I have this habit of searching for negative reviews of things on the internet. Don’t ask why. It is a habit I am trying to break. Perhaps there is a part of me that, when looking at something I enjoy, wonders why someone wouldn’t like it. Slowly my mouse glides toward the one star section of the reviews where I see a lot of negative just to be negative remarks; people throwing out insults or questioning the logic of something they thought they read correctly but didn’t. Then there are the basic critiques. You know, the ones that can be debated. I will be the first to raise my hand and say I stupidly debated people on YouTube and am still getting over the shame of being so petty in the past about things that literally mean nothing to me today. But the other day I read a review on iTunes and felt the need to respond in some way.
The review is for a podcast I listen to called Relevant. The podcast is based on the magazine of the same name that seeks to look at the Christian faith intentionally and openly. I’ve been a subscriber for almost 5 years. I feel it is necessary to explain why I started to listen to this podcast. In college, I sought a more organic faith than the kind I was raised with. In grade school, my primary source of faith was going to church every Sunday and CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) every Wednesday. I didn’t understand it but then again, no one seemed to. It was just something you did. When I became a teenager and stepped out of the Catholic bubble and into the Protestant territory, my experience of faith changed. It was much smaller and felt more community based. However, I didn’t realize I was just stepping into another bubble, my mind clouded with upbeat music and churches that looked more like fancy gymnasiums.
When I got to college, I realize the faith I had been told about as a teenager was based on having the right answers. The problem became, I was at a liberal arts school surrounded by people of different backgrounds who challenged me and forced me to look at my faith from the outside. I was asking questions and trying to be honest; an endeavor frowned upon by most church-going folk, Protestant and Catholic alike. Through those four years, I sought to learn more about the religion I claimed to practice. So I found Bible study and sermon podcasts, all of which felt like I was eating lucky charms 24/7 and getting a high of Jesus. There was no substance, just fluff and a bit of unethical remarks by pastors about their “smoking hot” wives.
But then I discovered this magazine/podcast. I won’t say they are the most “liberal” thing I have come across, but FINALLY I had found a source of entertainment rooted in biblical theology that didn’t talk down to me or pretend life was a game of Candy Land.
The review I read the other day for this podcast said something along the lines of, this show is too silly. And it claims to be Christian? They hardly even say Jesus’ name!
Immediately I had a vision of my teenage self. Have you ever seen the Pixar movie Ratatouille? Remember the scene where the food critic tries Remy’s dish and after taking one bite is transported back to his childhood and the comfort of eating said food? The shot/animation is very clever in this scene, zooming into his eye, going to black, and then zooming out from his eye to see his younger self through movie magic. That was me. I still remember avidly searching for music, books, and movies that talked about Jesus. Whenever his name was mentioned, I imagine a surge of dopamine going on in my brain similar to eating candy. I was the type of Christian that had this idea that the entertainment I consumed had to be religious and a Christian message and if it didn’t, it wasn’t very good. If it didn’t have all fingers pointing to Jesus, I couldn’t stand it.
People seem to think that the more Jesus is mentioned in what we consume, the more chance we have of getting to heaven. As if God is keeping score, right? Oh, Danielle listened to a Hillsong album this afternoon and they mentioned Jesus twenty times. A+! But on no, what is this? She is watching Game of Thrones now! Sex! Violence! Cursing! These things should never be acknowledged! F, F, F, F, NOT GETTING TO HEAVEN!
No. That isn’t how it works. We can’t use Jesus as our personal form of getting high. Trust me, I tried. I was the person in high school who wore the Gatorade logo shirt that said Jesus, is he in you?, a phrase that makes me cringe on multiple levels today. I put a cross keychain on my backpack and stopped listening in class when we discussed other religions because my faith was at stake! Because that is the Christian way after all, right? I also didn’t read the Bible and constantly categorized people in a negative light…because Jesus did that, right?
Again, no! Definitely no. Christianity has been held captive by bigots and sick individuals throughout most of history. If Jesus walked into a church, modern day or 18th century, he would not recognize these people who say they are his people. People like to generalize. It’s the truth. I take great pains in my everyday life to not generalize which can be really hard, especially in today’s political climate. And I think Christians often generalize about Jesus and therefore the gospel without even recognizing it. They see Jesus as this perfect being on a page (a golden calf if you will) and fail to realize that he was human. They act like saying “Happy Holidays” or not seeing a Bible in a hotel room is an attack on their faith. They act like God isn’t…well, God.
So back to the reviewer, I sat down and tried to figure out the difference between that person’s Christianity and the podcast’s Christianity. The best explanation that I could see is that Christians either treat Jesus as a noun or a verb. And if you think about it, that is a huge issue. When I took English classes in high school and college, one of the big themes we discussed often when reading or writing was showing v telling. Why is it important that an author shows and not tells? Telling often reveals sloppy writing and a lack of skill. In very rare cases is it acceptable. Showing, on the other hand, not only gives a deeper understanding of the text but takes a certain skill that only practiced writers can acquire.
Let’s ask the same question about the gospel. Are we telling the gospel, or showing? Are we simply viewing the gospel as a noun, a thing to shove in people’s faces? Or are we viewing the gospel and Jesus as a verb, something we carry out in our actions? For example, loving one another.
I am the furthest from perfect. I hope this post encourages you as it has encouraged, and been therapeutic, to me. I hope that on my journey I can continue to view the gospel as a verb instead of treating Jesus like a bag on lucky charms.