Another Flavor of World

The driving motivation behind the creation of a Christian subculture in America has been the issue of relevancy. We have wanted to make ourselves relevant to the world around us so that the gospel can be understood in terms that are common to the day. There is nothing wrong with this as long as we can maintain a different standard for how we live our lives. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. We have become so enamored of the primary culture in the process of trying to be relevant to it that we now offer it hardly anything other than another flavor of itself. I used to think American Christians were shallow; now I realize it is American culture that is shallow. Our failure has not been through our identification with the culture as much as it has been through our inability to rise above it.

-John Fischer, Fearless Faith, pg. 30-31

In general, I have been impressed and inspired by what John Fischer has written in his book. He is like the child in the old story who cried out among his elders the obvious truth that the emperor had no clothes on. Still, I wonder how important it is to “make ourselves relevant to the world around us so the gospel can be understood in terms common to the day.”

Maybe that’s not the place we should be starting. That we start there may be the reason we can’t find the standard for living our lives differently. What’s relevant to them? Maybe the moving question ought to be, “what.’s relevant to us?” If we look to the world to provide the baseline for our relationship with it, aren’t we apt to be spending more time looking at the world than at God? This is what has been happening. I’m becoming convinced that we need to have a crystal clear understanding of what is relevant to us. How should redeemed, regenerated, sojourners bound for a kingdom that is not of this world live their lives? Let’s start there.

Moreover, when I sense someone is trying to be relevant to me, I can’t help but feel patronized. I’m more drawn to a person who is confident in their own space even though I may not be with them in it. Isn’t that the message of many folks today? Stop patronizing me! Stop trying to sell me stuff! Get real; get authentic! What’s up with a world where I can find real lemon juice in my furniture polish but not in my lemonade? —real faith on the streets, but precious little in the churches?

Meanwhile, we’re printing bibles that imitate the publications of the world, and producing music that sounds like the world, but isn’t the same. Fischer is right. Another flavor of world isn’t what those who live inside the world need, neither is it what those of us who are outsiders need.

What’s needed is a genuine “counterculture.” By that I don’t mean a league of antagonists—storm troopers in the culture war— trying to defend their claim in popular society in order to protect their world-flavored sub-culture. That, it seems to me, is an “anti-culture.” What is needed is a counterculture made up of people who know the eternal Father, and know what He has made of them. For them to live peacefully, confidently imitating Jesus as they honor their Creator, might well appear to the insiders of the world to be a society of faithful people. It might also appear to be a good place to come ashore after running aground in the shallows of American culture.

 

Living in the Twilight Zone

“There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area we call the Twilight Zone.”

~Opening to the third season of “The Twilight Zone” TV program.

I’m starting a class I’m calling “Living in the Twilight Zone.” At first I thought I’d call it Ministry in the Twilight Zone, but these days I shy away from terms like ‘ministry’ that have become deeply rooted in the Christian sub-culture.
The class is based on these assumptions:

  • · As Christ-followers we are transitioning into a new dimension, a dimension that links time and space with the dimension of the infinite and eternal (some would call it ‘heaven,’ but that’s another term fairly drenched with the heavy perfume of evangelicalism so I’ll call it the ‘dimension of the infinite-eternal.’). We are bound for a destination beyond this world.
  • · Having been infected with the “good virus” called the Spirit, which is the legacy of a crucified and resurrected Messiah, we find ourselves in “the middle ground between light and shadow,” between the limitations of reasoning and the credulity of religion; between the primal fear of living and the limitless hope for something beyond. It is a dimension of imagination, but not of myth and legend. As Spirit “carriers” we are drawn into a reality that strains our imagination: the meta-narrative, the story from which myths and legends descend. It is the First Truth from which half-truths, distortions, and falsehoods flow. The story of our Creator God and His chosen Seed is the meta-narrative. It is our legacy and our story to tell. As Christ-followers, we are not to withdraw from the world, but to carry the light—the story—into the world, living consistently, faithfully and fearlessly as aliens in a place that is only a stopover on a longer journey.
  • · We are on a journey of discovery in which we intend to learn who we are in Christ and fearlessly embrace the implications. It seems that there are layers of “veneer” that, over time, have been nailed to the frame of the Father’s story. It will be our goal to peel away the layers and find what is basic to the life of a Christ-follower.
  • · We are not to judge the world as though it should be expected to live as we do in spite of the fact it has not been infected with the Spirit. We are to love the world because that is what our Father did. As Jesus spoke with his Father he said, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:18). Jesus loved the world. The Father sent Jesus because He loved the world. For that reason, we are to love the world. We are not to sit as judges, rather walk as storytellers, or as revelers carrying a “splendid torch” in the shadows.
  • · To do this we will have to practice storytelling and loving—one another and the world. John Alexander, in his book, The Secular Squeeze, put it this way: “But Jesus didn’t stop with stories; he also gave us way to authenticate them…He told us…that you tell whether a story is true by the lives of the people who tell it. You judge a story by its teller…A good story enables people to lay down their lives for each other and become one.” What is called “evangelism,” at its core, is the splendid torch of the Father’s story and the story of His seed, which is His Son.

This is living in the Twilight Zone. Undoubtedly, Rod Serling, in his portentous prelude to the creepy tales of that third season of the venerable program, never imagined that his words might suggest an approach to living as followers of Jesus. But, as long as light continues to meet darkness there will be shadows. That is where we have to learn to carry a torch.

Truth Floats

Love: to act for the benefit of another—visibly, practically and intentionally.

I talked to an old farmer and mill worker moments ago. George was his name. He asked me about house churches and remarked about the need for simplicity. He told of a renowned theologian who was asked about the most profound truth he had discovered. The answer: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so…”

George, speaking of himself, said that he was a simple man and I believed him. His face was leathered; his features were angular, steadfast and determined, crowned with mussed gray hair. The thing I noticed most were his hands. They were big, hard looking hands, scarred and square, at home with machines and tools. The thumbnail was rough, split sometime by a cruel machine.

A simple man, he said.

Jesus loves me. Love one another. How are we doing on the simple things? In them are found the deepest truths. Love is of God and everyone who loves is born of God and knows Him. Love is the mark of a disciple. Love never fails. God is love. God so loved the world…

What need do we have of deeper truth when the deepest truth floats on the surface of the scriptures?

Transforming Friendship

Meditation looks for peace in the isolation of the soul.

Prayer finds peace in the communion of the spirit.

Isolation and desolation are brothers.

Communion and completion are Father and child.

Rummaging Through Life

Seems to me that God has given all of us the need to belong, to have “a people” to belong to. Those without belonging have a hole in their soul that bleeds. Some build facades to mask the deficit. Sociopaths suture the wound with anger and aggression. Others default to fear and isolation—sociophobes.

What should be the qualities of a uniquely Christian culture, a uniformly welcoming people? Liturgy? Doctrinal purity? The implicit “dos and don’ts” of evangelicalism? Shouldn’t it be love?

Love: visible, intentional and practical action for the benefit of others. Hospitality, compassion, simplicity, joy and the exhilarating release of a people who have gained the universe and have cast off fear and its sister, anxiety. For this we have to decide what is truly relevant to us as a “genetically altered” ethnic group, a holy nation and a peculiar people. So much of the cultural inheritance that we have received from the time/space world we live in is, at its core, irrelevant to the new life that we are capacitated to live.

I have a box of “odds and ends” out in the garage—nuts, bolts, screws, washers, and a generous bunch of etcetera. When I need something for a home repair or automotive fix, I often find myself pawing through that box looking for the one thing I need for the purpose. Everything else in the box is irrelevant, but I have to rummage through it all, rejecting the irrelevant, to find the thing that fits. The trick is to have a clear image of the needed item in my head. Without that, everything in there becomes a confusing mass of possibilities.

Being in the temporal world is a lot like living in that box. Most of what’s around me isn’t relevant to me as a follower of Jesus. It doesn’t fit the purpose. As a follower I need to get a clear picture of the needed item fixed in my head so I will recognize it when I see it—a clear and detailed image of love and loving. That’s a fundamental element of a uniquely Christian culture: knowing what’s important and emphasizing it; and recognizing what’s unimportant and ignoring it. Let the rummaging begin! Step one is to sort out and reject what doesn’t look like visible, practical, and intentional action on behalf of others. Step two, three, four, and all the steps that come after, are to do what’s left. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to wholeheartedly, and with abandon, run into the new cultural norms of Christ-following personhood.

One solemn hour each week, then six days and twenty-three hours lived in the civilization of fallen man, was not the earlier believers’ understanding of ecclesia. They had their own community, they were the community, they had their own “civilization”; it operated around the clock and throughout the calendar.

~~Gene Edwards, The Highest Life

Finding My Face

“But the real fear is what we would do if we took off our masks and discovered that we had no faces?”

I’ve been reading a book called The Transforming Friendship by James Houston in which he puts that question. I think it has much to say—this question, specifically— to me as a Christ-follower. Do I really know who I am, that is, do recognize my own face? What qualities define me as a part of a distinctive race of people who have chosen to follow Jesus? He said that we were different from other peoples and that he was going to leave us in the world, but we were not to be “of” it—born for eternity, stranded in time.

That puts me, and others like me, between two worlds, the world of time and space and the world of eternity.

What if I awakened tomorrow and, during the night, I had changed genetically so that I could live without eating? Out of habit I would probably continue to consume food because I always had and had learned to enjoy it…too much, truth be told. I might still visit McDonalds, and snack on ice cream, the manna of my world. There would be a freedom available to me (and quite a financial savings!) that I might not be aware of unless somehow I found out that I had changed. I would continue to rely on food when that reliance was really unnecessary.

I’ve come to wonder if something like that hasn’t happened to me as a follower of Jesus. Perhaps it’s happened to most Christ-followers. By connecting at a spiritual level with Jesus I have changed in a fundamental way. I don’t have to rely on the systems, institutions and mindsets of the world any more. I am secure in an eternal relationship with God so I needn’t fear for my life. Jesus has assured me that I don’t have to worry about what I will eat or what I will wear so money ought not burden my soul. My citizenship is not here on earth so the chaos of politics doesn’t have to jangle in my head. Father has invited me to become a part of a living community of others who have also experienced this change in their “DNA” so my social needs are also met.

Perhaps Father has invited me, and those like me, to stand in front of the mirror, take off the mask and become familiar with a new face. There is really nothing to fear in this. I do have a face because I have a Father. There should be an obvious resemblance. That’s what I want, anyway.

I’m going to keep thinking about this, but I’ll sign off for now with a favorite quote. It gets at the core or what I’m pondering: a community whose members have discovered their faces. The quote is from Jim Wallis (Agenda for a Biblical People, I think):

“The greatest influence on a person’s life will be that institution or set of institutions on which the person feels most dependent for survival and support. As long as most Christians are more dependent upon the powers and principalities of the world for their survival and security than they are upon the Christian community, the church cannot do anything other than conform to the world. We must see through biblical eyes that our lives and our very spiritual survival, personally, economically, and politically, must be centered in the Christian community. The community of the local church must become the most important and central corporate reality of our lives, the daily environment out of which our lives are lived, the fellowship of people that sustains and supports us. The church must represent a body of people who have committed their lives to one another in Christ, a communion of faith and trust in which everything is shared, a place where our lives and society are seen through the eyes of biblical faith, a corporate sign of the transforming power of the gospel kingdom in the world.”

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