Christianity Can’t Compete

2725050979_26ba7a5a1e_mHow can Christianity compete in a world that offers up so many promises and ways to escape?  Can a life of discipleship really compete with the endless stream of distractions that bombard us daily?  So many promises at such a low low price.

I confess: After work or after church, sometimes I do go to Burger King just so I can “have it your way.”  I mean, my way.

We live in a culture that exploits the very meaninglessness it produces.  I’m not trying to be negative or pessimistic, here.  Just honest.  I know so many who are secretly lonely, struggling with depression, or unable to accept who they have to be in a world where you have to pay to play.   While we’re being told our potential is unlimited, we’re forced to play the game.  We give ourselves and energies to so many demands and projects – which carry some reward of success and accomplishment.  Secretly, we have to take the paycheck to pay down our debt, which paid for the house or the education or credit cards that buy back our self-worth and sense of self-esteem.

How is Jesus’ cross meaningful in a world like this?

One mistake we make is to let the cross become less and less real and more and more spiritual.  Christianity becomes a message we tell ourselves to stave off the feelings we really feel or what others are saying.  Everything is fine.  God is good.  Grace abounds.  No big deal.  I’m OK.  Praise God?

Stop to think that we live in a world that can even profit on widespread depression.   In this kind of world, belief in Jesus can also become something its not.  It can quickly become something else that wards off the emptiness we accumulate by selling ourselves to a world that is supposed to value us so highly.  This is a world where you have to live for yourself in order to be anybody…or do anything.   When its at its worst, like Tylenol, Jesus on the cross becomes something we swallow to take away the pain of feeling insignificant or guilty.

If this is all Christianity is, there are better alternatives.

Just turn on the TV.

1254274220_74c7802ae2_mChristianity tells a story about suffering.  The suffering of God.  You might see why this isn’t so popular.  Or, perhaps it is, because someone else is doing the suffering.  What sense can this story make to us in the “free world?”   A free world almost “free” of anything long-lasting, but where everything has a price?

What’s the meaning of the story of a God-man, a Rabbi born a carpenter, who was driven out of church by church folk?  What does it mean that religious leaders, the ones who had the most to loose from seeing things his way, wanted him dead?   What, possibly, could this guy have been teaching?  What’s the meaning of the God-man and his suffering?


You know.  You have to be a Christian to even care about this story.  Either that, or you have to care about the meaning of suffering.  Or, perhaps this is what is universal about it, you have to at least know your suffering.  Once you’ve felt this, you care about the suffering of others.  Perhaps, you have to suffer to really appreciate what anothers suffering might mean.  Even the God-man’s.

So, what’s the point of this?  I’m raising questions, that don’t have shallow or easy answers.  At least, I dont’ think they do.  These questions also hold the key to something hopeful and life-giving.  They hold untold meaning.  The questions are more healing and productive than closing them up with simple answers.  But, at the same time, what makes for faith doesn’t have to be complicated.  Christianity, I think, thrives amidst people who know struggle because suffering reveals something about the universe that nothing else can.  it calls for faith precisely where life’s depth intersects with its simplicity.

The cross calls out for the end of all suffering.

Now, do you believe it?

On the cross, God’s justice and love speak their final word into a world that profits on its own meaninglessness, that entraps us in our own need to escape it, and is dizzying with its attractive alternatives and technical distractions.  Despite the way some seem to think, in this environment the cross doesn’t point us to a new and improved doctrine of self-righteousness.  “Biblical” religion does not thrive on its own righteousness and people’s shame.

To that, I offer a biblical Christianity where love and grace are one in the same.

This is what I think:  To open our eyes to see and ears to hear, without numbness or distraction; to open ourselves to our own persistent loneliness, our own sense of helplessness or depression; to feel our need for either closeness or escape; to see our dependence on distractions; to open ourselves up to our own suffering, we open ourselves to a whole new world – one in need of a savior.

602041238_a9f18c5800_m1Once you’re there, in the bottomless space of a moment of suffering, you know the simplicity of a deep faith.  You are never again alone in the story.  You know why he came.  You know why we, the religious people, ran him off.  You know why those who benefited from the way things were wanted him dead.  You know why, by constantly changing, things can still remain the same.

Christianity can’t compete.  Enemies and opposition are good for politics.   Formulaic faith, both judgmental self-righteous versions and guilt-free spirituality, make for excellent religion.   They fit well with what we need.   Meaningless is a demanding, but profitable business.

But, love and justice, who needs that?


6 responses to “Christianity Can’t Compete

  1. really matt… wow… this couldnt have been written at a better time… but YOU MADE ME CRY!!! but that ok it was a long time comming. keep doing what your doing. and thanks,

  2. Thanks, cvan and em. You don’t know how meaningful it is that someone reads what you write, especially when you think it means something.

    Rock on.
    the fat man walks with the blue fish at midnight

  3. Matt, very timely. Really following Jesus and working towards justice in the world I’m finding involves suffering. it seems there’s always those who choose to follow cultural christianity instead of the God-man (I like that phrase).

    Keep writing!!!
    whacked by a Fish!

  4. You are so right! Without intention, part of your message just enunciated the power of the 12 Step Programs, one of which I am a member. It is indeed when we are at the bottom of the pit of despair, loneliness, suffering that we find Him. It is only when all of the come-ons of our culture, all of the things that have promised satisfaction and escape have turned on us, and we finally realize that it’s all a lie, that we are finally, fully open to our Lord. As we always say in our meetings, it’s not a religeous program, it’s a Spiritual Program. And that’s the reason it works. When we finally admit we’re powerless over our addiction, and are ready to turn our lives and our will over to our Higher Power, we are never alone again. Not alone. What a relief. We only open ourselves up to Him out of desperation and despair. The world made promises, and it turned out they were lies – Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. And in the meetings where groups of people are REAL with each other, where we drop the glossy false fronts that we wrap ourselves in in church, we begin to rediscover the joy of life, secure in the knowledge that our Higher Power, by whatever name we call him/her loves us enough to help us escape the suffering, and the opportunity to offer a hand to a brother or sister along the way. Life is good!

  5. Hi Matt, you say well how our faith is only a concept until we begin to feel some “hurt.” Our faith then takes us into our “unknowning.” This unknowning of the Carmalite defines a “suffering” that we in our culture see as emptiness and suffering. Our emptiness and suffering have many faces. Isn’t it ironic that the market’s call for “junk gold” is a deception for profit known in the Carpenter’s time in the temple. Our faith can be the light in our unknowning is we can tolerate some “emptiness” even if we can learn to seek some “emptiness” that is an expression of faith. This “suffering” for another is a suffering that can heal us. Blessings, EGF

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