Relevant to what–exactly?

Relevant diaolgue

Being ‘relevant’ is what the first century church was not. It did not and could not ‘bow the knee’ to the ‘lordship’ of Caesar. Sadly the tardy hash tag of relevance has plagued the missional endeavours of many recent attempts of ‘freshly expressing’ the Christian faith.

“When I read stuff like this, my reaction isn’t anger. It’s an eye-roll. Churches should know better than to believe the myth that accommodation will swell their ranks. The opposite happens.” Andrew Walker

Andrew Walker’s words will be endorsed by anyone with any kind of comprehension of the de facto state of affairs that is fallen humanity. We are not ‘gods’ so that we fall at the feet of human reason or social mores. We are ‘Adam’, who is cast out of the garden—out of the presence of God.

1820 Days

“Other-Worldliness is [now] a seldom used word. The word really speaks for itself—meaning ‘not like this world’—ethereal even. Christ’s followers ought to be both heavenly-minded and different—unlike the prevailing cultural norm. Those who are considered other-worldly’ are often thought to be decidedly odd—different even. Jesus, quite clearly, calls his followers to be significantly different. History has proven that the behaviour/lifestyle of many Christians has profoundly affected the course of history. Openness, Orthodoxy and Other-Worldliness are, for professing Christians, and for those not yet on the Christian journey, as essential as water is for fish. Without Biblical orthodoxy, there is no gospel; without openness, there may be no access; without other-worldliness, there may be no salvation.” (‘Walls That Divide: Openness Orthodoxy and Other-Worldliness’ 2010)

I wrote the above words a while ago now, and as I look back over the last five years I wonder how my use of these 1820 days look from God’s perspective: Have I been ‘other worldly’—focussed on what God would achieve through me—through the talents (Matt 25:14-30) God has invested in me? Have I been ‘that’ different—winsome enough to attract others to seek after Christ?  Moreover, have I been bold enough to speak out for Christ or have I held back for fear of rejection—or of being labelled a bigot? Have I allowed the world to shape me or to stifle the most important news the world (our world) will ever hear? I’m pretty sure that there will have been, for all of us (professing disciples of Christ) good and bad days. The question though is not one of ‘productivity’ but of ‘availability’. Exactly, how available have ‘we’ been over these 1820 days?

in the wind

GOD–N us?

Part 1

Homer Sapiens?

We tend to define our humanity in terms of our current social and cultural mores. In the West we stereo type the ‘uncultured’ man among us as being made in the image of someone like Homer Simpson rather than God. Ironically none of us would want to be considered anything like this particular cartoon character as anyone observing the behaviour of Simpson would not consider his behaviour the ‘norm’— especially for themselves. Homer lives to: eat, drink, be merry, and to bring in the ‘burgers’ for his family. These things seem to sum up Homer Simpson’s raison detre — yet there is a glimmer of a desire to communicate with God even in the likes of Homer Simpson. How then would most people in the West define the meaning and purpose of their lives? How do people in the UK, Europe and the USA define themselves, their lives, their experiences — their ‘meaning’? Is ‘life’ for the average person as, Mike Featherstone suggests [Consumer Culture and Postmodernism], little more than consumerism playing with people’s aspirations—clouding the boundaries between reality and fantasy? Are ‘products and commodities’ US?

Like many efforts to put a label on the ‘human problem’, the above definition of personal reality only gives an insight into the effects of culture on the individual — a way of outlining the  ‘current’ symptoms. If, as we are convinced, there is a deep seated problem in the human psyche then prognosis is vital; of course, this would be an impossible task if there were no pattern to work from. For this we need more than a degree in physiology or psychology. Having such knowledge would only give us a certain amount of information, information that does not give a complete picture of what it is to be human. The question is, do we really need to define or diagnose the ‘human problem’? If we answer no, it may be that we are afraid of the results and the consequences for us personally. If we answer yes then we are in good company for many are seeking answers to that question.

In our increasingly secular western culture any question of meaning has been marginalised by the shift to materialism and consumerism — so much so that we in the West  seem to have lost the will to enquire as to whether or not there is any ‘meaning’ outside of our quasi- materialistic ghettos. Barack Obama, some years before his historic move to the White House, observed, “Each day, it seems, thousands of Americans are going about their daily rounds….and coming to the realisation that something is missing.  They are deciding that their work, their possessions, their diversions, their sheer busyness are not enough.  They want a sense of purpose, a narrative to their lives, something that will relieve a chronic loneliness or lift them above the exhausting, relentless toll of daily life.”  Interestingly enough the article this quote comes from what was named ‘The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on reclaiming the American Dream’ (2006). ‘The audacity of hope’…now there is a phrase to chew on in itself!  We may not feel that we buy into the American dream — especially in these tricky times but perhaps we feel that Obama’s comments on the search for meaning and purpose have a ring of truth to them.

Whether it be through political, social or cultural systems, or indeed ‘spiritual’ experiences, it is likely that people are looking for a narrative[1] to provide some sense of purpose to their existence.  Our contention would also be that in societies with any kind of ‘Christian heritage’ [especially in America and the UK] people would be most reluctant patients when it came to an attempt at diagnosis of a human problem that could in any way include themselves.  We are quick to blame all manner of things for the breakdown of law and order, or the state of our schools, or the ‘youth of today’, but we don’t often go looking for problems inside of ourselves, or in generalised humankind.  Day-to-day living takes enough of our energy and focus and brings enough problems of its own. It is true that introspection is not always a healthy pursuit but if in the physical realm we see or feel symptoms, then we tend to seek a diagnosis, because only then can we receive, or offer, appropriate treatment and care. We would argue that the same applies in the spiritual realm, and in the space where the spiritual and physical meet, i.e. God at work in us as people made in His image. Continue reading GOD–N us?