Spray paint preachers scrawl it on overpasses. Faith-filled farmers erect makeshift billboards advertising it. Hippies sang it. Homeless guys add it to their cardboard pleas. Atheists hope it isn’t true.
What does that mean – really?
I never asked this question until I moved to Nashville. At the time, back in 1997, a survey claimed there to be over 2500 protestant churches in the music city. In the nine years since then I’ve been asked by four pastors to help them start NEW churches. This might be the one place in America wit more churches than Starbucks, Walgreens and Walmarts combined.
Every waiter, plumber and produce stocker goes to church – probably my church. I get “witnessed” to by Seventh Day Adventists in the airport. I read tracts left on urinals at Chili’s. I stare amazed at the reductionist theology screen-printed on t-shirts at the local LifeWay store – and more amazed at the number of people wearing them around here. I can listen to at least five Christian radio stations here if I want to, visit the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, tour at least three denominational headquarters, attend a bible study or church service in any neighborhood and on any night of the week and I could go months without having to interact at all with someone who does not share my belief that Jesus saves.
It’s a holy ghetto.
And here in the ghetto, surrounded by so many like-faithed folks, I get the privilege and horror of hearing my own beliefs spoken back to me many times a day. Sometimes hearing my own thoughts on God articulated by others here makes me question those beliefs. When I first heard “Jesus Saves” spoken in the ghetto, for instance, I was surprised at how incomplete it struck me as being – how meaningless it was.
Something similar happened with the words “you know” and “”like” years ago. In college I made liberal use of those little words. You know, I was like always saying like you know and like…you know? Never thought twice about it. But one day I backed into teaching a group of high school students and was suddenly surrounded by a cacophony of “like, you know”s. Hearing THEM talk like ME, you know, changed the way I talked – made me realize how short those words fell of communicating anything meaningful.
That’s what happened with “Jesus saves.” It’s everywhere – if not the exact words, then the sentiment. The usefulness of such short worded theology is assumed. The meaning is thought to be obvious and the application believed to be graspable by all. But do those two words and all the other bumper-sticker sized faith bites I’ve spouted my whole life really say what I’d like to? More importantly do they say what God came to? Are they really as meaningful, useful and life-altering as we think?
For the next couple days – maybe more – I’m hoping to make time to write about these two words. I’m writing from God’s ghetto where these words are as conspicuous as wallpaper. And all of us, in Nashville or not, are experiencing Easter – again, for the umpteenth year – and possibly under whelmed by it all. I’m hoping expanding “Jesus Saves” to a few hundred words here at SHLOG.COM will make these words more meaningful and the season come alive for us somehow.
If not, free peeps for everyone.