I love it when Popstars are the Prophets. I love it when a song, a lyric, a melody moves into you, through your ears and straight to the heart, making us change the way we think about the world around us and our role in it. Bastille has a song like that for church leaders. Turn it up!
The Important Question
Did you hear the question that singer Dan Smith asks over and over and over in the song? “Where do we begin? The Rubble? Or our Sin?” That’s a great question, isn’t it? The song, “Pompeii,” juxtaposes a city being overtaken by, well, the very historic volcanic pyroclasm (you can never say that word enough), and a life taken over by sin (“my own devices”).
It’s a portrait of sin collapsing upon a life, the way that the volcanic cloud crashed over the rooftops of Pompeii.
“We were caught up and lost in all of our vices //
In your pose as the dust settled around us.”
The question, “Where do we begin? The rubble? or our sin?” is the right one.
The Church is in the sin/forgiveness business. The Gospel is about a God who steps into the aftermath of the Mount Vesuvius in our lives and begins to sweep away the ash, revealing a life that will now be overcome by his, and only his, love.
As a church leader, I’m often tempted to ignore the painful distraction of walking with others through the rebuilding of their exploded lives. It’s even more tempting to get cosmetic, to fix something that needs fixing, paint something that needs painting.
Where do we begin? Addressing the pain and destruction of sin in the lives of those we are called to love and lead? Or to remodel the sanctuary and let people work it out on their own?
When we look at Pompeii, we see a city in need of new walls, fresh paint and manicured lawns. If we were able to get a contractor and a capitol campaign, people could move back into Pompeii. But so what? Who needs another retail condominium?
There were real people in Pompeii. People like you and me, who had experienced personal cataclysm long before an environmental one:
People sin. We do. It’s the way things are. It’s not popular to talk about. At all. Sconces and pew cushions…now that is more like it, right? It might be easier, but it’s not the Church.
The question is: Do we have the courage to get down into the messy, complicated, uncomfortable reality that all people wrestle with daily?
Bastille ask a question that we need to answer: Where do we begin? Since the Gospel proclaims freedom to those who are covered in sin, would we rather proclaim that freedom? Confront sin and point to the God who forgives it? Or redecorate the Welcome Room and perfect the practice of something closer to a theology of cosmetics.
“If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day is out. [Gal 6:1;MSG]”
God in the Ruins
When Jesus answers the question, it’s always going to be about beginning with sin. Rest assured that as Christ would walk through the uncovered ruins, the rubble wouldn’t be on his mind.
The people would.
Forgiveness is measured in lives, not walls, souls, not paint. A cosmetic makeover is nice, but soul-change is necessary. While a new color scheme is great, a new life is greater.
The truth is, living like Jesus never feels nice. We tend to want to point out the cosmetic changes that will one day make “all the difference,” but Jesus looks beyond the gloss and bokeh – pries deep into the places and spaces we believe are too dark to be seen and plants a light there, makes a home there, speaks to us from there. Where does he begin? In the places we most wish he wouldn’t.
And that’s where we belong.