Work has been keeping me incredibly busy and it’s been a while since I’ve blogged, but I was stirred enough to write something after reading another one of John Ellis’s interviews, so during my lunch break today I thought I’d quickly slap something together.
Those who know Ellis will know he was the front man for the “Christian band” Tree63 for many years. He has written some wonderful worship songs, some of which we sing in church. I also wrote about his new album in my last blog post.
Now Ellis has taken to swearing and saying things like “There is religion and there is reality. God lives in reality, assuming he exists at all” and “I will never lose that spirituality that I happened to find in the orthodox version of what God is. But I don’t believe that jesus-is-fine-and-everything-is-fluffy.com.” (More at the interview link above.)
There is religion and then there is Jesus. Jesus is not religion. I think Ellis is fighting his way back to his ‘first love’, trying to get out of religion and just find Jesus. I have this inkling because I think I’ve been in his position before.
What Ellis experienced in America, in my opinion, is religion. So much of religion rules that country. When people assume you’re going to hell because you don’t believe that God created the earth in six days, that’s religion. When people think you’re the biggest heretic ever because you don’t believe in their interpretation of Hell, that’s religion. When people compartmentalise, divide, and judge you based on even the smallest amount of doctrinal discrepancy, that’s religion. And so much of America seems that way. It’s all about who’s side you’re on and where you sit. It’s never about relationship, it’s about which bullet points you nod your head at and claim to believe, and whether or not you’ll tow the party line.
I came to the realisation many years ago that I would sooner follow a dirty pastor than a clean one. Let me explain what I mean. A clean pastor is the guy where everything is so wonderful and perfect, his teeth shine whiter than Obama’s, and he always has the perfect thing to say. His theology is clean cut; his preaching is clean cut; his family are perfect; and of course his hair is so clean cut it’s unbelievable.
A dirty pastor is the guy who makes mistakes and is real about it. He’s open about his mistakes. His theology is jumbled; he doesn’t always have the answers; he is just a fellow traveller on this narrow, dirty, rocky road that is finding his way and finding Jesus. The only difference is that God has called him to lead others on the road. That’s not an easy thing to do.
This whole “don’t hang your dirty laundry in public” idea (echoing a comment at the article) is crap. If you don’t hang your dirty laundry out then people will assume you have none; and then one day it all comes tumbling down when they discover that their ‘perfect pastor’ is actually just bluffing his way through it all. Pastors who don’t hang out their dirty washing don’t build people to Jesus, they build people to themselves, or rather to the image they’ve set up for themselves; pastors (or, should I say Christians too) that do hang their dirty laundry out are like Paul from the Bible – boasting in their weaknesses so Christ may be glorified. I’ll follow a guy like that any day.
When I picture Jesus I picture a dirty guy with mud on his clothes and having maybe forgotten to brush his teeth that morning. He’s not worried about his image — after all, if you clean others you’re going to get the dirt on you. Jesus walks with us through the muck and crap of our lives and so he is bound to get dirty.
Give me dirty Jesus, who isn’t afraid to get mud on his clothes and sand in his hair. Give me dirty Jesus where sin isn’t some sort of kryptonite that makes him run away. Holiness isn’t idealism. Holiness isn’t clean teeth and ironed clothes. Holiness is wild, free, and prepared to get dirty.
A dirty Jesus equals a dirty Christian, who, like Jesus, isn’t afraid to waddle through the muck and help those who are stuck in the muck. I think this is what Ellis might be getting at, although I think an academic degree will never teach anyone that. This is something that we have to live through to understand.
I’m also thankful to the many dirty pastors I’ve encountered in my life who’ve gone against the usual flow and just been real. Many of them have really shaped my life in a wonderful way — Marcus, Alan, Barry, Shaun, and others. You know who you are. And of course Dave now too as I get to know him. I know many of you won’t even get to read this because you’re too busy getting dirty with those that need it. Good. That’s what I’m talking about!
About Ryan Peter
Ryan Peter is a writer, journalist and ghostwriter from Johannesburg, South Africa. He writes fantasy, sci-fi, inspirational fiction, and on faith and theology. He is the author of "When Twins War", a fantasy epic; "Your Single Happiness", about how to find joy in your singleness; "The Butcher's Shadow", an upcoming ghost story thriller; "Jesus Crushes Sin", about a down-to-earth view of holiness; and an upcoming sequel to Robert Louis Stevenson's classic, Treasure Island. Ryan is also part of the New Covenant Ministries International (NCMI) translocal team.