Sunday, August 31, 2008


Think of all of the ramifications of the folllowing words:
Culture. Multiculture. Cross culture. Subculture. Counterculture.

How many cultures do we have in Canada?
Our middle-class European English-speaking culture. WASP.
Our French-Canadian culture.
First Nations
We still have some specific remnants of German, Ukrainian, Italian and other European cultures.
Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian and other Asian
Islander, African, South American and so many more.

So, we are a very multicultural nation. This provides lots of opportunity for cross cultural ministry without even leaving home.
But that is only one aspect of our cultural mosaic. The adult, historical, generational, geographical cultural aspect. The kind passed along from parents to children.
Then we have all of the subcultures: hippy, Gen X, post modern, anarchist, punk, goth, emo, metal, skater etc. People drawn together and held together by politics, music, clothing, etc. These cultural ties are every bit as strong as that of the early settlers drawn together by common history and language. Songs, clothing, stories—all reinforcing their own uniqueness.
Some of these subcultural groupings formed unintentionally. People so against mainstream materialism that they became countercultural. Hippies, yippies, anarchists, punks, etc. Together working to tear down the establishment.

And where do we find the church in all of this?
Pretty much middle class.
The upwardly mobile.
By and large we aren't from the other side of the tracks any more.
We are big.
We are powerful.
We are right (in more than one sense of the word!)
Let me mount my soapbox for a moment. I have appreciated the encouragement from different authors to change from a position of dogma to dialogue, to wanting to discuss an issue instead of trying to prove why I am right. As one author has put it, we need to move from defending the faith to defending the space. After all, if I am being honest I will have to admit that I don't know it all, and may well be wrong, even on those things I feel quite sure about. If you can't visualize how pushy we Christians can be, think about a discussion you have probably had with someone about what version of the Bible you use, or their view of Bible prophecy. We can really get quite vehement when we figure we are right—which is most of the time. Final thought—we aren't as right as we think we are!

But where was Jesus? Where was He really accepted? Not by the religious elite, but by the commoner, the down-trodden, the alien, the second-class.

So what does this mean for us?
Although it is OK that the predominant culture accepts the church, our message is totally multicultural, subcultural, and countercultural.
Our message of love, acceptance, forgiveness, affirmation, healing and hope really should connect with the fringes.
We are totally shooting ourselves in the foot by only being middle class, white and conservative. The chunk of society so well-represented in our churches is just a narrow slice of the whole pie.
Next time you are in church on a Sunday morning, look around you.
Where are the pierced and tattooed?
Where are the homeless?
Where are the gays, the prostitutes, the addicted?
Where are the punks, the emos, the goths?
Where are the hardcore, the straightedge, the headbangers?
Where are the non-whites, the non-English, the non-American?
If they don't feel at home with us (and most of them wouldn't, at least in our traditional church settings), if they don't feel loved and accepted—where do they go? Back to their subculture where their dissatisfaction with society is understood, where they are accepted and affirmed for who they are.
Think about the population of your neighborhood high school. What percentage of them would identify themselves as part of one of the above groups? 50%? 75%? 90%? Ever wonder why not many teens or young adults are in church? Maybe they just know they don't belong.
It's not so much a matter of us putting up with their alternative lifestyle, but acknowledging their right to choose it. It's not saying “I'll pretend I don't see your piercings, spiked hair, or hear your loud music”, but more “I understand your disillusion with society, I appreciate your desire to make a difference, I'll march with you against injustice, (or the environment, or whatever)”. For most of us, that in itself is a huge step. Most of us stop dead in our tracks in the presence of someone from any of the above subcultures. We need to go way beyond the ability to tolerate 'one of them', to a genuine effort to befriend and understand them.
Did Jesus say: “Come to me and leave your language and customs behind, cut your hair, put on a suit, learn our lingo and quit listening to that terrible music”? Or did He say: “Come to me and I will give you rest. My yoke is easy, my expectations aren't difficult.” (Matthew 11:28)
If we are more worried aobut their ability to affect us than our ability to affect them, we need to have a bigger understanding of God's power, and who He has called us to be.

The modern missionary movement of the past couple centuries turned Africans into black Europeans—dressed in our clothes, singing our songs, looking to the European as the Great White Father. We have finally started to separate culture from message in other countries, but we have a ways to go here at home.
No, I wouldn't feel particularly comfortable in a hip-hop worship service, or at a Christian metal concert—but so what? It isn't all about me. God can be honored just as well by a Fijian dance or the patches sewn onto a punk guys jacket as by me singing 'Shout to the Lord' on Sunday along with a worship band. We look at the outward appearance. God looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)

Although many of the subcultures around us seem impenetrable, often they are filled with the insecurity of a bunch of teenagers trying to fit in. Vastly different on the outside, but feeling very similar emotions of loneliness or disorientation on the inside.
So often a gentle word, an open mind, and a listening ear is all that is needed to begin a friendship. Part of it is overlooking the outside differences, but a bigger part is truly sharing the heart of this 'alien'.
Are you willing to be a friend with someone who:
has 6 visible piercings?
listens to 'terrible' music?
is gay, transgender or something other than straight?
lives on the street, panhandling and dumpster diving in order to survive?
shows the physical and mental results of an addiction?
figures Christians are closed-minded, bigoted jerks?
has a limited vocabulary, frequently sprinkled with words beginning with 'F'?

None of these are easy, often they really try your patience.
Are you willing to still be their friend in 2 years when they are still the same, only more so? When they have contracted hep C or AIDS from unsafe sex or needle use? Often our underlying agenda is to give them 2 months or 6 months or whatever. If they don't turn around in that time, we'll dump them and move on.
Did Jesus call us to love them only if they are ready to conform to our standards? Part of that goes back to our inappropriate expectation for people to become like us if they choose to follow Christ—to dress like us, sound like us, act like us. Part of it is a willingness to love only if they decide to 'get saved'.
True Christ-like love isn't love if. It's love. Period.

The Good Samaritan didn't cross the street so he wouldn't feel guilty about walking by. He didn't use religious duty as an excuse for ignoring the guy in need.
He took the time and money necessary to see the fellow healed.
He crossed cultural barriers.
He really cared.
He made a difference.
He was a true neighbor. The kind of neighbor I would want when I am in need, attacked by life and left on the side of the road.

That's what.

(Just to balance theory with actual practice—it's not that I find most of this easy, because I don't. I've often missed opportunities to be Jesus because I was in a hurry to catch my bus, or something equally less important. But I still know what God is calling me to, and striving to live more like Him.)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


You've probably heard about the ability of an opera singer to hit a high note, and have the crystal glasses shatter. That might not be so wonderful for your collection of crystal, but the concept is a wonderful way of illustrating how thought processes grow in intensity. Let me elaborate...

Over the past months (years, actually), I have been recognizing the need to grow in my understanding of the shifts happening in our culture. I can see that we are in a different world, but don't necessarily understand all that is going on.
So, I start my journey. Trying to listen to the world around me. Trying to learn the language. To read the signs. To somehow begin to get in the groove (to steal imagery from another time).
I hear a word like postmodern that certainly points to a new paradigm, but doesn't exactly explain itself.
At times it feels like I am alone in this journey. So much of the church (and other large segments of society) seems to carry along merrily in the same boat we have been in for years. Trying to fish with the same bait, speaking the same language, seeing through the same pair of sunglasses (to mix metaphors).
So, I'm wondering if there really is a culture shift going on. Then I read a book or two that seem to not only confirm my awareness of change, but begin to reveal what this change looks like. (Check out my Shelfari page for what I have been reading lately.) People who are either explaining a bit of what Gen X or Y, or postmodern is, or demonstrating it in everyday life. How some people are actually breaking out of the patterns we have walked in for years.
It's not that they are trying to change the system. They know the system is changing, and they are operating under the new rules. They aren't advocating change, they are advocating understanding of the change that is occurring.
Time goes on, and I dare to read more of the stuff being written. Some people love it, it speaks in their language, it points with hope to new roads that journey to the same place we are all desiring to reach. Others fear it, negate it, pretend it doesn't exist. They keep reinforcing the traditional methods.
(Let me get a bit more concrete, more specific, more 'Christian'. Some of the new writings are slaughtering sacred cows that are considered to be as absolute as gravity. The titles give it away: 'The End of Religion', 'Repenting of Religion' to name a couple. I can understand the fear: “These guys are destroying the authority of scripture, they are heretics, they are false prophets.” But somehow, there is a lot of truth that resonates in my spirit as I read and learn. The call is to separate truth from practice, to recognize that no one has a total understanding of truth. There is always a place to re-think and grow.)

So this brings me to the concept of resonance.
I read a book. I have a conversation. Something vibrating in the heart and spirit of the person I am reading matches the vibrations in my own heart. Something that has touched my friend's heart has already been touching mine. The vibrations grow in intensity. Iron sharpens iron. Their journey comes alongside my journey, and together we are brought into an alignment. There may be slight variations, but the conversation allows both of us to see things through new eyes and come to a deeper understanding.
For me, this has been happening in a number of areas, all of which seem to be threads of the same cord.
Threads of understanding postmodernism.
Understanding some of the sub- and counter-cultures that swirl around me.
Being incarnational and missional in my faith.
Recognizing the need for re-inventing the way the Church sees itself, and how it impacts society.

The past couple weeks have been quite insightful. As I have hung out for a few days with fellow staff of the Christian Mission I serve with (Youth With A Mission), and as I have talked with friends and family 'back home' I realize that God is nudging many of us in the same direction.
One of the ways I sense and confirm what God is saying in my heart is by listening to see if others are hearing the same thing. I am convinced that it is so. God is allowing us and challenging us to move. To seriously seek to understand our own faith, and not necessarily accept what we now believe as ultimate truth. (No, I'm not questioning things like the deity of Christ, or the atonement, but I am endeavoring to be more open to think about things like style and method in my presentation of the things that matter.)
I see many of my cohorts finding ways to be incarnational and missional—living out their faith and following the example of Christ within their communities. I see many people considering new ways of expressing themselves within a community of faith (the Church, if you will). I see people willing to rock the boat in order to stay afloat. (Now, there's an interesting image!)
I feel the Spirit's wind blowing. I am excited to continue my efforts at understanding the cultures around me, and to be intentionally involved. This has already been a great 10 days, and I still have another week to find even more confirmation, to vibrate even stronger with the resonance of the wind of the Spirit.
You better hide your crystal, this fat lady is about to sing! (I just couldn't resist the opportunity to end that way!)

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