“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…”
I visited a church for a kids’ sports awards ceremony recently. The young pastor at the front faced a room full of strangers who were waiting impatiently with cameras to see their child get a trophy. He promised us that he only needed five minutes of our time (and that it was a matter of life and death). He talked of last second shots in basketball games and read some words from the book of Romans. Then he asked the audience where they wanted to spend eternity. The truth he shared with us was this: there is a hell and we will find ourselves in to it, unless we “ask Jesus into our hearts.” But there was Good News: God has directed the ball to go into the basket for us . . . even with seconds on the shot-clock – all we have to do is shoot it. He led the congregation of five hundred people through the sinner’s prayer. It was a pretty easy process, really. In closing, before everyone began to move, he pointed out the existence of these little blue cards placed inconspicuously in the back of each pew, so well situated I would’ve never noticed them unless my kids needed to draw a picture. If anyone in the sanctuary that morning had prayed the sinner’s prayer, he asked them to please fill out a blue card and hand it to one of the men dressed as referees upon exiting. The blue card moment stuck with me for a while. I almost feel a little disrespectful using this as an example; there were good intentions all around. (That’s a country song, isn’t it?) This is just such a perfect metaphor for my general understanding of righteousness, growing up in the evangelical church. The reduction of the Christian life to a blue card decision: the one that gets you out of hell. The “blue card Gospel” is a consumer choice, a purchase with benefits. The church tallies the number of conversions and sends it to district headquarters where it is kept on some holy ledger. Now, I don’t mean to denigrate the power of one decision to change our lives, but there is something about our drive-through, “last second shot” approach to conversion that defies what it means to follow Jesus. It is self-serving, beneficial to all, and costs us nothing but a short formulated prayer and some words scrawled on a little card. We are meeting consumer demand quite efficiently.
There is an entire world of people (and religions) interested in their own righteousness; and when people are concerned only with their personal righteousness, the world suffers for it. Surely the Compassionate Radical on the hill is preaching something deeper than the blue card conversion. There must be something more to following this Savior than merely repeating several words of the sinner’s prayer! For me, it is simple. In a greater Biblical narrative that tells us we should be crucified for Christ, and we should lay down our lives for our neighbor, how have we ever arrived at the idea of righteousness as simply a personal spirituality? The radical movement of the Gospel is personal in that it allows us to be filled by God, so we can surrender more and more of ourselves. I have settled on the translation of justice because I believe that is what Jesus calls us to in the heaviness of the very moment we first utter His name. He moves in and begins to establish God’s order in us so we move out, toward the world. It is an emptying of ourselves into the world solely to live out His vision and His purpose. It is the pursuit of God’s radical justice. Not the American Idol, designer t-shirt, free trade coffee, and electric car kind of justice (although, there is nothing inherently wrong with some of those things); rather, it is the revolutionary, uncomfortable, compassionate, connected, love-your-neighbor-at-all-costs kind of justice—the kind that doesn’t come easy for us, the kind we should be talking more about in church services. I wonder if churches should replace their blue cards with Jesus tattoos. The consumer conversion might be the same, but the stakes would be higher and the ink longer lasting.
(An excerpt from a chapter titled “Free Trade Coffee and Jesus Tattoos”…)