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"HOW ARE THE BREASTS?" His question brought me out of my stupor and focused my attention back to the task at hand. No doubt this dapper forty-something's silicone-invested wife purposely had her assets on display, but I was a waiter and a purported follower of Christ. Both roles had momentarily been put on the backburner in lieu of this visual burden.
"Whoa. I'm sorry for being so rude; please forgive me," I muttered, swallowing my pride and lifting my eyes to make contact with Mr. Dapper.
Oddly, his face was buried in the menu and not glaring at me.
"What do you mean? You're not being rude. I was just wondering which of the specials you recommend - the Chicken Breast Oscar or the Hazelnut Shrimp."
That was close. I breathed a sigh of relief.
"Go with the Hazelnut Shrimp," I suggested, partly because I wanted nothing more to do with breasts for a few minutes.
"And for you ma'am, what can I get for you?" I asked, returning to Mrs. Silicone, this time with disciplined eyes.
"I've lost my appetite. Just give me a salad."
I detected a bit of cayenne bite in her response. A bite not directed at me, but to Mr. Dapper across the table.
I'd been a waiter long enough to know when a couplehas brought into public something that should have been dealt with in the car, and I knew trouble was brewing.
"Right away," I responded, making a hasty retreat.
Sure enough, as the evening unfolded, Ken and Barbie unraveled. She left with tears; he left without remembering my tip. Oh, well. On this night I'd rather be broke than broken.
Who would've guessed it? Of all the people I run into during my everyday, hurry-up-and-wait life, who would have thought that this suburban couple, who shined with success and good looks on the outside, could have been experiencing so much decay underneath? They had likely driven to the restaurant in a nice car and flashed their freshly whitened teeth while palming the maître d' a twenty in order to get a preferred seat in the restaurant (due to the water view, not the waiter view). All so that they could enjoy a pleasant make-believe evening. But something was percolating underneath that exterior of perfection. Something painful, something avoided, and something that needed to get out.
Not What We Appear to Be
The suburbs are filled with picture-perfect couples who live in picture-perfect houses that could double as palaces in most third-world countries. One could naïvely drive through these communities, see the manicured lawns and oil-free driveways, and assume that, since all is well outside, all must be well on the inside.
But we are not that naïve. We know money can't buy happiness. It can only buy the therapy that helps us cope without it. We know that a big house can't buy close family relationships. It can only create more room for family members to hide from each other. We know that a powerful SUV doesn't provide freedom. It only provides the illusion that, "If I really wanted to, I could leave the pavement that surrounds my life."
No, life in suburbia is not always what it appears to be. Author David Brooks agrees.
He writes these insightful words:
America, especially suburban America, is depicted as a comfortable but somewhat vacuous realm of unreality: consumerist, wasteful, complacent, materialistic, and self-absorbed. Sprawling, shopping, Disneyfied Americans have cut themselves off from the sources of enchantment, the things that really matter. They have become too concerned with small and vulgar pleasures, pointless one-upmanship, and easy values. They have become at once too permissive and too narrow, too self-indulgent and too timid. Their lives are distracted by a buzz of trivial images, by relentless hurry instead of genuine contemplation, information rather than wisdom, and a profusion of superficial choices.
Well said, Brooks. But while Brooks is pointing fingers at literal suburbia, Jesus is pointing his finger at a different location - spiritual suburbia. Only the true light of God can help us put into words what we have been sensing for quite some time - that all is not well in spiritual suburbia.
My Own Epiphany
Many years ago, I moved out of literal suburbia and drifted into the rural community of Port Angeles, Washington. It's a small timber town on the outer edges of the state. Surrounded by enormous rainforests, mountains, and the Pacific Ocean, Port Angeles invites its inhabitants to live any way but complacently. Ironically, as I left physical suburbia, my heart moved right into spiritual suburbia.
I may have been in a different neighborhood, but my life filled up with busyness just like before. My external world was spinning faster than a merry-go-round on Ecstasy. I was simultaneously starting a new church with seven friends, learning to parent a three-year-old and a newborn, teaching Human Sexuality at a local college, and trying to finish my doctoral dissertation. The harder I worked to keep the exterior stuff moving forward, the more I felt my faith and relationship with Christ begin to drift backward.
Now don't get me wrong. I was doing good things. But it took me a few years to realize that sometimes good things can be the greatest enemy to the intimate things that need to happen in our core.
Then one day as I stood and looked at my life, I knew, theologically, that the kingdom of God - the rule and reign of God - covered an expanse beyond all I could imagine in the external world. All that I could see, hear, and breathe was under the sovereign hand of God, and as a follower of Christ, I had been invited to live within such a reality. When Jesus said, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Jesus@ matthew4:17), he literally was saying, "Think again about how you live your life, for God's rule and reign and power and forgiveness changes everything."
Wow, that looks good on paper, but how do I live out that reality?
And that was my problem. Sure, my spiritual life looked good on the outside. I was doing the "right" things - going on mission trips, planting churches, attending church - I even placed an extra few percent in the offering here and there. But the kingdom of God was not advancing inside my heart. In the distance, I could hear a calling, a beckoning of sorts, to come and explore the deeper realities of the kingdom of God.
Oddly, as I took time to listen, the beckoning came from some untouched and unexplored areas within my being, from the fenced off and uncharted parts of my soul. God was inviting me to explore the richness and meaning of his life-giving presence within me. I was at a crossroads. Was I willing to follow him into some unexplored territory?
The kingdom of God within? I already know a lot about prayer, study, and ritual. Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so. What else is there?
The Holy Spirit replied, "I'm not hollow, but your faith is shallow. Now let my kingdom come, my will be done in you as it is in heaven."
Wow. There is a big difference between intellectual theology and practical theology. I had been living in a spiritual suburbia with nice sidewalks and picket fences around my Christianity. In the back of my mind, I knew that God was inviting me to explore some uncharted territories with him. I had allowed myself to be duped into thinking that the perceived safety of the predictable was more rewarding than the risk and joy of discovery. This drift had caused my faith to appear all put together on the outside. You know - do the right things ... know the right people ... speak the right "Christianese" ... Yet as my faith became more neat and tidy on the outside, on the inside it grew more and more superficial.
Suburbia is full of icons. Big SUVs, large cookie-cutter houses, televisions, toys, and chrome toasters. Faith has its icons as well. Shiny crosses around our necks, Scripture verses plastered across our T-shirts, and fishes gracing our bumpers. Icons aren't bad if they lead us to something more real. But when they become a surrogate for reality, they leave us with something far less than what we truly need.
"Yep, I got a plastic bobblehead Jesus nodding on my dashboard. Pretty cool, huh?"
"Is that enough Jesus to carry you through life?"
"Probably not. That's why I got a marble Buddha on my coffee table."
Comfortable Christianity, with all its icons, can lull us into a state of ignorant bliss. Everything seems neat and tidy - plastic, so to speak. But if we stop and feel deep down in our souls, we're missing something. We've substituted a hollow structure for the real life that Jesus offers. If you are beginning to stare at your plastic Jesus and hear no answer, it is time to choose. Either follow that longing for substance a little further, or admire your little plastic buddy a bit more and pretend everything is fine.
Jeremiah tells of similar travelers who have come to a crossroads. "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls" (Jeremiah@6:16). It is clear that the travelers have never been here before, and they know they must choose a path. One path leads to impending doom; the other leads to a place where they will find peace for their souls.
What should these travelers do? How should they decide? They could rely on their own wisdom and knowledge of travel. But clearly the roads they have traveled don't guarantee success in the present. They could toss a coin, call a psychic, or even wish upon a star. But Jeremiah says there is a better way: Stand, look, ask, and listen. And that's exactly what we are going to do as we journey through this book together.
An Invitation to Look Inward
Are you in a similar place? Can you identify with this traveler and with me? Is there some God-given, yet uncharted, territory you need to explore? Are there places where you haven't gone spiritually, that have seemed too risky or insurmountable? Indeed, there is a vast expanse of terrain inside you that has yet to be conquered. But to get there, you must be willing to back out of the driveway and not travel the normal road of routine and ritual. You must be willing to stand, look, ask, and listen.
We've been lured into thinking that life in the suburbs of Christianity is as good as it gets. After all, we work hard to keep our lawns trimmed and tidy, our cars waxed and maintained, and our schedules juggled so that we can make it to the next event that our PDAs have reminded us we are late for.
We expend a lot of energy keeping our Christian doctrines all clean and form fitting, our appearances buffed up, and our lives organized around Christian meetings and conferences. But honestly, you call that adventure? At best, such a lifestyle is maintenance. At worst, it is counterfeit Christianity.
So perhaps now is a good time to stand. Stand and look at your life, and ask if you are living a life worth dying for. Is your faith shallow and your God hollow?
This book is an invitation to look inward. The presence of God not only invades our physical surroundings, but it can also invade our souls. Over the course of these pages I hope to share with you some of the icons of suburbia that have challenged and sometimes derailed my spiritual life. My goal is to lead you to a crossroads where you must decide whether you will explore the new territory in front of you or settle for the familiar you've grown to resent.
Will you follow an ancient path and find peace for your soul - or will you put up a protective fence around what you already know?
Excerpted from PLASTIC JESUS by ERIC SANDRAS Copyright © 2006 by Eric Sandras . Excerpted by permission.
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Posted May 7, 2007
I took this book with me to our Men's meeting and I read them the Four Pages 90 thru 93 which is titled 'In need of being saved (again)'. It hit me and the group right between the eyes with our own self importance and how we don't even think of others and how they may be so far ahead of us even tho they don't fit the mold we think they should be in. There are days and days of peaching in those 4 pages. Self importance gets in the way of being in the Will of God. Self importance ruins many, Many, MANY churches in such a way that they believe they are important and they don't realize that they are dead and need to be buried. Only a book like this can give them a glimpse of what needs to be done with the heart of every one of us. The bible has it all in there but no one wants to dwell on it to pull the word out and realize that it all needs to be in us and we need to act on it. Keep writing the same way. Your style will keep us awake and lead us to the word of God as it replaces the garbage in our hearts. Realize that the truck is coming and look around. Thanks for opening our eyes so that we become real in front of God and quit trying to go behind his back.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 4, 2007
'Some books I want to chuck across the room, some books I want to burn, but Sandras' Plastic Jesus is a book that I want to just - eat! I have been starving for spiritual food and he serves up the best meal I've eaten in years. If you're hungry I'd suggest you pick up this book, but put on a bib because it could get messy.' - Bridget J. Bates, BA, MDivWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 28, 2007
THIS IS YOUR BOOK! At first, I was confused when our coat and tie, Church of Christ preacher introduced this book to our thirty-something's class... especially after reading the first page. As we dug deeper, it was appearent that 'thinking outside of the box' is a great way to achieve spiritual enlightenment. THIS BOOK LEADS YOU DOWN THAT PATH!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 26, 2006
Plastic Jesus is a good conversational book written by self professed metrosexual, ex-football player, human sexuality professor, and teaching pastor, Eric Sandras. The whole metrosexual/football fanatic seemed like a contradiction. But, I'm dealing with it, especially since I enjoyed the book. I've just recently finished 'The Jesus of Suburbia,' a similar book. Like I've written before, I tend to binge on like topics until I can't take anymore. Eric does a great job of cutting through the pretense of Christianity, the plastic facades and encourages followers of Jesus to abandon the manicured exteriors of suburban Christianity to embrace authenticity in relationship with Christ and others. One of my favorite parts of Eric's book was his retelling of a ministry trip to a small village church in Brazil accessible only by boat. This small church building was absolutely packed and this village was receiving the Gospel of Jesus. At the height of of this spiritual rich moment, the crowd parted and a woman who was well known in the village approached the altar with her six year old son. The boy was paralyzed on his left side. Eric described how he was positive this boy would be healed. As he prayed, it became obvious that the boy would not be healed. Eric's faith had turned to doubt as he questioned how God could allow this woman and boy to be shattered this way. In some kind of turning point in the way Eric would live, he broke from his pastoral persona and told the lady that he did not know why God did not heal the boy. But, as 'waves of love for the boy overwhelmed him,' he said, 'I do know that God loves you.' Eric goes on to share the story of this woman and boy and how the woman had felt nothing but abandonment in her life. This woman left repeating over and over how amazed she was the God loved her. While she experienced acceptance, Eric experienced doubt about who God was. This experience sums up the contradictions of the faith in Jesus Christ that Eric has experienced and shares that the Bible has called us to live. According to Plastic Jesus, faith in Christ is a commitment to a depth of experience with a God that has not been totally figured out and a rejection of compartmentalized, orderly, and success-oriented suburban Christianity. I enjoyed it and would recommend it to just about anyone regardless of their spiritual location. For other book reviews of interest to me, visit my blog at travisjohnson dot net.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 4, 2006
I just finished reading 'Plastic Jesus' by Eric Sandras. It was awesome and told the truth about Christians who live in suburbania. Dr. Sandras made it very plain how a suburban Christian should live. I have recommended to my pastor that everyone in our church should read this book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.