box named Charlie! What a group of misfits!
Then the story turns and Rudolph and his friends are cast off even the island of misfit toys. Of course, we all know that in a strange turn of events, they each discover that their strange talents are in fact just what is needed to save the day. The elf dentist pulls the monster’s teeth, Yukon Cornelius protects his friends, the Bumble monster places the star on the tree top and Rudolph saves Christmas. The misfits are just the fit, as it turns out. They even get Santa to pick up the misfit toys and find them homes.
Are you with me, or do I owe you those communion wafers?
We love the victorious misfits. Maybe it is because we see ourselves in them. Maybe we all have those parts of ourselves that aren't normal, that don’t fit with preconceived ideas of who we should be and what we should do. Perhaps it is because this story tells that grace isn't about becoming something you are not, but rather about being accepted as you are and beginning the journey of being a better version of yourself. Whatever our reason for cheering for the misfits, the reality is we can all relate.
The next time you’re around the folks called Christian, take a mental inventory. Are their misfits in your midst? Remember to look at yourself, too. Of course they are there…the addict, the divorced, the troubled, the angry, the mournful, the depressed, the emotionally needy, the criminal, the list goes on. God’s people aren't perfect and it is high time we started acting like the lovable misfits that we are.
If you’re not seriously screwed up you don’t belong here and because you are, you are an integral part of God’s work. What I am saying, in a sentence is this: you are a child of God, nothing more and nothing less. Can we lay aside the pretense of perfection and attitude of ‘better than’ and live with this amazing truth?