‘God’s story from beginning to end tells of glory getting dirty and dirt getting blessed.’ So begins Pete Greig’s book Dirty Glory. I have only started reading chapter one (I was very grabbed by the chapter title Punk Messiah) in which Pete unpacks the shock and horror of John’s description at the start of his blog (or gospel) of heaven touching earth… well, more than touching it really. Getting totally immersed in dark reality. In messy murky life, holding nothing back. In Jesus’s day the religious approach was to avoid making contact with the wrong things, that would only contaminate you and make you unfit to approach God. Well here’s the thing – Jesus completely upended that table, and made it so that anything he touched, he blessed. Made those things clean. Beautiful. Rather than being contaminated by things, he lit up the the dark side of life.
It’s one of the reasons why I use mainstream films to communicate the good things of God. Even films that may seem extreme. God can speak through anything. He can take the unexpected and unpalatable and lace it with his life-affirming, and life-changing grace. It’s nothing new of course. Jesus told tales which featured all kinds of dodgy characters and situations. A corrupt judge, a servant accused of stealing, a boy who goes partying with prostitutes, a gang of brutal thugs who beat up an innocent traveller, a cruel gang of land-grabbers who mangle anyone who crosses their path. Startling stories which don’t seem that holy – and yet they are. They drip with the good news of the kingdom.
God’s not afraid of dirt. Or the dark. That is the very essence of the Good News. He’s been there. Been to the most terrifying, the loneliest, the emptiest, the most brutal, rejected and corrupt of places. When he pitched up on planet earth it wasn’t to hang out with the great and the good, the shiny and the sorted. (Though he was happy to spend time with anyone who stopped their frantic rushing and hustling.) Ultimately he came to plunge himself in all that this earth could throw at him. Because he’s on our side. And not merely when we feel we have had a good day, or have behaved properly, or done something a little bit ‘Christian’. But in the tricky moments. In the worst, as well as the best, of times.
To finish, here’s a little scene inspired by those first few lines in Dirty Glory…
Two men were sitting having a drink at opposite ends of a bar. One looked over at the other, moved his stool closer and said, ‘Don’t tell anyone but I’m actually God in disguise.’ ‘Really?’ said the other shorter, scruffier man. ‘Absolutely,’ said the first man, ‘pretty good eh? I mean I worked hard to look like a normal person. Though I’m obviously not. I mean who’d really want to be human, you know with all the bodily functions and germs and mood swings. So this is just an elaborate supernatural get-up, so I can hang around with folks and see what they’re up to. Don’t get too close though. You never know what they’ve been reading, or handling, or have stepped in. You wouldn’t believe what the average human has under their nails. Wouldn’t want to catch anything, or get picked on, or caught up in their ridiculous arguing. So I loiter on the edges of life, make a few mental notes. Spot a good number of folks who could do with a right punishing. Lightning strikes and that sort of malarkey. Make them sorry for their multitude of misdemeanours. And I avoid the really shabby ones. How about you? You passing through?’ The other scruffier man smiled. ‘Oh I’ve come for a while. I am human. Totally. With all the functions and germs and mood swings. I’m on a mission too. To get right stuck in there. Make plenty of shabby friends. And to step in things and get my hands dirty. Stuff under my nails. Had three arguments already this morning.’ The other figure sniffed and moved his stool a little further away. ‘Really?’ he said, as he went, ‘I didn’t catch your name.’ The scruffier man smiled again and held out his germ-infested hand. ‘Jesus,’ he said, ‘Great to meet you.’ Inspired by chapter one of Dirty Glory by Pete Greig.