Our pastor gave us a set of burned cd's awhile back that contained a seminar about church planting. A man named David something-or-other (a fair amount of Googling has not revealed his name with any certainty) is teaching a group of African fellows the stripped-down Biblical principles behind church planting - and consequently, Christianity.
David constantly reminds these men that Jesus did what no good organized religion leader in his right mind would do. He cut down his numbers. In business, they call it streamlining. In religion, it seems counter-intuitive, but every time Jesus got popular, he said something slightly off kilter, such as, "If some guy smacks the fire out of you, don't defend yourself from him." (A. Whipple paraphrase) Or he'd out with something spectacularly ludicrous like, "You need to eat my body and drink my blood." (AWP) Another strange thing he did was to keep secrets. Why in the world would the Scriptures not be open to people? What was it about Jesus "opening the Scriptures" to his disciples that made it different than reading them? Why shouldn't the people he healed go and scream to the hilltops that some woodworker country bumpkin took away their leprosy? How could they hope to contain themselves?
Ann Lamott speaks of Jesus as a little white dog following her around - the complete picture of innocence that will not leave you alone. The little white dog has been looking at me lately as if I should keep my mouth shut more often. I don't know if I can tell you why. The best I can offer is that, truth isn't really something you say, and moreover, secrets are of great value, while a secret unleashed is plastic and mass-produced. There are a couple new shows out where people sit in a chair under a Gestapo-like spotlight and delve into the chambers of their indiscretion to unearth their failures and hidden distrusts, all in order to win money. Their families and friends sit by as if they're watching a murderer's house burn down, feeling their anger and bitterness mount, and at the same time wanting not to know, wanting to go on loving in plausible ignorance. I feel a little disgusted thinking about it.
Jesus warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ. For the most part, we say that he did this to prevent the gathering of a party crowd (which sometimes happened anyway). But why? Why keep the secret? What's so bad about getting the word out? Advertise, man! Nothing sells like a good flier. Pop! Umph! Zing! For the record, I think his secrets are worth a little more than ours. Our secrets tend to be along the lines of, I really do struggle with lust
, or I wish that person wouldn't talk to me, I can't deal with them right now.
I don't remember where it is, but I seem to remember the Biblical phrase, "The secret things of God." Give me a minute, I'll go look it up...
Here's something... The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and our children, that we may follow the words of this law forever.
- Deut. 29:29
...and something else... A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.
- Prov. 11:13
I say all this, because in my own life, I have the greatest desire sometimes to, as my friend Bill says, "tear away the fig leaf." I want to take things head-on and be what I define as uncompromising (although, I may often have mis-defined it). I don't know if this is an issue that pervades the Church at large, or even the Western Church, but I have felt the tendency (mostly in the younger crowd) to treat issues like a firing squad instead of a wrestling match. We might love to be honest, but we forget that our honesty requires involvement. Life is not a sport over which we are spectators. You can ask some friends of mine who work with addicts. Speaking with the double-edged tongues of angels requires love, and all the tart tastes of its self-forgetting and self-destroying.
There are words and thoughts that are between my wife and myself and our God. There are even words and thoughts that are only between God and me. Not writing them on the wall is not akin to lying. In fact, it's just the opposite. To be honest, there is not really a one-size-fits-all rule to this idea. It's something that has to follow the Holy Spirit's leading.
Perhaps this is why I have so often been frustrated with kitschy art that comes from the minds of Christians. Continuously happy people seem superficial to us in our dark hours (that being said, there is a difference between happiness and peace). The same applies to art that doesn't delve into the artist. It feels like the artist read the end of some book before the beginning, and we're being told the story from that perspective. Perhaps this is why I can't abide art that always keeps all its cards on the table. There is a time for that, but there is value in waiting for it. Tell the story. Let us grow with the characters. Don't just wrap us in the finished tapestry, weave us into it. Thread it into our skin. All the colors will bleed into one, bleed into one.