It’s on t-shirts, bumper stickers, signs and windows…“Keep Louisville weird;” 4 years ago when I moved to this town thinking that was a pretty humorous motto: I had a picture painted in my mind of KY. This serene landscape where the grass has a certain blue tint… where the horses run free through a constant dreamy midst. A state divided by one lane roads, each lined with long white split wood fences. Lots of front patio’s and rocking chairs… a certain Mayberry stuck in the 1950’s amidst a hustling country. I was coming from a northeastern city, a fast paced coastline full of ego, stress, and well… no horses.
Anyway, I now know better because every time I walk out of my condo to wander the highlands, Louisville’s weirdness seems to shine brighter. It seems that this town just keeps one-upping itself; just when I become used to the constant newness and “weirdness” that is Bardstown rd., it jumps up another level. I’ve been in my condo for about 5 months now, let me give you a tally of what I have seen. I saw Gumbi (the green 1990s children’s tv character, barreling down the street on a skateboard. Several days later I saw a giant banana doing the same but being towed by a bicycle. I’ve seen things pierced or tattooed that I didn’t know could get pierced or tattooed. Recently I saw a man walking his dog and piercing wasn’t enough for him so he decided to implant a giant screw-in spike on the top of his head. I’ve seen cars decorated like art projects… flamenco dancing in the streets, I saw someone walking three cats, and each with their hair died a different fluorescent hue. Some flaunt Gothic costumes, others preppy golf polo shirts, business suits, hippy outfits, and I have even seen (on more than one occasion) birthday suits wandering the Louisville street… and the crazy part is, they all seem to mingle just fine…
Several weeks ago though, Bardstown rd finally topped itself… I had reluctantly accepted an invitation to go on a walk up the street on a Monday night, a “zombie walk”. I say reluctantly because my acceptance was not based on my desire to be a Zombie, but instead because a certain cute brunette girl asked me to join her, and well… you just don’t turn that down.
Anyway, (for anyone who didn’t see it or see pictures of it in the local paper) at 8:29pm the road, not the sidewalk, not the shoulder of the road… but the entire road, was overtaken by not 10, not 20, not 100, but THOUSANDS of “Zombies.” I saw a zombie superman, I saw a zombie bride and groom, I saw living dead versions of several of my favorite tv stars, politicians, and musicians. I saw inanimate objects zombified (as the aforementioned banana person made another appearance.)
People ages 3 to 93 were parading down bardstown rd covered in paint and fake blood, walking with strange zombie limps, shaking unexpected cars, pressing their faces on storefronts, etc… It was utter craziness, it was the definition of weird, and the coolest part of the whole scene was that all of these different “Zombies” old and young, costumed or casual, they all shared one trait. They were having the time of their lives! (pun fully intended)
It was weird, it was kinda gross, it broke a plethora of city ordinances and laws, but it was pretty damn fun! These dead people were so alive that Louisville had to shut down one it’s most traveled streets to accommodate their crusty bloodied smiles! Given the thousands of Zombies, I only saw one dead man. He was the one that was standing on a soapbox with a microphone spouting off misinterpreted scriptures and handing out pamphlets that told of the eternal damnation of all his peers marching around him. Yes, he was dead, to an opportunity, he was dead to laughter and play, he was dead to a challenge, he was dead to the world around him.
This man wanted to change the world… to change Louisville, to bring people to Christ, have them recite the Lord’s Prayer. He wanted to provoke tears, spurn controversy among the crowds… He forgot something though… You can’t change the world if you are dead to the world.
We think of life as a beating heart, expanding and retracting lungs, tan skin & warm palms… but there are many beating hearts that aren’t fueling a living spirit. Yes, there are many dead Christian voices; however there are also many living zombies.
Let me take a second to say, GOD bless that man. He had the best of intentions, he was a devout Christian and I by no means want to take away from his showing of faith. But his means of presenting his message was dead. Personally, he had nothing to loose, his message was a monologue not conversation and he built tension not relationships with his audience, he didn’t have to change, grow, or live… just speak into a mic words off a page, he might as well have been preaching to a brick wall as his mic took away others ability to respond.
This is one of many interpretations of death and one of gain. When we are dead to the world around us, we can bask in the understanding of our own salvation, live the status quo, and feel good about what we see as a Christian mission. Words without interaction are dead and easy… easy is often misunderstood as personal gain.
There is a saying that floats around on the bumpers of cars… Life sucks, then you die. Another that states, “there are two definite in the world, death and taxes.” We are all going to die, sorry to burst your bubble…, but smile again my friends, we have the choice of what we are going to die to.
As a church, our living is defined in our mission and our death in our idleness. Buddha stated with certain eastern eloquence, “to be idle is a short road to death and diligence is a way of life.” As Christians, our life is about serving a purpose, serving a community, serving God. Our calling is to bring others to a life of fulfillment, to show through our example, love, compassion, and strength; the joys of being in relationship with God. We act as a bridge, stretching out to the wanderers and connecting them to the light and love of God. Not connecting them to the Church, for the church is the bridge, a means (and not the only one) of reaching from secular to divine. Never shall we see the church as the destination, for that is a dead end… that is when we die to our mission and to the changing world around us.
In Honduras there is a bridge… I just got back from a trip to Honduras in February and was able to see it. This summer at an evangelism conference in Tampa, I was brought back to the experience when one of my favorite Christian writers, Dan Kimball, alluded to the structure. Choluteca Bridge in Honduras
The Choluteca Bridge in Honduras is a beauty, constructed with fantastic architectural detail and awareness; it stands strong despite being blasted by Hurricane Mitch back in 1998. This bridge was one of the only structures to survive the onslaught. It wouldn’t die, it is a symbol of all that we need to be. Through our faith and with Christ as our cornerstone, we can withstand a beating. What makes the Choluteca Bridge an interesting case study though, is that while the structure survived unscathed, the hurricane blew with such force that it rerouted the river. What now stands in Honduras thus is a bridge, beautiful and strong, whose only purpose is to serve as a great viewing perch of the river which flows with life over what used to be the road. This bridge may be living, but its purpose is dead, is idle.
Are we as a church, us Presbyterians, complacent to use our church as a happy viewpoint for the rest of the world? Are we satisfied with the “gain” of our dying to service and evangelism? Are we content existing in our own salvation, as we confess the creeds once a week within stained glass windows? Or are we a bridge, alive to the world, living in both the divine and the secular? I don’t want to attend the funeral of the Presbyterian church and I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t want to be in it. Yes, it would be a little easier to live an idle life, we have to respect those who are tired and accept the gain of being a beautiful bridge that doesn’t have to support any weight. For those I agree with a statement of Mark Twain, “I won’t attend the funeral, but I will send a nice letter saying I approved of it.” From English Literature legend British songwriter Paul McCartney, sometimes we have to “live and let die.” That said, this… this is something that I would wear to a funeral. This is something that if I went out to build relationships with the local louisvillians, would cause me a little trouble. I never saw Jesus in a tie.
We all are called to live out our lives, to relate Christ, to different communities and mine involves a good pair of running shoes and a bicycle. Yours might not (or it might). That is the mission of Sweaty Sheep, to “put Christianity on the move” and into the community. By no means a running ministry, but an inclusive called ministry that stresses re-creation thru recreation. We would love to get you involved in our program, but we can talk about that later… For now think about just where your passion resides and how Christ can live out of that! And when you are living CHRIST, in Paul’s terms, I promise it will be for gain… the sky will gain a little brighter blueness, the flowers in aroma, your smile will gain flexibility, your laughter, your tears, your song will come from a little deeper in your soul.
To do this though we must die a different kind of death… we must die to ourselves and our own comforts, routines, and pleasantries. We must die to ourselves to really be born in to life. This might take a while, but this is the gain that Paul felt in death, We gain life from death!
For many years Paul was dead to his call… he wasn’t Paul… he was Saul. One day Saul, riding to his next persecution, to earn his paycheck and continue on his selfish living, well he died… he was quite blatantly knocked off an ass and onto his own, and after a period of blindness, he opened his eyes to a new life, a life not of his own but of Christ.
What will it look like when we die to ourselves if we haven’t already, to soak up and live out all the life that is Christ. We won’t have to yell into a microphone, our smiles and the twinkle in our eyes will evangelize for us. When we die to ourselves and live out Christ, this world gets less scary, it becomes less of an obstacle (as John states, Christ overcame the world). This life is not so burdensome of a journey; things might just get a little more fun you might want to die sooner than later.
I think the theologian, Billy Joel, does a great job in speaking to this topic…
Billy Joel wants us to die young… he saw the double positives that Paul wrote about in Philippians. You see, we are flipping a coin with two heads… To live is Christ, to die is Gain. Those are my kind of odds, I would love to go with Paul to the bet window at Churchhill downs! This man that stood atop a soapbox, he was dead to the people around him, he had gotten left behind the changing times. His faith in God will always be alive, but his means of ministry and sharing the gospel has long since gone out of style (it died off with cassette tapes).
This man gained because his faith settled personal fears about the future. He claims to “know” Christ thus he is comfortable with his own salvation. Paul likewise was able to look at death with anticipation because he knew it was going to be beautiful. We as Christians are able to smile at the thought of death, not the action, but the outcome…
Living is Christ… in many of the concordances, the study bibles, etc… these are hard words. These are words that correspond to our suffering the cross, our experiencing of the pain and trials of Jesus. Paul wrote to the church of Philippi from his jail cell, a suffering disciple… no, we can’t forget the cross… but let us not forget why Christ died.
Because of Christ’s death we have a life waiting to be lived… to live is Christ doesn’t mean to live out the death of Christ… it means to shine bright with the light of this world! It means to live a life that parallels the friend, the teacher, the carpenter the Jesus that people loved to be around. Christ spent his life not living alongside the poor, the prostitute, the taxcollector, but living with them. Jesus didn’t stand on a soapbox and speak through a mic, he earned their trust and spoke through his love. Christ didn’t just accept the invitation to the party, but he moreover provided the wine!
My evangelist friend brought pamphlets and tracts to the zombies, but he didn’t bring Christ. He brought the cross but didn’t bring the life. He brought the thorns but not the fellowship… he brought good intentions, but didn’t build relationships of which to share those intentions. Laymen’s terms… this man was what we like to refer to as a “party pooper.”
Allow us to look at this text differently… Earlier the allusion was made that this was a win win bet. Life is Christ and death is gain, either option seems beautifully rewarding. Well, why do they have to be mutually exclusive?
We remember that biblical verses have more than one interpretation when searching through the many translations of the Bible. The simple phrasing of a verse can shine a whole new light on a passage, this is why the Bible is a understood to be a living book of wisdom… The GOD”s Word translation writes “Christ means everything in this life, and in death we will have even more.” There are degrees of life. To live believing in God is great, (Christ means everything in this life). But bump it up a level, die to yourself and live not knowing Christ, but embracing that Christ lives inside of you and “you will have even more.” Finally, live it by sharing it, don’t be idle, don’t die a slow death, and share the love that is Jesus. Galatians 2:20 states “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body I live by faith.”
Yes Paul speaks into a paradox; to live we must die, die to selfishness and give more than 10% of our paycheck to our purpose. We must die to safety and complacency and take a risk, walk out on a ledge, as God is risky and faith is a leap. We must die to habit and close-mindedness, well being birthed into newness; we must die to the bounds of the earth because Christ came to overcome worldly adversity.
I leave you with a final metaphor… C4 is a plastic explosive. A small brick of c4 is enough to take out an entire building (a big building).
C4 is interesting… you can take it and hold a flame to it; nothing.
You can take it and drop it on the ground; nothing.
But… you take this block and stick a detonator in it, a simple fuse really, and well, be careful.
Christian faith is powerful. A seed of faith, a block of Christian C4, it can change a landscape. We have a choice, we can set the block down, use it to steady a wobbly table, keep it tucked away in the basements of our churches, or we can stick a fuse in it and let it explode! You can’t just take a hammer to it, Stand on a soapbox outside the crowds, you have to get deep down inside it and blow it up from the inside. You wanna live? That means blowing up your block, don’t let your faith be an eternalized dream… deferred because we have died to our mission instead of ourselves, instead live a dream, a faith, fulfilled… Langston Hughes writes of a “dream deferred:”
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?