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Luke 13:10-17, from the Common English Bible
Ephesians 2:7-10, from The Message
You don’t have to be a couch potato or a binge-watching television addict or to have seen even one episode of the Netflix series “Queer Eye” to understand both its formula and its appeal.
The formula is simple enough: Some down-on-their-luck individual is nominated by a friend, family member, or co-worker for a major lifestyle re-boot. Maybe they’re a respected member of their community, but because they pour literally every ounce of their energy and every waking hour into their job, they have no personal life, no clothes bought since the 1990s, a hairstyle they haven’t changed in 30 years, and can’t remember the last time they cooked a meal at home. Or, they’ve suffered a personal tragedy and just don’t have the resources or confidence to turn the corner toward a new life. They are men and women and trans; white and black and Latino and Asian; veterans and hunters and farmers and city slickers; former gangbangers and Christian and agnostic; single and married and divorced and lonely and quirky and reclusive.
To the casual observer, these people may seem okay, but their friends and families feel they are not. Their relatively cheerful demeanor masks a sense of personal failure. Their productivity on the job masks an unkempt disaster at home. Their ridiculous outfits hide an unacknowledged depression. While they may have started to turn their life around, an unwillingness to forgive is holding them back, or a lack of confidence or imagination has led them to settle for something less than the life of their dreams.
Then, enter the Fab Five: five gay men who, over a week’s time, will orchestrate an outer transformation of this person’s life. Bobby can turn even the most cluttered, dark, dusty, and dysfunctional space into a dream home. Antoni will offer lessons on how to shop and cook and eat. Jonathan will shave beards, cut and color hair, and teach people about the importance of self-care and how to use “product.” Tan will go through their closets, throw out all manner of hideous clothing, and then take them to a chic store, pick out clothes they’ve never before considered wearing, teach them how to tuck in the very front on their shirt for a slimming look, and leave them looking and feeling like a million bucks. And Karamo will get to the heart of the person’s stuck-ness: fear, depression, trust issues, a lack of vulnerability, a sense of failure, a need to let go or forgive or embrace the new, and have them take at least one concrete step to meet the problem head-on.
By the end of the week and the end of the show, the transformation will have been achieved. Everyone will be amazed at the difference in the house, the feelings, the look, and the meals. Sometimes, at least one member of the Fab Five will have been deeply affected and will experience some level of personal healing or renewal of hope. There will be tears and high-fives and at least one group hug.
And then, the Fab Five is on to their next project.
The show is a huge hit and, not coincidentally, a non-stop advertisement for everything from kitchen remodels to West Elm furniture, beard oil, high heels, high-end fashion, and the unspoken premise that maybe there’s nothing that money, five gay guys, and a dramatic intervention can’t fix.
I’ll confess that I love it, too, less for the clothes and the decorating than for the enthusiastic and caring life coaching and—even if the show’s methods are somewhat unrealistic—the unmistakeable message that real personal change is possible, that new life is attainable.
That is, after all, a central message of the gospel. As one of the Fab Five says, “It’s never too late to start over.” Or, as Jesus said to Nicodemus: “You must be born again.” Or, as Jesus said to the woman who had been bent over—by sickness, by racism and sexism and poverty—for 18 years: “It doesn’t have to be this way. You are set free!” And he laid his healing hands on her and, for the first time in 18 years, she stood up straight and looked right into his loving eyes. And, maybe also for the first time in 18 years, she praised God.
Oh, we think: If only it were that easy. If only Jesus would walk into our worship service and set everything right. But, we think: That doesn’t sound nearly as fun as five gay guys with more money than God showing up to give me a new lease on life.
So, what does the gospel of “Queer Eye” have to do with the gospel of Jesus? What’s the difference between a makeover and spiritual transformation, between a new lease on life and new life? And if both the hit Netflix series and the not-so-popular way of Jesus are built on grace—with either the Fab Five or the Holy Spirit swooping into our stuck lives not because we deserve it but for the divine love (or, in the case of the show, the gorgeous melodrama)—then how do we make room for more grace, more healing, more freedom, more newness, more life? And how can we move beyond our focus on life’s outer trappings—how we look, how much stuff we have, and how successful we are in love and career—to what is most real and meaningful, the matters of the heart?
Well, lest anyone think I am seriously promoting “Queer Eye” as a way of life, let me be clear: While it makes for fun and cathartic and happy-ending television, each episode of “Queer Eye” is almost exclusively about one person—their fulfillment, their beauty, their confidence, and maybe their relationships with family and friends, possibly their career success. The Fab Five provide the outer elements (clothes, home re-design, grooming tips and products, a week’s vacation and attention, a whole crew of folks with money and know-how and coaching) and the therapeutic, positive-thinking pep talks to support personal transformation.
A basic premise is: “You’re beautiful on the inside; let’s make you beautiful on the outside.” Another is, beauty—looking and feeling “gorg”—is really, really important.
For Jesus, not so much. You wanna wear nothing but logo T-shirts and old jeans that don’t fit? Fine. You haven’t dusted since the nineties? Not a problem.
Jesus comes not to make us look good, but to heal. Jesus comes not just to give us a new start, but to raise us from the dead and bring us to new and abundant life. Jesus comes not to tell us we’re beautiful but to show us that we are beloved. Jesus brings spiritual transformation and a new way of living that will set us free, not only for ourselves, not only that we might discover personal fulfillment, but that we might live for Christ’s sake, which is to say: for the sake of this beautiful but broken world that God so loves. Because Jesus knows we were created in love and for love. Jesus doesn’t want to give us stuff as much as he wants to give us power and wholeness and peace and hope. Jesus is less concerned about what we have than in helping us discover the joy of giving and sharing. Jesus is less interested in making us independent and self-sufficient than in creating a beloved community in which we all love and care for one another, and live together in peace, making justice.
Yeah, I know: He needs to work on the glamor. If only he had better product placement, maybe his ratings would be higher. If only his church were more faithful to his message of extravagant love and radical inclusion, maybe people wouldn’t run the other way when they hear his name.
So, let us make room for grace. Let us open our hearts to healing. Let us make room for Jesus.
We do that when we keep showing up, hearts and minds open. We do that when we keep following, though we’re not sure where the path will lead. We do it when we pray for the strength to be vulnerable and the willingness to be transformed. We do it when we stand up against what oppresses. We do it when we speak out for the left out and left behind. We do it when we can see Christ in one another, in the poor and marginalized, and in our enemies. We do it when we allow ourselves to be set free, to be born again. We do it when we acknowledge and praise the Ground and Source of our being. We do it when our entire life is one big group hug.
Jesus, take the wheel. Jesus, do the makeover. Make us new. Make us whole. Make us yours.