In The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the Czech novelist Milan Kundera talks about a moral challenge to the modern age by using the word “kitsch.” Generally understood, “kitsch” is a way of talking about poor taste or something that is overly sentimental and garish.
In his use, however, Kundera has a broader, more memorable description. He talks about kitsch as “the absolute denial of sh*t.” It’s a pretend world where nothing unwholesome or indecent is allowed to come into view. His language is colorful, but his point is powerful.
Our present moral challenge is: will we acknowledge the ugliest parts of our culture and ourselves rather than covering up the truth of “what is so?” Our impulse is to white-wash (yes, double-meaning intended) the reality of our brokenness so that we can maintain an illusion of purity and wholeness.
If we are brave, we must let go of the “pretend world ” where everything is wholesome and decent. We have to see and take responsibility for the ugly parts.
Because any evolutionary path forward that heals our planet and ourselves will demand that level of honesty from us. We are in a time of humble reckoning where covering up our mess only makes it stink more.
That’s what Jesus was illuminating for the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23. He called out their hypocrisy, not for punitive purposes, but as an invitation for them to see the truth about their lives.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” Jesus says. “For you are like white-washed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.”
In his “woe to you” call, he hopes for a response of awakening. Ultimately, he hopes they will wake up spiritually to a new life.
The wonderful gift of owning our shadows – the dark places within us that become the source of our shame – is that we can finally work towards healing when they are brought to light. That’s what our world needs more than anything else. That’s what we need. That’s what I need.
God’s call to us is not that we be perfect. It’s that we be real. God’s promise is even better: in our truth-telling and change-making, we will find love and forgiveness.
We are in this together,