Our oldest son started JK this year which, amongst other things, has freed up some of my time in the morning. So, instead of working on my dissertation, or preparing a sermon, or doing anything productive at all, the other morning I decided to enter the world of the morning talk show (cartoons have long overtaken the morning prime-time slot in our house). So, I tuned into Live with Regis and Kelly so that they could transmit their positive TV vibes to me and invigorate my morning. What did I get? I got a pep talk from Regis about “feelin’ fine in ’09!”—their slogan for the first week of January.
Apparently, 2009 is going to be a stellar year—at least if your only source of information is the morning talk show circuit! However, if you’ve been paying any attention at all in the last few months, the slogan “feelin’ fine in ‘09” ought to ring about as hollow to you as it does me. It strikes me that Regis telling me that we’re “gonna be fine in 09” is about as trustworthy as that cowboy hat wearing jewelry salesman on TV telling you he’s going to give you reams of cash for your used jewels. It’s such a thin veneer! As I’m writing this, Canada’s premiers are trying to agree on an economic stimulus package, the American economy is teetering on the brink of collapse, and we’re looking at record job losses all over the Western hemisphere. All is not well, it seems, after all.
It’s not that I don’t like Regis—I’m sure he’s a great guy. It’s just that Regis, at least for me on this morning, funneled the whole artificiality that our culture (especially our commercial and consumerist culture) brings to bear on the social and political realities of our time. Our culture, it seems, is constantly putting on the Emperor’s new clothes and walking around as if everything’s ok. As long as we’ve got our entertainment (I, for one, am waiting impatiently for the new season of LOST!) and all our other little distractions, we can try—in the end, always in vain—to coat the reality that we’re not doing fine.
Of course, this realization is nothing new for the church, or, at least it shouldn’t be. The church is the place where we come together to admit that we aren’t fine, that everything is not ok. The reality that all is not well is nothing new for the church and this puts us in a rather unique position. We live in a world that is in constant denial of brokenness. We try to deny our pain, be it emotional, physical, spiritual or mental. We deny our fallibility and our finitude; we deny our limits, with death being the big one. This is all to say that, in short, we try to deny our humanity by covering it up with an artificial smile and a spurious “everything’s ok!” thumbs up.
Within this culture of denial the church is reminded weekly in its confession that something’s amiss, something more than a faltering economy. In fact, the church confesses that the entire economy of our lives—the why and how of it all, all the way down—is broken. The Lenten season, which is around the corner, is the time that the church takes to remind itself of this and in doing so, bears witness to this reality for the whole world. Lent, it should strike us, is a deeply counter cultural and entirely subversive practice.
This is why the world needs the church—to tell it the truth about itself. We bear witness then, not with the plastic smiles of a thin veneer, but with the joy, that in our brokenness, in the very fissures of the fabric of our existence, we find the cheerfulness and optimism that only the cross engenders because it is there that we find, or rather are found by the God who came all the way down. In fact, this is why the whole world—or at the very least Regis Philbin—needs the lessons and practice of the Lenten season.