A Human Church in an Airbrushed World

One dictionary defines the word “airbrush” this way: to improve the image of (a person or thing) by concealing defects beneath a bland exterior. An airbrushed world is what you see on a magazine cover while you are waiting in line at the grocery store.  There she is on the cover, a model without blemish. No pimples. No wrinkles. No sag. No freckles.  No moles. Or there he is on the cover, a guy with bronze skin and muscles rippling and every hair in place. No age spots. No scars. No nose hairs. The publishers of these magazines have airbrushed the humanity right out of these models.

One can only begin to wonder what impact these defect free models have on those of us whose defects aren’t concealed. How soon do we become ashamed of our physical appearance? How soon do we become ashamed of all our other defects? How soon do we begin spending enormous amounts of energy trying to  airbrush all that stuff away?

Whatever else the Bible gives us, it doesn’t give us “airbrushed” characters. There is no attempt to “conceal defects beneath a bland exterior.” The Bible gives us human beings in all their flawed and blemished humanity. What a breath of fresh air!

I think that is why I love Moses so much. Moses is presented to us—warts and all. Right off the bat he kills someone. What’s more, “he looked this way and that” before doing so. Rather than kill someone in the sight of all (a la Clint Eastwood) and take the consequences like a man, he doesn’t want anybody to know what happened. Once he is found out, he is scared to death and hightails it out of town.  His lack of courage continues when God calls him to lead the exodus from Egypt. He can’t imagine that he has the gifts to do this job. After raising all sorts of objections, he stops beating around the bush and finally says to God “O my Lord, please send someone else (Ex. 4:13).” Not much of a hero, is he?

In an airbrushed culture, the Bible invites us to recover our humanity and not be afraid of all our flaws. In fact, the Bible wants us to recognize that it is precisely our flaws that lead us to rely on the sources of our real strength—God and other people. When Moses expressed his inadequacy, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?”, God promised to be with him. When Moses complained that he wasn’t eloquent enough to be the spokesperson for a liberation movement, God sent him Aaron.

God needs a church that is human, a community where people can just be what they are. God needs a church where it is ok for people to acknowledge how inadequate they feel when God calls them to some task. God needs the church to be a community where we discover that claiming our humanity is what leads us to a deeper reliance on God and one another.