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Jesus gives us more than fake plastic love
I watch enough TV shows to know that there is an arbitrary standard for how relationships should look, how our marriages should feel, how our bodies should be crafted, and so on. Despite the postmodern deconstruction of everything, it seems to me that we still maintain a standard of appearance that makes us all feel inadequate. Even our faith is a victim of the fake plastic life that Radiohead so aptly coined in their 1995 The Bends single, “Fake Plastic Trees.”
In that song, the writer describes three people (a woman, a man, and himself), who are on a path to having the perfect life, one that is free from blemish, at least from the observers’ perspective. The refrain of the song tells us what this kind of mentality does to an individual: it wears them out. Gravity always wins. Without Jesus, life is hopeless.
The world’s cars look shiny but the engines are shot. As Jesus put it in Matthew 23 to the hypocritical Pharisees and scribes:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
We are more concerned with how we look than who we are and what we do. Our marriages, our bodies, and our faiths should look perfect.
And so we need to have perfect bodies. Cindy Crawford’s non-Photoshopped pictures have just surfaced and the world can now gaze at her un-airbrushed body so that we feel better about how we look. When the propaganda artists are exposed, we might feel a little encouraged. When the standard is deconstructed, we see hope in the rubble. But I wonder if there is hope just in the destruction.
On Downton Abbey, the picture perfect marriage of Robert and Cora Crawley is disrupted when Cora starts flirting with an art collector. At the cocktail party, Robert and Cora still look perfect, but the room feels their coldness.
When the Evangelicals write their idealistic CCM about endless faith, singing forever, and limitless happiness, it can be hard for us to relate. So we celebrate when Sufjan Stevens or Katy Perry or David Bazan describes how their faith crumbled.
The shiny veneer we put on everything wears our souls out, we rejoice when the outside laminate wears out too.
Thom Yorke wrote about it in 1995 and for the last twenty years, we’ve been buying ripped-up jeans, dressing down on purpose, and flipping the bird to the artificial standards that the capitalists give us. We are OK with the messiness. In fact, what is messy or not is relative.
Jesus is talking to the Pharisees about working on our interior life, and not focusing on the exterior. It seems to me that we have managed to care about neither. We don’t nurture our souls. We just settle for our flawed selves because the pressure to be perfect is too great. Plus, tomorrow we can just buy something else.
It seems like we still don’t care much for our interior life: our true selves, faith, prayer, relationships, but we have redefined what that shiny veneer looks like. Deep down we still may think we are inadequate, unimpressive, fatally flawed with no hope of restoration. Our relationships don’t work, we always end up in the same place, the incremental growth is just too slow. We need to be transformed, not just tuned up.
Rather than just celebrating when the celebrity bodies, relationships, and faiths break apart, let us move toward becoming whole people in Jesus. Not superficially obsessed, not preoccupied with how we look and not so defeated that we can’t pray, worship, or commune. Jesus gives us something else.
Let’s move toward rejecting the world’s standards, but move toward restoring our souls in Jesus. There is hope for us. Jesus, incarnate, came to us and suffered alongside of us. He entered death and misery and defeated them. That gift is available to us too. We can be free of the shackles of the world. In his resurrection, he can untie us, like he untied Lazarus from the curse of death and damnation. We no longer need to damn ourselves for not being good enough. Jesus gives us an opportunity to be one with him. Through him, we are transformed. We become part of his body. We move into our true selves. We aren’t perfect, but he has made us good enough.