I have to admit that I was amused if not initially a bit unsure of the relevancy of the tale of The Gospel Blimp. It’s the first in a collection of parables by the late Joe Bayly, newly edited and re-released this month by Clearnote Press.
The Gospel Blimp is the story of a couple of well meaning Christian men who aspire to reach their city for Jesus. It’s the 1960s. They want to do something big. They want to see the gospel go forth with power. And then it hits them: a blimp that floats over town with Bible verses streaming behind and a loud speaker announcing the good news of the cross. And through great sacrifice and determination, the gospel blimp goes big, really big. But it’s not all sunsets and ice cream (as they say): there are hurdles, not everyone appreciates the blaring loud speakers bearing down on their neighborhoods, and occasionally there are various snafus that cause complications.
Like I said, rather amusing, perhaps a little outdated, perhaps a little cliche. Would evangelicals really go for something like that? Are we really that kitch? I mean I know there’s still a thriving Christian gift shop industry, but I just assume that’s mostly kept in business by people who don’t know better. Real, earnest Christians who want to reach their cities for the gospel don’t do stupid things like gospel blimps and call the hardships they face suffering for Jesus, right?
And then, as if a thunderbolt from heaven, as if St. Moses himself (the patron saint of thunderbolts), were speaking to me, this article shows up in my Facebook feed. There I was reading an article about an inner city outreach project, and I hadn’t gone three sentences into the dern thing when what did my eyes behold but that this Zoe Liveable Church is reaching their community through holistic healing centers, farmers markets, and yarn bombing. Yarn bombing. Just say that to yourself three or four times. I just hope the yarn wasn’t manufactured in China by anyone paid below minimum wage. Yarn bombing.
To tell you the truth, I think I’d rather be tangled up with a gospel blimp cheesefest than gospel yarn bombing. (Do I have to pick one?) At least the blimp guys seemed genuinely interested in getting the gospel to the city (and used Bible words). Over time, the vision shifted, and Joe Bayly deftly narrates how that kind of vision drift can happen even with men who start with such explicitly Christ-centered interests (despite foibles and mistaken notions of outreach). But the Zoe Recycling Commune, er, I mean Church, doesn’t appear to even have the advantage of starting on such noble turf. By the time the gospel blimp had sold out to the marketing chumps in town, there had been signs of trouble brewing for years: blatant misbehavior, marital unfaithfulness, shoddy dealings, etc. But the Zoe Hipsters might as well have a big sign on their (eco-friendly) (non-owned) building that just says Suckers for Jesus. At least the gospel blimp was just a story. Yarn bombing.
Turns out the church is still full of well meaning whores. And don’t misunderstand me. I’m not talking about the kind of prostitutes that the church is supposed to look for, care for and love, the ones looking for healing, looking for grace. I’m talking about Christians who lust after worldly glory and fame and success, and slap Bible verses on whatever it is they’d really like to do without asking whether that pet idea is actually biblical, is actually obedient to Jesus. They pull it off by building a brick wall between their lusts and their actions called “good intentions” so that when you have the audacity to question their ministry model you come smack up against a wounded heart that only wants to minister the grace of Jesus to the community. As it turns out, in the end, people get saved because they hear the gospel from another person, because another person loves Jesus and loves their neighbor. And sure, it can happen anywhere: in a hospital room, in a coffee shop, and yes, even in a holistic healing center in Tacoma. But the Zoesters might as well have a Christian Porn Shop and a Homo Hamburger Hut connected to their community project given the rest of the schlock (though it’s worth noting that apparently one of the fellows got into a little trouble for accidentally mentioning the Church’s position on sodomy on his blog one time). Big no-no. Yarn bombing.
All this to say, I was not merely amused by The Gospel Blimp as well as the other parables, I was genuinely edified and thanks to St. Moses, I’m now, more than ever, convinced that we could use more of this sort of wit and wisdom. Joe Bayly was obviously a wise man who looked at the church and the world with discernment. Even at points where I wasn’t entirely sure what he was driving at, I was content to let the ambiguity hang happily in the air. There’s enough obvious wisdom in this little collection that I’ll be coming back from time to time, and I don’t doubt that more of Bayly’s insight will become clear.
So go get yourself a copy. Read about Herb and George, Gooley and Rehoboam, and a whole host of other strange situations and scenes, parables that are probing you, the reader, fumbling in your pockets, prodding at your chest, examining your heart. Some of the details are dated, but the points are timeless. There are Christians in our day talking about yarn bomb ministries. With straight faces. We could use a lot more of this kind of wisdom. Did I mention the yarn bombing?