Look Closer is the tag line from the movie American Beauty , which is one of my all time favorite movies; but I’m not going to start there. Instead I’m going to go start at around the same year when I attended my first rave.
By the time I was 16/17, I had left Michael Jackson behind in my music tastes and was embracing the UK Hardcore scene; fast, energetic, happy. I listened to a lot of recordings of events and wanted to go and experience it live for myself. My mate was not convinced, he kept telling stories of the drugs and the beatings etc but I really wanted to go. So when I turned 18, I went to one on my own, with only a vague idea of what to expect but very well aware of the reputation ravers had. I made my way to Milton Keynes one September and sat outside the venue. Couple of people came up to me dressed in the usual rave attire; yellow jackets, gloves, colored hair and I was sat there wearing a sweatshirt (yeah, I know) and I was a little nervous because of it. My fears though, were completely unjustified. Introductions were made and for the next 3 hours we chatted and went and got some drinks. We sat outside the venue and made a little drinks bar. As more people joined us, the bar grew and everyone was having a good time. People bought and shared drinks and chatted to everyone. No one cared about your background or what you did for a living; we were there for the rave and that was all that mattered. As I went more often, I got to know people and we recognized each other from previous events. Outside of the events they may never have spoken to me if they saw me but between the time the rave started and the time it finished, nothing else mattered but the music and our time together. I never felt so included and part of something as much as I did there.
It did cause me some aggravation though. On more than one occasion people questioned whether I was taking drugs and previous employers remarked that I could be subjected to random drugs tests. All this purely on the basis that I went to raves. Now admittedly, I was offered pretty much every drug under the sun but always turned it down, but you can get drugs anywhere and they’re used on a weekend by clubbers and people generally going out. I felt singled out purely because of what I did occasionally in my spare time.
I am mentioning all this because I recently read a forum post about Christians going clubbing. I shared some of the above and said that I did not see a problem. Other comments though involved saying that they did not want to be around scantily clad women and men who were doing drugs and drinking alcohol. I get the point that is trying to be made, but when people point to scripture (Titus 2:12 was used) it can come across as saying “I’m too good and godly to go to such places”. I never took drugs and did not drink much only water especially when in the venue itself (it gets very warm in there) I was there for the music. When you start applying the same verses to more fundamental aspects of people, things get multiplied. I have seen comments regarding not associating with people because of their sexuality being made. I have often asked Christians whether they have spoken to people who are gay to hear their story and the response I have had back is essentially “Why would I? I do not associate with sinners. Paul tells us not to be yoked with non-believers” (2 Corinthians 6:14) Passages like Titus are also quoted. The odd thing is though, Jesus spent most of his time with those the priestley elite of the time shunned (the image of Jesus at a rave makes me smile) and was criticized for it by the Pharisees. Jesus responded by saying; It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32) I get that we are not to follow the world, but how can you spread the gospel if you do not go to where people who do not have it are? (though being gay does not mean you do not have the gospel, there are many gay Christians) Are certain people not worthy of our presence as Christians? Jesus has something to say about that as well;
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:10-14)
I am not saying that the only reason we should get to know people is to convert them and I’m not saying I would encourage people to go raving, but we certainly should not think we are better than others simply because we do or do not do certain things. The ethics of being with someone just to try and convert them are extremely dodgy (something I’ve touched on in previous blogs). It really does not come across very well if that is your sole reason for being there is to just get a notch on your conversion belt. That is liable to turn people off you very quickly. Some argue that Jesus was with people just to save them. Really? What was he doing at that wedding? He may have made a point about it not being his time and then turned water into wine to keep the party going but he was not preaching to the whole crowd. In fact he only said and did what he did when Mary came to him. It seems up until that point, Jesus was just hanging out with his disciples at a Jewish wedding.
For all the faults of this world, including Christians, some pearls are found even if they come from some unexpected places. It was a so called secular TV show that seemed to capture how we, as Christians, should be looking at people (though this really should apply to everyone regardless of religious belief). There is an episode of Bones titled “The He in the She”  where Booth and Brennan are investigating the murder of a female pastor. But she was not always a she, she used to be a he and he was one of the most famous TV preachers in America. It raised some massive issues regarding sex change and TV evangelism but it contained a powerful exchange between the pastors son and Special Agent Seeley Booth;
Ryan Stephenson: One of God’s challenges to us is to see past the surface.
[picks up a book and tears up the dust cover to reveal a Bible underneath]
Ryan Stephenson: To the deeper essential nature, which lies right beneath.
Special Agent Seeley Booth: You believe our bodies are like dustcovers?
Ryan Stephenson: That’s exactly what I think, Agent Booth. Rip them off, and see what’s underneath… You see, all this time I though my father was killed, or had abandoned me, and that’s just not what happened. He didn’t want to shake my faith. He was protecting me from the truth. He… he didn’t want me to have to choose between him and God, and I love my father for that. I just hope God can forgive me for making him feel that way. 
One of the things that really struck me about the episode is that Ryan initially took over his Dads role when he disappeared but did not take to it and left. His mother put it down to a crisis of faith and said God would lead him back. God actually led him to a drug rehab clinic where he took a job. He rolled his sleeves up and went and helped those in need. He was not bothered about separating himself from sinners, neither was Jesus. The church in the above mentioned episode of Bones was called Inclusion Church and they accepted everyone regardless of who they were and what they had done. Ryan opens up his first sermon on that theme;
I think I should begin my first sermon to you as kind of an introduction. My name is Ryan Stephenson. I’m a child of man. I’m a child of woman. But more importantly, I’m a child of God, and as I look around I see others like me. We don’t look alike. None of us look alike. On the outside, we are gay and straight, black and white, fat and thin, man and woman, saint and sinner. Should I keep going, or do you guys catch my drift? But inside… inside we are all the same. I am sorry that I didn’t get to know my father – Patricia. But I hope I will find him… her… that redeemed human being… both in her old Bible and, more importantly, in you, the people who she loved. 
Ryan could see his father in the love the congregation had for them, possibly in a similar way to how Christians want Jesus’s love to be seen in them and his words came from that. He saw that everyone was a child of God, no matter who they were or what they wore. We seem get so caught up in tattoos, piercings, what we look like, applying labels and putting people into shiny boxes, that we miss what truly matters which is our heart. Everything comes out of the heart, a point Jesus himself makes (Jesus had lots of relevant things to say, maybe there is something in that);
Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” (Matthew 15:10-11)
There is so much more that can be said about this; about how the world thinks and what Christians should do, but I have to end this blog at some point before it becomes a bigger jumbled mess of thoughts. I guess the point of this blog is to say what the title does; look closer. God sees us how we are and loves us for how we are. He also sees the potential in every being and we are called to do the same. It may take some effort and some time, but no one said it was easy. Basically; stop with the labeling, stop with the passing judgement, it’s not nice when it happens to us so do not do it to others and just love those God made.
 American Beauty (1999) Directed by Sam Mendes, Distributed by Dreamworks Pictures
 Bones, Season 4 Episode 6, The He in the She Directed by Craig Ross Jr
First posted April 4th 2013