Have you ever seen the episode of the Andy Griffith Show where Andy tries to turn Ernest T. Bass into a gentleman? Really any of those “Pygmalion” or “My Fair Lady” type things will work. But Andy Griffith is the best. Take a look at a clip from the episode. Go ahead…I’ll wait…
…Did you notice how Ernest looked in his suit? He was stifled. He was robotic. Sure, if you had never seen him before you might not know what was wrong. But five minutes with him and you’d realize that something wasn’t quite right. There’s a wildness in his eyes. There’s just something about him that screams, “I’m a wild person crammed into a suit.” His behavior is changed, and his appearance is changed. He is playing nice, but it only lasts so long before it begins to unravel. Like they say, you can take the man out of the wild, but you can’t take the wild out of the man.
Now, have you ever sat in a church service and wondered just what was so special about this “God” guy? I mean, he seems respectable enough, but isn’t there something a bit odd about him? He seems stifled. He seems a bit robotic. He seems a bit like a wild man who’s been stuffed into a suit.
Now, have you ever been to the ocean?
Have you ever seen a waterfall after a heavy rain?
Have you ever seen hundred-year-old trees snapped in half by the wind?
Have you ever seen acid-green moss shake a defiant fist in the air through decaying leaves and ice, screaming, “I am alive! Life always wins!”?
Maybe the reason we grow disillusioned with church is that we make it too polite. Now I don’t want to overstate this. Just like with Ernest T. Bass, there are times when it is important to put on the suit and play nice. And God does this well. He meets us where we are, and for many of us, where we are is in a polite church service. But I also don’t want to understate this. We need a God that is real. We need to be people who are real. Jesus didn’t die to make us nice. He died so that we can fully love.
Many of us are crying out that the Church has lost its power. It has lost its strength and its influence. It has lost its connection with our real lives. It has lost its connection with Spirit. What has replaced it has been political action groups, hateful televangelists, and stinking lying liars who vomit out the so-called “prosperity gospel.” Many non-Christians look at the Church and say things like, “I like Jesus, but I don’t want anything to do with what you guys are doing.” It seems fake. It seems stifled. It seems robotic. It seems a bit like we’ve taken Jesus’ message and stuffed it into a container that doesn’t really work.
Maybe what we need is to let our God loosen his tie a bit.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love the Church. What I don’t love is the way the Church has been corrupted. I don’t say we should throw out Church. We are called into relationship with God, but in the same breath we are called into relationship with each other. That is what Church is about. Francis Schaeffer says this,
“Therefore Christians in their relationships should be the most human people you will ever see. This speaks for God in an age of inhumanity and impersonality and facelessness. When people look at us their reaction should be, “These are human people”…If they cannot look upon us and say, “These are real people,” nothing else is enough. Far too often young people become Christians and then search among the Church’s ranks for real people, and have a hard task finding them.”
So what does it mean to be “real”? From the Christian perspective we have to look at what Jesus said. And what Jesus said is telling. The last thing he said to the apostles before ascending into heaven is a powerful clue as to what he thought it meant to be a fully realized human. He said, “By this will all men know that you are mine, and that I was sent by the Father; if you have love for one another.” And likewise, when he was asked the most important law for humans to follow he summed it all up with “Love God, and love each other.”
Some of us see God as angry, powerful, and distant. Some see him as an ooey gooey spirit that hasn’t got a personality, and is there when I want to be thankful, but doesn’t care when I want to be a bit shady. Some see Jesus as a “warrior with a sword in hand and a tattoo down his leg.” I tend to see Jesus as a subversive hippie prophet, teaching Love and “smash the state.”
Some like to think of Jesus in a tuxedo t-shirt. A Jesus that says, “I’m formal, but I’m here to party.”
But maybe if we’re missing God in our real life, it’s because we’re looking for the wrong things. Maybe we miss God because he’s got dirt under his nails. Maybe we miss him because he’s sitting down and hugging the neck of someone we find repulsive.
Do I miss part of God because he’s sitting down with a conservative business man in a freshly pressed suit?
Do some miss part of God because he’s whispering their name from a moss covered tree in the middle of the woods?
Maybe if we miss him, we miss him because we keep reaching up trying to grasp someone who has come down here among us. You find what you look for. Seek and keep seeking and you will find. But I guarantee you that what you find will surprise you.