‘Jesus is for losers; I’m off about a hundred degrees’ Steve Taylor
This Good Friday I somewhat reluctantly joined a ‘Walk of Witness’ organised by our local Churches Together group. Having not really intended to go at all, I nonetheless soon found myself bearing one side of a large banner and briefly fronting the rag-tag procession as it wove along the high street, occasionally holding up bemused traffic.
As such things go, it was actually pretty well done. The element of dramatic spectacle was enhanced by a full-costume Jesus flanked by armed Roman soldiers and assorted High Priests (although the crown of thorns was notably thorn-less, and ‘Jesus’ wore gloves to avoid getting splinters from the cross). There was an amplified dramatised adaption of the Passion narrative, some thoughtful prayers and reflections, and some fairly lively songs.
Nonetheless, and meaning no disrespect to anyone involved, there was also a faintly ridiculous and slightly cringe-y, even self-parodying, element to the proceedings. It would have been all too easy to mock. And it was hard not to notice that the event also seemed to attract a higher than usual proportion of the socially odd and awkward. I suspect there were more than a few for whom the post-walk tea and buns in the local Methodist church may have been the highlight of their social calendar.
I say this not to mock, but because I’m a little ashamed to admit that these were the reasons for my initial reluctance to join the Walk. They were also the very things that used to put me off becoming a ‘fully-committed’ Christian – embarrassing acts of street ‘witnessing’, and the fear of being associated with socially-inept oddballs.
Spectacularly missing the point
So for a few very human and un-Christlike moments during the Walk of Witness, I inwardly groaned that churches so often attract such ‘odd’ people; I wished that Christianity could be cooler and have a better image, and wondered why it wasn’t and didn’t. Why aren’t churches seen as exciting, happening places where normal people would want to be seen hanging out?
Of course, I dressed this up to myself as an evangelistic concern, a desire not to put people off Christianity. If I’m really honest though, it was more do with not wanting to be associated with it myself; not wanting to be seen as one of the oddballs.
And then it struck me, with the force of a minor epiphany, that I was spectacularly missing the point; that I was ‘off about a hundred degrees’. It struck me that there’s a very good reason why churches, and Christianity, and indeed Christians, tend not to be noted for their trendiness and street-credibility.
The reason of course is that Christ himself very specifically and deliberately welcomes the very oddest and least cool. He consciously reaches out to the most socially awkward, and those with least outward attractiveness and social appeal. Jesus is for losers, for misfits and outsiders, for those mocked, rejected or overlooked by others.
And it’s a good thing for me that he is. Because the main reason I don’t want to be seen with oddballs is that deep down I’m one of the oddballs myself, and I don’t want to be found out. So don’t tell anyone.
Why Christ doesn’t care about coolness
But why is Jesus so much for losers? I think there are a bunch of reasons.
For a start, God has no worries about his own image, and doesn’t feel any need to associate with cool people or things. He’s completely free of any such worries and blithely unconcerned about any such nonsense. And of course he has a very different standard for what he thinks is ‘cool’; a very different set of criteria for what he sees as worthy of admiration. It turns out God isn’t all that interested in or impressed by human posturing, presentation, play-acting or power-plays. He’s apparently far more interested in humility, integrity, kindness, compassion; in contrite hearts and merciful attitudes.
And let’s face it, we’re all to some extent misfits and oddballs deep down; some of us are just better at covering it up than others.
Secondly, God has total compassion on all those who are excluded or looked down on by society for being ‘uncool’ or weird or odd; those who don’t fit. He doesn’t exclude them and he doesn’t tolerate our exclusion of them. The church exists for such as these; for the least, the unlovely, the social outcast and outsider. If we can’t accept them, we’re failing in one of our core missions. Which is a salutary reminder for me, who would so readily sweep the embarrassing people under the carpet.
Furthermore, God isn’t looking for mere conformity to social conventions and norms. His ways and will are far bigger and better – and more freeing – than that. And for that very reason, those we see as embarrassing ‘oddballs’ can sometimes be far freer, far more likely to take risks and do things God asks, regardless of whether they might be humiliating. The biblical prophets, John the Baptist, even some of Jesus’ disciples, all had some characteristics that probably wouldn’t make them ideal guests at the best dinner parties. They were a bit weird to be frank, even a bit ridiculous perhaps; but God was pleased to work through them.
Of course I still cringe when I see ‘nutters’ preaching on buses and street corners; I don’t think this is the best way to go about sharing Christ. But I have to remind myself that ‘God chooses the weak things of this world to shame the strong; the foolish things to shame the wise’. I have to remind myself that ‘God’s foolishness is greater than human wisdom’. I have to remind myself that even Christ himself was not ‘cool’ in any worldly sense; that ‘he had nothing in him to attract himself to us’.
Indeed, in the Incarnation and then the Crucifixion, Jesus identified with us in the utmost depths of our indignity, shame and humiliation. He let himself be mocked, insulted and spat upon; ridiculed, rejected and cast aside. The King of the Universe is also the King of the Outcasts, Chief of the Unwanted and the Outsiders. Perhaps that’s what ‘King of the Jews’ inscribed above the cross really means.
The last shall be first
Of course, all this presents something of a problem for us sophisticated, self-aware, cool-conscious Westerners; we modern victims of fashion and the need to conform. We don’t want to be associated with losers and misfits, or with a movement that appears to be so skewed towards the odd and awkward and inept. We have our pride and dignity, after all; our image to maintain. And it’s easy to justify this evangelistically – after all, don’t we want to make the church as appealing and attractive as possible to non-Christians? Who wants to invite people to a gathering of the odd and awkward?
I’m certainly not saying that Christians can’t be cool, or that Jesus loves you more if you’re a weirdo. And I don’t think we need to deliberately try to make church embarrassing or uncool, any more than we need to deliberately go out looking for suffering. What I am saying is that Jesus is for losers, and if we want to walk the way of Christ we’ll need to get used to that. And we’d better make sure our churches aren’t too cool and sophisticated to include the weirdos, saddoes, oddballs and socially awkward.
Indeed, I wonder if we even need to go one step further, though I’m not sure I have the guts to do it. I wonder if we shouldn’t be aiming to give the very highest honour and status to those people we least want to be seen with. It’s not enough to just grudgingly accept them, as second-class citizens who should be grateful that we tolerate their presence among us. Shouldn’t we rather exalt them, celebrate them, serve them gladly, welcome them exuberantly? I have a feeling that that’s exactly what the Kingdom looks like, where the lowly will be exalted and the last shall be first.
I used to have a card that said ‘The meek shall inherit the earth… if that’s all right with the rest of you.’ In reality though, the meek shall inherit the earth whether the rest of us like it or not. In that day the tables will be turned, and we the sophisticated and super-cool may be begging the misfits for their favour and mercy. For the upside-down Kingdom of God belongs first and foremost to the last and the least, to the overlooked and unwanted and cast aside. Jesus is for losers; I’m off about a hundred degrees.