Protestant churches follow American culture much like the man with the broom and shovel follows the horses in a parade. Liberal Protestants can be counted on to fit their ever shrinking theology into latest intellectual fashions. Evangelicals, while largely oblivious to the intellectual fashions of the past 150 years, can be reliably counted on to package the Gospel in the latest pop culture fashions, so that it’s hard to tell in some churches whether you’re worshiping or attending a rock concert or are part of some sort of weird reality show.
Being in the world but not of it has been reduced to following the horses in the parade with a broom and shovel. You’re in the parade, but not of it. You have the happy and illusory feeling of being relevant without realizing exactly what it is you’re relevant to. Unfortunately for you, the happy bystanders watch the parade to look at the bands and the horses, not at the folks with the shovels.
It’s important to understand one’s place in life’s parade. To think you’re part of the parade because you’re part of the clean-up brigade is to be sadly misinformed about your role, and rather self-deluded about your importance to the spectacle. No matter how hard you try, you and your broom and shovel will be lost amid marching bands, horses, and beauty queens. To think you’re part of the parade—that people are watching you—is to be sadly deluded.
And yet, there is a real need for the people who follow the horses with brooms and shovels in the great American parade. It’s just that they need to see themselves for what they are. They’re needed, not because the parade needs any more marchers, but because the parade leaves a colossal mess in its wake. And it’s not just the horses that make the mess. . .
Following the Savior who washed his disciples’ feet entails taking up shovels and brooms to clean up the filth, ruin, and wreckage left in the wake of the American parade. Someone has to clean up after it. Someone has to tell the truth about the mess, someone has to throw out the lies of a death-dealing culture where Caesar offers sugarplum fantasies of military glory to the poor and disposable. Where human life matters only insofar as it is convenient. A culture where health care is a luxury for the wealthy, a dream of the poor, and bankruptcy for everyone else. Some ambassador from God’s Kingdom has to tell the truth about a culture where the common good is prostituted to political advantage and then buried under litter-strewn mounds of cheap rhetoric about freedom and choice, which for most people boils down to choosing between K-Mart or Walmart.
And someone has to care about the people the parade ran over—the lost, the losers, the addicted, and the not-so-bright, the uneducated and the weak. The people for whom normal family life is only an educated guess and for whom there is no spiritual foundation on which to build an identity. The people who know there must be some purpose in life, but who have no idea who God is, or His Son, or what that purpose might be.
Who else but the ones whose feet have been washed by the Son of God can pick these people up once the parade has gone by and gone over them? Who else but these little christs can see this procession for what it is—an extravaganza of marching bands, clowns and horses parading by with the hope no one will notice the dry-rot breaking through the gaudy colors?
And who but these little christs will think to ask where the parade is headed, and what it’s about?
Certainly there will be those hip souls who will continue to carry their brooms and shovels, marching on as if they’re part of the parade, unaware of the savage irony of their position or what it is that’s stuck on their shovels. The hipsters, aesthetic and intellectual, who embrace every cutting-edge cultural trend and academic theory, and who in profoundly ironic mode see themselves in the parade but not of it, these we will always have with us.
But what is needed are not hipsters but schlubs, little christs humble enough to help the schlubs run over by the parade to get back on their feet, to get them out from under the parade and its spell and onto a different way, a narrow way, which can be difficult to find unless you look hard for it, and unless you have someone to show you the way. A way that’s as broad and narrow as the welcoming outstretched arms of the crucified Messiah.