HeGetsUs…And We Still Don’t Get It

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One-Hundred Million dollars was spent bringing Jesus to the forefront of the modern conversation on Super Bowl Sunday. That doesn’t just happen. I’ve now watched the discourse for several weeks, and to no body’s surprise, Jesus is as polarizing today as he ever was. Some political figures spewed venomous comments seeing the ad as a return to fascism. Others celebrated that the object of their worship music was validated on the public stage.

And for most people, who cared infinitely more about the game than spiritual renewal, the commercial spots were blips on the radar screen and then back the world went to the queso dip and recliner. One-Hundred Million dollars…poof.

So was it a success?

The ad brought Jesus into the conversations of our day. I believe that is vital. When we talk about racism, equality, refugees, activism, political hatred, wars and everything going wrong with the world, it’s absolutely vital to reflect upon the greatest icons of human history who stood for and usually died for such causes. Jesus is by far the centerpiece in human history whose life and teachings offer true transformation to a world suffering under so many pains. However, in modern mind, Jesus is the baby thrown out with religious bathwater, so I appreciate the invitation to revisit his life and message.

I consider it a success that HeGetsUs is creating a distinction (at least on the surface) between the Christian religion, which leaves a horrible taste in the mouths of most modern people, and the discovery of Jesus’ teachings which invite all comers to become Christ followers. If anything, this inclusive message, was a powerful reminder and a success as far as it goes. The goal of all Super Bowl ads is to drive us to a website, and from there, a person can click on a number of topics which might resonate with a diverse audience. If success is measured in clicks, I’m sure the HeGetsUs sight is quite successful.

There are areas where this ad falls short.

Those who oppose the ad learned that Christian leaders were behind the promotion and immediately accused them (because of their Christianity) of being anti-gay and anti-everything that modern wokeism is against. These claims are not entirely fair, but understandable in a world where so few think for themselves and only adopt the foolish group think of identity politics. It’s a big lift to have a PR campaign for Jesus in a world that has embraced hatred of the “other” as the means of inclusion. It’s also vital to see how religious fundamentalism has caused tremendous pain and division all in the name of Jesus. To those who have been hurt by the church, a thirty second ad isn’t likely to change very much.

The focus of the commercial is Jesus and his ability to “get us” in the midst of a despairing world. That’s a powerful message. As we dive deeper, the website gives itself away by trying to differentiate that the commercial is about learning more about what Jesus said and not some invitation to “go to Church.”

BUT it is…and that’s the failure.

The big miss for the Hegetsus ad is ironically that the church doesn’t get it.

The folks at life.church know that the religious establishment will crucify anyone who doesn’t uphold the church machinery. I’ve been leading what John Spong called the “church alumni” on how to “Thrive In Exile” since 2010 and I’ve been helping people to re-discover the Bible without the light pollution of a religion which should never have existed in the first place. Since 2015 my podcast “Beyond Everything Radio” has served as a contemplative meal to those who have extracted themselves from religion but still hunger for God. Over the years, the religious establishment has not been kind to me, and I imagine it would do the same to HeGetsUs if the ad didn’t ultimately try (even in the websites cryptic denial) that it would bolster declining church attendance.

I’ve learned that people are eager to talk about God, but not with church goers.

If the goal was to learn more about Jesus and his true message, then the ad would have been more successful if it had actually done so. Yes, Jesus identified with the poor, the refugee, and the oppressed, but he was not an Evangelical Christian, nor did he start a new religion. Jesus’ message was profoundly subversive to the institutional powers of religion and State. If the commercial conveyed Jesus’ message, it would have been just as harsh to modern Christianity as he was to Judaism in his day. Jesus was no pro-religion.

“Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”” (Matthew (9:13)

The success of the ad was the trajectory of healing and inclusion through Christ Jesus. The failure beneath the surface is religion’s game of “Red Rover” which requires conversion to evangelical Christianity for this inclusion.

It may come as a surprise that the goal of scripture is not conversion unto some new alternative religion, nor is hatred of, nor escape from a declining world. The centerpiece of scripture (Old, New, and other) is to bring all of humanity together in an inclusive understanding that Christ is a force, an office or role and not Jesus’ last name. Early Christians were Christ followers and they comprised many different religions, traditions, and life experiences. Paul belabors this point in nearly all of his epistles. Jesus’ followers came from all walks of life and remained in their respective religions as Christ followers.

Why is this impossible today?

Religions control the narrative. As people question or outgrow it, religion which sees itself as the solution, is unable to see that it is actually the problem. No soul has ever been saved by a religion, a doctrine, a theology, a bible verse, or any other commercial venture. All people are saved solely by Christ and his mercy. The big discovery for those in Jesus’ day, just as it is for us, is this work of the Christ, seen in the life of Jesus, has been on display throughout all human history, in all religions, all peoples, and all places. Consider this verse where the people of Israel, not Christians, were saved by Christ and didn’t know it.

“For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” (1 Corinthians 10:4)

When the author of Hebrews and Paul celebrates the faith of Abraham, it’s vital to see that his faith was not in Christianity, nor Judaism since he predated both religions. His faith was in that “other thing” that voice that called him out of his kindred. It was a faith in Christ (greeted from afar), but there was no way Abraham knew it as such.

“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.” (Hebrews 11:8)

The Good News or “Gospel” of Christ is the inclusive message that all comers, regardless of where we start, are brought to our Maker, not by religious conversion, but by completion through an unconventional faith, through the muddy context of life. The hope of the world is not a competitive, tribal religion, with endless power plays… it’s the power of belonging to God and seeing our brothers and sisters as the same.

I would have loved it if in this thirty second ad, Hegetsus would have gone further with the invitation for a suffering world to follow Christ, not by joining religion, but by becoming free from it.

The course correction is for the religious mind to widen if they are to find Jesus’ message, and for the irreligious mind to narrow if they are to be shaped by Jesus’ message. He does indeed get us, but alas, we still don’t seem to get him.

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