Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Shattering the Illusion

I don't remember my great-uncle Carl's face - it's kind of a blur. What I do remember is his aging hands doing amazing magic tricks... close-up magic with coins & silks, stunning bits of trickery with cups & balls, and (most vivid in my head) shuffling & fanning cards with fan decks.

Much later when both Uncle Carl & Aunt Beulah had died (I need to write more about Aunt Beulah later - she was a hoot!), Uncle Carl's magic books & some of his equipment was bequeathed to my dad & I. Dad confiscated the marked decks (probably an excellent idea - your average elementary school kid doesn't need a professionally marked deck) and then let me loose on the 10+ books on magic.

Frankly, the magic books were both exciting (it's really cool to look at the diagrams of some of the big stage magic tricks) and disappointing. What talented magicians make look so dang easy is full of hard work - sleight of hand requires not only hands (I had those) but also skill (which I don't have) and practice (which I wasn't willing to do).

I wonder sometimes if my life as a "professional Christian" (aka senior pastor) doesn't have some of the same flavor to folks in my church & community. From the outside, my life looks pretty nifty - each week I get up and speak with confidence about Biblical truth. I show up in people's hospital rooms to listen & pray. I counsel individuals over the phone and in person, dispensing wisdom & grace.

From the outside, I realize that it all looks as smooth as a Las Vegas magic act (without the white tigers). But from my side of the stage, I can see all of the flaws.

Another thing I learned from those magic books? Magic is primarily the art of distraction. You use patter (what you say) and motion (the way your hands & body move) to pull people's focus away from the trick. Sadly, "professional Christianity" can work the same way - it's "all too easy" (thank you, Darth Vader) to distract congregation & community members from the messiness of following Jesus with a well-timed Scripture quote or by bowing my head like I'm deep in prayer. And, because I'm a guy whose job title sounds ultra-spiritual, people buy the illusion.

This, by the way, isn't something (for the most part) that you're taught in seminary. Just like magicians, you learn the secrets from other practitioners. Nobody tells you to fake it... but when you see enough folks doing just that - layering on spiritual-looking behavior with a trowel - you get the message loud & clear.

But if I'm honest... if I'm really willing to do what I was called to do, as opposed to the cultural training I received or my own worst inclinations, my job is a bit like those TV specials that aired on Fox a few years back with titles like "Breaking the Magician's Code". (OK, all you magic aficiandos out there, don't get all freaked out about this... I'm NOT saying the specials were a good idea.) The trick of being a pastor is to stop using patter & motion to distract people from my imperfections. Instead, my objective needs to be pointing them to Jesus rather than covering my own rear end.

Even as I type this, I realize that this isn't simply about "professional Christians" - plain ol' everyday regular Christians deal with this stuff, too. The temptation to hide who we are is overwhelming sometimes... so much so that we come up with a laundry list of rationalizations to deal with it:

  • if they saw what I was really like, they'd think badly of Jesus
  • if they knew what I was thinking/feeling, they wouldn't listen to me when I preach/teach/share/pray/whatever
  • if they get a glimpse of how messy my life is, they'd think that Christianity is bunk & doesn't really help anyone
I have to remind myself that:
  • I am not Jesus. Anybody who mistakes me for Him is not paying close attention.
  • My feelings/thoughts are not the same as my actions. People pay attention to me better when what I do lines up with the character of Jesus, not when I use the smoke & mirrors of spirituality.
  • Despite what some preachers/teachers say, the Bible does NOT promise us a mess-free life. In fact, people who follow God often find themselves at the bottom of a well (Joseph, Jeremiah), in trouble with the government (Elijah, Peter & John), or killed for telling the truth (Jesus, Stephen).
Most of all, I have to hit the rewind button in my brain over & over again to play back one of the most important concepts in the Bible:
I am not trying to please people. I want to please God. Do you think I am trying to please people? If I were doing that, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10, CEV)
It's time to shatter the illusion - so that the real mystery can be revealed. It's time for us to let people see the supernatural power of God at work in our messy lives, rather than the "magic" of our own attempts to appear spiritual & together.

1 comment:

Dani in NC said...

What a great post! I struggle with this a lot. Until recently I belonged to a conservative Baptist church, and I knew that I didn't fit into their vision of a good Christian. I always felt I had to put on my Christian face when I was with them.