I am very good at being ‘almost radical’. I am good at challenging people just enough to make me sound edgy or creative, but not enough to allow any allegations of taking things too far. It cleverly avoids criticism from those who may disagree, which might hurt my still-too-tied-to-my-identity, people-pleasing, wanting-everyone-to-love-me ego.
Sometimes that tactic comes from a good place of wanting to ‘start where people are at’ or be relational, but I have to confess that most of the time it just comes from a fear of being exposed to ridicule and challenge.
In a few days we celebrate the birth of Jesus. This was not the arrival of a control freak, carefully managing their surroundings for least disruption to their ministry. He arrived helpless to this beautiful, yet broken planet, trusting himself into the hands of imperfect humanity. Thirty-three years after that meek entrance, he would be stripped and naked again. This thought is teaching me something quite profound:
You have to be naked to start a revolution.
“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her first-born, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” (Luke 2:6-7)
You have to be prepared to be vulnerable, exposed and misunderstood.
You have to be prepared to be mocked, caricatured and offensive.
Jesus’ unpredictable ministry was not the work of someone who had one eye on Jerusalem and one eye on Twitter to see how he was being perceived. They say I’m too obtuse? Let’s tweak that for future public engagements – give them a bit more solid theology. A little too angry? Let’s visit a nursery tomorrow – the tables will be too low to turn over anyway. Not nationalistic enough? Let’s wear some military garb for the next photo opp.
Those who have kicked off radical movements have always run the risk of being written off as lunatics or being ignored because of their lack of a media strategy. They have been prepared to be naked and resource-light in human terms. They have been prepared to look stupid, to be criticised, to be plastered across the press as hopeless dreamers, do-gooders, bigots, or irrelevant.
Don’t get me wrong. I spend a good chunk of my time training believers to engage intelligently in the public square – in the media and in politics. It is hugely important. But in 2012 have we become so media-fixated, hypersensitive to criticism, and less rooted in God that we are paralysed from saying or doing what we are called to?
For Facebook friends, read ‘audience’ and for status update, read ‘press release’. We are becoming our own press officers, managing our public profile and perception. Our brains are becoming increasingly wired to insecurely gauge and seek responses to what we say or do. We edit our status updates and lives to present only the most appealing or acceptable part of ourselves, or what we think we can get away with. And that takes us right back to my disease of almost saying what I actually think. My calculation these days is too often: “How will this affect that person’s or the public’s perception of Christians?”(handily connected to their perception of me) rather than “God, what would you have me do or say?”
We are called to follow Christ, not employed by him to be spin doctors for the kingdom. Jesus didn’t want to be ‘like’d. He wanted to be obeyed and worshipped.
Here lies Andy Flannagan – he was almost radical. Not an epitaph I want.
Is it time for us to shed the clothes of popularity, respectability and compromise? Is it time to get naked?