Now, That’s Creepy

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To listen to this reflection as a podcast, click here.
What profession creeps people out more than any other?
We don’t need a scientific study to confirm what we already suspect: People are seriously creeped out by clowns.
According to the digital news source Vox, more Americans are afraid of clowns than of climate change, terrorism, and even death. 
A few years ago, Dr. Frank McAndrew, psychology professor at Illinois’ Knox College, conducted what he called the first “empirical study of ‘creepiness.’” His aim was to introduce “a theoretical perspective on the common psychological experience of feeling ‘creeped out.’” The study asserts that feeling creeped out is related to vigilance.  Are there particular kinds of people who make us feel we should be on our guard?  McAndrew concluded that there are indeed certain individuals and professions that generate “the ambiguity of a possible threat.”
About 95% of the respondents thought men were potentially more creepy than women.  No surprise there.
Clowns were far and away associated with the highest vocational creep factor.  After that came taxidermists, sex shop owners, and morticians.  This all seemed interesting to me in a kind of detached way until I noticed #7 on the creepy jobs list: clergy.  Then I noticed that writers came in at #11.
McAndrew asked the respondents to name a creepy hobby.  Insect collecting came in first, but birdwatching wasn’t far behind.
It suddenly occurred to me that I had hit a Creepiness grand slam: I’m a male pastor who writes for a living and enjoys birding.  
When I shared this news with my wife, she said, a little too calmly, “Is this really the first time it’s occurred to you how creepy you are?”  This wasn’t exactly the word of reassurance I was hoping to receive.
Unsurprisingly, the Bible has nothing to say about being creeped out.  Our posture toward other people – all other people, no matter what their background, ethnicity, or vocation – is to be rooted in compassion and love. 
But doesn’t Scripture also call us to a certain degree of vigilance?  Aren’t there some people out there concerning whom we should always be on our guard?  
The answer to that question is yes.  And one of the places where that stands out is this statement by the apostle Paul in Philippians 3:2: “Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh.”  Paul is railing against certain teachers who, according to their own authority, were telling young Christians they had to earn their way into God’s favor by complying with all the ceremonial aspects of Jewish law.  For male Gentile converts, that was going to mean circumcision.   
Eugene Peterson, in his biblical paraphrase called The Message, captures the spirit of Paul’s words: “Steer clear of the barking dogs, those religious busybodies, all bark and no bite. All they’re interested in is appearances…” 
Does this verse mean that Paul was more of a cat person than a dog person?  In truth, there weren’t many dog lovers during Bible times.  Canine domestication was still a work in progress, and in the ancient Near East dogs were essentially feral scavengers.  If you wanted to slander someone’s character, “you dirty dog” was one way to go.
But what would prompt Paul’s visceral put-down in this verse?
In his mind, the ultimate creeps were the people who taught that God’s grace wasn’t sufficient to provide spiritual security.   
Grace, according to Paul, is the idea that any one of us can be in a transforming relationship with God in which God provides all the power, all the meaning, and all the resources – if we will abandon all our efforts to win God over according to some kind of performance plan.
Grace means that God’s presence, God’s love, and God’s forgiveness cannot be earned.  They cannot be deserved.  They can only be received.
That means there is one and only one response we should have to anti-grace teaching in any form. 
It should seriously creep us out and send us running back to the Good News of Jesus.
Otherwise, some clown just might steal our joy.