I am approaching 50 years of age, and I was once a tough guy; at least, some think so. Many, when looking at me now with the goatee and long hair, seem to think I still am. Yet the older I get, and the more I search for an understanding of God, spirituality, and discovering the place I need to be according to my understanding of that search, the more emotional I find myself being when I find either new answers that will take me in a new direction, or in obtaining reassurance that I am on the right path to where I need to be going. One of the beautiful things about this journey is that sometimes (in fact, more often than I really deserve) I get to see movies, read books, or hear music that I believe God has touched to help me in that understanding.
Sometimes when this happens, that formerly big tough guy gets emotional. Such was the case this morning after finishing my viewing of the new, sure-to-be controversial documentary, Lord, Save Us From Your Followers. I was so moved by knowing that I am on the right journey, and have come to some of the right conclusions, that I found myself weeping. It wasn’t so much for me; I would say it was for the hurt I feel for a Church which has forgotten about the mission of Jesus, and especially about those who have been hurt. There were also tears for those who get it and are being Jesus to a hurting world.
This film by Dan Merchant should be required viewing and discussion for any church. The good thing is that some churches will take up this task; the sad thing is, most churches will ignore the challenge. It is a shame; it is why the Church (as perceived by many) has become more like the whore of Hosea than a beautiful bride that loves her husband, Jesus Christ.
Lord, Save Us is a documentary that explores the Church, specifically in America. In the exploration we see not only the perception of the Church from various segments of society, but also how many within the Church view themselves. It is a road trip of sorts where discussion takes place not only on the streets of various cities, but with certain public individuals. From Al Franken to Ann Coulter, and from Bono of U2 to Anthony Campolo, numerous views are presented and challenged. The movie, while quoting and using the Bible at various points, depends largely on common sense.
The central thrust is looking at how the Church and Christianity would be viewed if they did one simple thing, act like Jesus. The effects, the challenges that come about are not only eye opening; they are concepts that are effective. We see the effectiveness of this approach in various places it seems the Church has been at war with, from the media to the gay community and from the public sector to the homeless and poor. We see this by practical applications of trial and error by the makers of the film, and we see it from the reality of the impact of parachurch organizations like World Vision in their work with the poor in Ethiopia.
One of the amazing points in showing the power of being like Jesus comes not through the mouths of the religious, but those who are outside of the institutional Church, or mainstream Christianity. It is here that, if those individual people who make up the Church choose to listen and learn, a great deal of effective work can be done. Now don’t get me wrong; one of the reasons I loved this movie is that it doesn’t ask us to do these things to make projects out of people: we do it because we love them, just as Jesus loved them.
One of the things I think some within Christianity and the Church will become critical of is that the movie doesn’t address the “salvation” concepts required by some within Christian circles. On this point I would simply state, I don’t believe that is the purpose of the film. In the Bible, Jesus tells the story about one who is planting or sowing seeds. Some fall on good ground, some bad ground; there are some that come and help some along to grow and be effective; and some… well, some seeds die. It all starts with sowing seeds, a concept that I believe the Church, and many with Christianity have forgotten about.
I love this movie, though, because it addresses the idea that the building of relationships, the showing of unconditional love, of universal acceptance of the person, compassion for their hurts, is a starting point of showing a person the very love that Jesus showed them. It is in taking on the characteristics of Jesus that we genuinely learn to love others to the point that this love ultimately becomes a natural part of our persona. Jesus loved all people; so should we, including the child dying of AIDS, the hurting in a hurricane-devastated city, the homeless on the street, even those we may disagree with: the Democrat, the Republican, the Homosexual, and the Ultra Conservative. Love is patient, love is kind, love is… well, love is many things, but it is seldom confrontational, angry, hateful, and disrespecting.
Those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus, or Christian, often think we have all of the answers; yet we don’t understand those we are communicating with. In theological terms, getting to know people, showing people you love them where they are at, is a concept we know Jesus illustrated; it is a concept called incarnation. Followers of Jesus understand what it means to love even those they may hate; so what does this say about our ability to love those we simply disagree with on various points? While there is certainly the need for talking about the specifics of what Jesus said, that discussion has to start with respect and understanding.
Unfortunately, many who call themselves Christian represent in name all of us who say we follow Jesus. The consequences of that has been devastating; and in many ways, it is likely those individuals who are so dogmatic in their need to “confront sin” have damaged the possibility of some people rejecting Jesus based solely on the behaviors and actions of those most outspoken in the name of Jesus. When religious leaders call for the assassination of political leaders, or political leaders say we should kill all of the godless in a nation and make that nation a Christian nation, is it any wonder people are confused?
When Jesus says to love your enemy, to pray for those that would do you harm, where do His followers get off saying and doing the exact opposite? When we do, is it any wonder people are confused? When taking these questions, our methods, and our results seriously, is it any wonder that real followers of Jesus would say about many in Christianity, Lord, Save Us From Your Followers?