Bait and Switch – Just Don’t

crucifix hanging from string of buddhas with strange animal about to eat
Image credit: <a href="">Charles Hutchins</a>

Galatians 2:11-14

Then, when Peter came to visit at Antioch, I had a face-off with him. He was such a hypocrite! He dined with the heathen until some of Jim’s people arrived. But then, to mollify those legalists, he cut himself off from them and kept to himself – and the Jews, even Barnabas, were suckered into joining him in his hypocrisy. When I saw what was happening, how they weren’t practicing what they preached, I told Cephas publicly, “If you’re so Jewish, and you live like a heathen, how can you expect the heathen to behave like Jews?”

If we give Peter the benefit of the doubt, he was just doing what Paul had recommended: trying to be “all things to all people.”

But I’m with Paul on this one. If you’re going to say and do something, you can’t mollify someone else’s foibles about it and maintain your credibility. Especially when you’ve made implicit commitments. Either make your case for what you’re committed to, or admit that you’re just not that committed. In business, that’s what they call “bait and switch.”

It’s never a good practice in business. Say one thing to get them in the door, and then as it turns out, there are lots of strings attached to the deal. You might get lots of people in the door, but they’re not going to stay. And no matter how good your next deal is, they’re not coming back.

Lots of churches play the game, though. “Just say you believe in Jesus is all that’s required.” That’s how it starts. But then, there are strings – you have to give up all your “pagan ways,” which can include just about anything. And it starts early. The bait comes with Sunday school. The switch comes with high school.

No wonder so few people are willing to give it another try.

My best (and Paul’s) advice to churches – and businesses, and families, and anyone else who cares to take it: Don’t bait and switch.

Song 4

woman sleeping
Photo credit: <a href="">Casey Muir-Taylor</a>

Psalm 4

God, do right! Answer when I call.
When my hands were tied, you gave me wiggle room.
Now, listen to what I have to say.

As for you people,
How long must I endure you?
How long will you continue to be taken in by smooth talkers?
God will stick with those who stick with God.
When I talk, God listens.

When you’re desperate, don’t do wrong.
Better to keep quiet and sleep on it,
Offer what’s right,
Trust God.

Lots of people say,
“If only God would give us something good!
We wish we could see God’s face!”
You’ve given me more happiness
Than they have when their investments all pay off.

I can sleep at night,
Because I know God keeps me safe.

This poem is about grace under pressure.

Rather than take matters into one’s own hands, this poem’s advice is to take a step back, count to 10, sleep on it. Don’t take the first quick deal that comes along, just because it sounds good. And, above all, be true. In return, the wisdom of the poem offers divine protection, guidance, blessing, and peace.

The caveat is that sometimes one must wait quite a long time for divine vindication to come, and the longer the wait, the harder it is to resist the urge to react in unhealthy ways – letting anger get the better of us, taking a bad deal, losing our cool.

That doesn’t mean that one always remain passive. Rather, it means being responsive rather than reactive. It means acting in a way that remains true to who you really are, with intentionality, with authenticity. After all, when you go to sleep each night, how peacefully you sleep depends on how well aligned your actions are with what your dreams reveal to you.

Not a Super Hero, but an Authentic Human

woman holding self-portrait
Photo credit: <a href="">Mrs. Logic</a>

Mark 8:27-38

Jesus took his students with him to Caesarea Philippi. As they were traveling, he asked them, “Who are people saying I am?”

They said, “Some say you’re John the dunker. Others say you’re Elijah. Others say you’re another truth-teller.”

He asked them, “What do you have to say about me?”

Peter said, “You are the anointed one.”

And so Jesus told them not to tell anyone about him.

Instead, Jesus began to teach his students that the authentic human must suffer and be rejected by the rulers, the religious, and the bureaucrats, that he must be executed and three days later return to life. He said this was no secret.

Peter took Jesus aside and berated him, but Jesus turned his back to Peter, and as he looked at his other students said to him, “Get behind me, Satan. You don’t speak for God. In fact, you’re thinking is quite banal.”

He called the crowd and his students together and told them: “If you want to be my follower, you’ll have to put your willingness to be executed for treason against your overlords ahead of your own concerns. If you’re concerned with saving your own skin, you’re as good as dead. But whoever dies for me and and for the sake of this mission will really live. What’s it worth to have the whole world if you’re dead? Really, what will you trade your life away for? Whoever is embarrassed by their association with me and what I say because you want to fit in with all the cheating and corruption going on – the authentic human will consider them embarrassments when that one comes with the splendor of God commanding heaven’s legions.”

Notice the sharp contrast in this episode between Jesus’ self-understanding as being the authentic human and Peter’s identification of Jesus as “the anointed one.” The anointed one, the messiah, is someone who was commonly understood to be the hero who would come with super-human powers to rescue the people, who remain passive pawns in a divinely ordained game of geopolitics.

Jesus immediately rejects Peter’s understanding of the mission. Far from being a super-man with extra-human power, Jesus begins to teach them about being authentically human. The term traditionally, literally rendered, “Son of Man,” comes from the book of Daniel. Some recent translations, in the interest of inclusive language, have rendered it “the Human One.” But what’s at stake in the human one is what it means to be authentically human.

Mark’s Jesus insists that to be authentically human is to be willing to suffer, to be rejected, even to die, in order to take the side of the oppressed and abused. There is no glorious rescue from beyond. There is only the human work of restoring to the human family those who have been dehumanized for the profit of the rulers, the religious, and the bureaucratic task-masters. Mark’s Jesus insists that the only way to truly live, to be immortal, is to give oneself completely over to that cause. Paradoxically, fitting in, going along to get along, failing to stand up to the powers of oppression inevitably lead to an inauthentic unsustainable humanity. For Mark’s Jesus, authenticity is life, in-authenticity is death.

For those, like Peter, who are hoping for a knight on a white horse to sweep in at the last moment and save the day, the messianic expectation is bound to end in disappointment. Moreover, the misappropriation of Jesus’ mission as a messianic rescue mission will even lead those who insist on it to become unwitting agents of the very oppressors Jesus has come to stand against. Jesus turns and offers his back to Peter’s betrayal, and at the same time implores his own students, and anyone else who will listen in the crowds, to take the opportunity to join the ranks of an authentic humanity.

Authenticity Matters

people leaving church with homeless man sleeping by the door
Photo credit: <a href="">Luke Addison</a>

Malachi 2:1-9

Now, clergy, here’s what I have to say to you:

“If you won’t listen, if your hearts aren’t in it for me,” God says, “then damn you. All your blessings will turn to curses. In fact, they’re already curses, because you’re just going through the motions. Your ministries will be fruitless, and you’ll all be shitfaced. Your offerings will be crap, and you’ll be out on your ear.”

“This is what I have to say to you. It’s so that my deal with Levi will stick,” says God. “I made my deal with Levi to promote life and well-being. Promoting life and well-being, that is what reverence is. That is what being faithful to me is. Telling people the truth without demurring, having integrity, doing what’s right – that’s what will lead people out of their messes. Clergy should be knowledgeable enough that people can get good advice from them. They are God’s representatives.”

“But you’ve abandoned all that. You’ve tripped people up with bad advice. You’ve broken the deal,” God says. “And insomuch as you’ve substituted your own agenda for mine, I’ll spurn you, and embarrass you in front of everyone.”

If Malachi were around today, he might be Luke Addison taking a snapshot of people coming out of church on a beautiful spring morning. The picture makes you wonder what kind of sermon they’d heard just moments ago. The bigger question is, what kind of sermons are routinely preached here, that would lead to such stark indifference among the people who attend.

Malachi threatens a sudden “fall from grace” for those who claim to represent God but who are more concerned with their own agendas. Once in a while we see famous preachers fall that way, publicly. It never fails to be an embarrassing spectacle, and an occasion for religion’s detractors to say, “I told you so.”

But more often Malachi’s words play out in the “death by a thousand cuts” ordinary ways shown in Luke’s picture. As often as ordinary people see the disconnect with sanctimonious show and the truth of the camera eye view (and the windows of the soul), the credibility of institutions of faith is critically compromised.

[Bonus: What goes for the church, goes for every other institution, and their leaders: Credibility is damaged much more by day-to-day lack of authenticity than it is by bad headline news.]