A PR problem

I don’t know what you think of The New York Times columnist David Brooks, but I am betting you may have read his April 11th piece, “The Moral Bucket List.” It was everywhere on my Facebook feed. A link to it was emailed to me by a friend. Followed by a succession of emails with quotes and exclamation points and statements like this one, “It is difficult to just pull ONE excerpt…” My mother called me, having seen David Brooks interviewed on a morning show, excited, wanting to share David Brooks’ brilliant insight that there are résumé virtues and eulogy virtues. She was running out to buy the book!

All of this is well and good. I read the article and found it well written and worthy of attention. But what really struck me was this: David Brooks didn’t come up with any of this. Jesus did! Humility, recognition of our weakness and sin, dependency on others, energizing love, call, knowing what’s ultimate… all of that is biblical. So, why was this so revelatory to so many? Why was my mother, a ruling elder – who like many, many (did I say many?) boomers has not so much left the church but stopped going – so charged by this concept that human beings are not the sum of their worldly accomplishments?

Luke 12 sprang to mind with the rich fool and his barns followed by the lilies of the field and the need to have our treasure in heaven. What about first will be last and last will be first? That pivotal foot washing scene and the command to love one another? The bit about the Pharisee and the tax collector and which one went home justified? I seem to recall a few passages about call… you know, like: Feed my sheep and Go therefore and you will be my witnesses. Need a moral bucket list? I think I know where you can find it.

Why isn’t Jesus all over my news feed and in my inbox and being exclaimed about by my mother? (No offense, Mom.) Why isn’t the Good News going viral?

Well, as my ruling elder friend in the communications field liked to say at session meetings, “You have a PR problem!” Indeed, I think the church and, dare I say, Christians have a PR problem. You know it, you’ve heard it. You’ve even seen the statistics to prove it. You can likely recite the perceptions with me: the church is hypocritical, judgmental, irrelevant, obsessed with infighting. Meanwhile, David Brooks and a New York Times article are spreading like kudzu.

We have a PR problem. Even worse, I think we’ve internalized our bad press and have started to believe that the perceptions are true. Certainly some of them are some of the time. Perhaps we should start there and confess it. Yes, we are hypocritical. (There’s that self-defeat category, that recognition of sin. Geez, if nothing else we ought to have a corner on that market!) Yes, we are judgmental, but we acknowledge that we are called to judge not lest we be judged. Yes, we are out of touch, but we are seeking to discern the new thing God is doing, badly sometimes, but sincerely. Yes, we too often fight with each other to the exclusion of looking up and out and around at the mission to which God has called us. (Called, we are called, people!)

Yes, but… that’s not all. We have Good News to share. Powerful, transformative, better-than-a-moral-bucket-list news to share and show and live. You don’t have to “work harder on saving your own soul” as David Brooks suggests. Jesus has saved it already, so you are free to live without that burden, in joy and gratitude and generosity in response.

Jill DuffieldI am so tired of the church, of congregations, of pastors, playing small, preaching small, proclaiming small, living small. I want euphoric, “ah-ha” calls about the gospel, not about the New York Times. The world is hungry for abundant life and we know where it can be found. We need to fix our PR problem by risking everything for the sake of the gospel so that the Good News will go viral.

Grace and peace,