My mother lives round the corner from a graveyard, and when I drive by in the falling white of a winter night, I look at headstones in snow and it’s true:
Celebrity or saint, scoundrel or steward, there’s a plot of dirt waiting for us all just the same. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, is the way of all of us.
On a Wednesday in February, the Wednesday where we bow and humbly wear our mortality with a smudge of soot, I think of the Body of Christ hurting in all the ways, as I set out our Lenten Wreath. Set out the carved wooden silhouette of Jesus who carried the weight of the cross, the whole aching span of history, on His back.
Honestly, on the Shrove Sunday before Ash Wednesday, I leaned up against a window sill and wept, sick of the cult of personality, sick of supremacy (of anyone over anyone), sick of celebrity, sick of sin, sick of hypocrisy, sick of me. I am the very chief among sinners, the one who says with Chesterton: “What’s wrong with the world? Dear World, I am.”
Sitting at the frayed edge of a Lent in a hurting world, preparing to repent and follow Jesus, the Antithetical Celebrity, through the next 40 days, toward an altar to surrender all, I reach over and pick up that cruciform silhouette of cruciform Jesus and I just keep returning to what this last year has ignited in me:
I no longer just believe in Jesus, I live in Jesus and He is not some optional addendum to my life but my only atmosphere to stay alive and I repent of all the days of living in the Universe of Self, instead of living in the Universe of Christ. If you exit the Universe of Self to live in the Universe of Christ where Jesus is your every breath, you never stop saying it with every breath:
Don’t follow me.
Don’t follow anybody but the Perfect One who had to take on a body.
Don’t follow anybody made of flesh, because flesh will fail & fall.
Follow Jesus alone, who alone can save.
When the church exits the Universe of Self to live in the Universe of Christ, we repent of our idols and our celebrities, repent of our ways that are Babel’s ways, repent of our addiction to pedestals and golden calfs and grind them all down to dust because we know that which we are made of.
All celebrity has a responsibility to tear down pedestals,
And all of us have a responsibility to not build any pedestals.
All of us: Tear down our pedestals with daily transparency and vulnerability, lest we fall with pride. We limp bruised. We keep turning, and turning around, turning and repenting from the Universe of Self and Celebrity, to turn toward the Universe of Christ that operates with an entirely counter-mentality:
Celebrity has platforms to grow brands, Christianity has altars to come and die.
Celebrity seeks visibility. Christianity seeks self-invisiblity so only Christ is visible though everything.
Celebrity rises to be untouchable. Christianity kneels low to pour out for those mistreated as untouchables.
Celebrity may have all the blue checks, but someday we will all tremble and stand before God for a character check, and the only hope for any of us will be the Scarlet Grace of Christ.
We, the church, repent of raising up celebrities instead of celebrating in our Maker who made all equally in the image of God.
We turn from our idolizing ways to care more about the marginalized and poverty-stricken and the sacrificing ways of God.
We, the church, repent of the way we have done church instead of humbly being the church.
We turn from our dependence on microphones and big lights to share the message, and turn toward serving in micro ways and being the light, by sharing all that we have so that our very lives become the stronger message.
We, the church, repent: Personal sin never stays personal; personal sin grows into horizontal cancer. That only shrinks when it’s brought to the Light, and we stay in the Light, breath in the Light, live in the Light.
We repent: The root of all kinds of evil in the world is entitlement in our hearts.
We repent: Never let any hypocrisy of a leader hinder any of your intimacy with God.
We repent in sack cloth and ashes, turn to witness God raise beauty from even these ashes.
On the cusp of Lent, we turn and return again to the season where a year ago, the world came face to face with the pandemic of COVID. And maybe a limping year later, we enter this Lent walking more of the humble Way of Jesus:
Mega church has become micro church, microphones and platforms have given way to micro-communities that are spiritually formational and, in these strange days are we becoming more of what Jesus has always modeled:
Small is the real great. Local is where it’s at. Micro ministry reaps macro growth. Local and small is the greatest of all. Because: Ministry is not about going big or go home. In ministry — going big can blow up your home in Christ.
We repent: Travel itineraries with little accountability can lead to great misery. Go Big at the peril of your own soul. The Jesus Way of Ministry turns to walk another way: Go small to Go Home.
Just look at the Way of Jesus.
This is why we repent and turn, to turn and look to the Way of Jesus, to the face of Jesus.
We bow and bend and enter Lent and whisper:
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, we live in the Universe of Jesus, where the hand of God sculpts bits of soil into souls, where the breath of God kisses dust to life, where we do more than believe in Jesus, we breathe in Jesus, we live in Jesus.
There are headstones in graveyards round the corner. But we repent and keep company with Jesus, through our days, through Lent, through to the end, more than only believing in Him, but actually living in Him, in the Universe of Christ — where even dust can resurrect.