It’s not easy being green

kermit     If you’ve been challenged by this call to develop a postChristian Gospel, please know that it has been something I’ve been struggling with for quite some time. Remaining true to the Biblical/historical constructs of our faith, and to the Church, while trying to acclimate our message into yet another cultural context is no easy matter. Wycliffe Bible Translators face this challenge with every new language group they encounter; as did early Western Christian missionaries trying to introduce Western Christian constructs to Eastern and African cultures). Our difficulty is in recognizing that our postChristian era has developed its own culture and language group, based on its basic premise that there are no absolute truths; there is no meta-narrative to explain all of reality; there is no one singular system of belief that can encompass the grand diversity of human experience. At this point, of course, genuine Christians must disagree and still engage with the prevailing points of view.
     It is thus, at this point of division, that we must still follow our Lord into this world’s various cultures, adapting His time-tested message to be understood within the grand diversity of human experiences. This is not a task to be taken on lightly, let alone naively. Our message can neither be too complex to be grasped by the simple, nor can it be so simple that its matrix, woven throughout human history and into both ends of eternity, be lost in “the simple gospel,” with no context outside of the Creation/Fall/Redemption/Fulfillment rubric. That is why we must end our consideration of a postChristian Gospel with a reference to BEING GREEN.
     Being green, surprisingly, refers to more than environmental/ecological responsibility. The framework to which I refer comes from a 1969 musical piece sung by Kermit the Frog, Ring-master of Jim Henderson’s MUPPETS. I encourage you to watch it; go to-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpiIWMWWVco&feature=related to view our hero sing it in his own croaks.] “It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green.” (lyrics by Joe Rapposo)
     In the song, Kermit’s point is this- that he may not like the way he is, blending in, often passed over, ordinary; but this is the way he is and that’s that. He is the color of Spring; he is cool & friendly-like. And though as a frog he is small, he can be big, like an ocean, or important, like a mountain. He is green, and that’s just fine. Engaging the postChristian heart is a lot like being green. We may not be too good at it, we certainly don’t fit into our culture’s predominant mindset, but we have to remain true to who we are, to what we believe, and to be what Christ has designed us to be in the grand scheme of things. We are each called upon and designed to play our part in the daily activities of the Lilly Pond. Some days we just sit around and zap flies with our tongues; other days we may run into those postmodern Bull Frogs that beat up on us and take away our pad, trying to push us out of the operations of the Pond entirely. Nonetheless, God has plopped many of us in the middle of the postChristian Pond and expects us to live up to our responsibilities as a vital part of this society’s nurturing and development. We are here to bring Christ’s peace, forgiveness, and new life to the rest of the Pond. We may not like the taste of fresh fly on our tongue…, but we’d better get used to it if we’re going to make a difference.
     There remains yet one more thing to consider- merely practical suggestions on how to be who you are, within your own personality, family, church, and society, as you endeavor to translate the Christian message into postChristian-speak.
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Play Time
1.      How do you befriend a person who is in pain and/or angry?

2.      To the best of your recollection, what is the Christian Gospel?
a.       Now find someone who is NOT a Christian and ask them what it is.
b.      Tell them your understanding of the Gospel. Ask for their feedback.
3.      Interview people, Christian and otherwise, about the statement- The only absolute truth is that there are no absolute truths. What did you learn?
4.      Ask people if they have overriding principles that govern their actions. Learn.
5.      How are your overriding principles apparent in your actions?
6.      Given that throughout history the Christian faith has adapted to fit into every people group, culture and era around the world, what do you think of the idea of a postChristian Gospel? Is it opening Pandora’s Box?
7.      To what extent is our message a mind-to-mind transfer of information leading to a decision to follow Christ? To what extent is it a heart-to-heart thing leading to an encounter with Christ that can be explained later?
8.      In what circumstances is a problem-solving model of the gospel more appropriate? In what circumstances is a fulfillment model more appropriate?
9.      How do you discover the presuppositions and assumptions a person holds about life and the Christian interpretation of life?
10.  How simple is the Gospel? How expansive could it be?
11.  How are you doing at being in the world, but not of it?
12.  Where do you have a tough time bein’ green?

NEXT TIME~ AFTERTHOUGHTS: my best ideas come to me in the shower
…mostly green,
Gary
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Offering Christ in a postChristian culture-My best ideas come to me when I’m driving

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You know how it goes. You finish something, then you finish it again— similar to the “here’s my first final draft” submission scenario of so many doctoral theses. This first last entry will set forth practical ideas so you won’t simply put it aside and do nothing. First, to deal with the realities of this major cultural shift to a postmodern/postChristian society, I’ll suggest some personal characteristics which you will need to integrate, with some degree of wholeness, into your life and livelihood.  Then I’ll lay out more general observations to keep in the back of your head as you move about, surrounded by a postChristian/post-moral population. Please, as you read this blog, know that these recommendations are only applicable if you are serious about relating to the emerging set of people we presently refer to as postmoderns.  I prefer to describe them aspostChristian, or even as post-morals.

     First, you will need a little patience. It takes time to understand paradigm shifts and how they affect everything. It takes time to gain an eagle’s eye perspective on your own culture, community, and personal heritage. You almost need to have an out of body experience, to be able to fly over your world like an eagle to truly see yourself, in this place & time. When you step back a bit and observe, even your own self seems different; and in many ways, people today are different. Flash observations just do not work.

     We have to learn to live alongside people who are increasingly different from ourselves. Don’t jump to conclusions after one encounter with people outside your own social group; people have arrived where they are in life over long, hard roads; some roads, quite far from your own path. Take time to win the right to allow people to trust you with their road’s story, on their terms, on their turf. Some time ago, I met with an ALPHA group. We had met together before, but never quite like this— one Australian, two Iranian Muslims, and four Chinese students from Beijing (all in their late 20s–early 30s). Our small group fell into a discussion of the differences between being raised in a Christianized society (America), a Muslim society (Iran), and an atheistic society (China). The Muslims were convinced that Islam was the one true religion because it was the most recent, which meant that it was the most complete, incorporating all previous religions into it. The Chinese, not-quite-atheists were brand new to the idea of a God even existing. How could God be Jesus if Jesus came to earth? It was an exciting evening of interchange, disagreement, and friendship as each person was able to speak without fear of recrimination or evangelistic attack. No one had to win. As the only Christian in the group, I was honored to watch our Lord begin to work His miracles in these people. I just needed to be there, modeling honest, transparent Christian faith, speaking the Truth in love. It was not a time to whip out a Gospel outline and proceed to read through it; it was not a time to maneuver the conversation around to Christian things. It was rather a time for me to be still and to listen for the voice of God’s Holy Spirit coming out of these curious individuals. I was amazed at the genuinely Biblical images and ideology they espoused without even knowing it. Then I just had to wait. As said earlier, God is in control; we don’t have to be. New expressions of faith evolve naturally with time and generational transitions[i]; so learn patience.

     On the other hand, as Christians in a rapidly evolving society, we do not have a lot of time to adapt to our changing world. It used to be that paradigm shifts occurred about every 200-500 years. When the printing press enabled merchants to carry information (as well as their wares) across Eurasia those shifts accelerated paradigm change to about every 40-50 years.  With the dissemination of communication technology that figure is accelerating even more today. What communicates our faith today will have to change or update not every 20 – 30 years, but every 5 years.  George Barna, in BOILING POINT: Monitoring Cultural Shifts in the 21st Century,[ii] says that, at best, we have no more than 3-5 years to catch up before things shift again. Then, we need to surpass the culture in breaking ground for the next shift to follow.[iii] “If you can see the future coming,” says Barna, “it’s too late.”

     NEXT time, in the first-last-entry, I’ll leave you with some observations about how to immerse yourself in our new postChristian world, and how to fall in love with her people. Seriously.

Writing one final EMPulse in this series…, maybe,

Gary

[i] “Generational Dominance” refers to the overall influence any particular generation, or subculture within that generation, exerts over a regional or national culture in general.

[ii] George Barna. BOILING POINT: Monitoring Cultural Shifts in the 21st Century. (Regal Books, Ventura, CA) 2001.

[iii] George Barna. BOILING POINT: Monitoring Cultural Shifts in the 21st Century. (Regal Books, Ventura, CA) 2001. p.20.

Framing a postChristian Gospel: talk’s cheap…, action’s everything

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It is tantamount to interweave action in the postChristian gospel. The apostle James writes,

 14What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

 18But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

–James 2:14-18

     Given the present-day imbalance between Western wealth, emerging Chinese wealth, and the poverty of Third World countries this writer must insist that our postChristian Gospel, our “good news” include a definitive Christian presence and immersion in the midst of our world’s tough situations. These run the gamut from local poverty and homelessness to national insurrections, global inequities and human indignities. Unless individual Christians and the Body of Christ in the West, in all her various forms (churches, parachurch organizations, missions, social services, home groups, etc.) are willing to take their place alongside of other non-Christian agencies, in concerted, cooperative enterprises to care for our world’s impoverished, ill-treated, and subjugated masses, the “good news” of Christ’s salvation will seem all talk, no action. Nowhere in our Scriptures are we called to withdraw from our world, except for times of fasting and prayer. Instead, we are commanded to be involved in our world as active participants in its daily endeavors. To this end Jesus prayed to the Father on our behalf in John 17—

     15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.

     Christ wants us embedded within our communities to reflect who He is to those around us. This is the context for our verbal message— our lives demonstrating the Truth and character about Jesus Christ for living in front of our families, neighbors, and work associates.  Then, we must invest ourselves in national and international efforts to bring justice and financial assistance (homes, wells, grain, cattle, etc.) to those in need; all-the-while, “enfleshing” Christ’s commandments.

     “Is not this the fast that I choose: to lose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”  (Isaiah 58:6-7)

     If our postmodern/postChristian world is ever to grasp the importance of our “good news” its context must be the holy lives of Jesus’ followers lived out in community, both inside and outside the church. Truly, we who claim the Name of Jesus Christ do not have the option to withdraw from this present society, except for prayer, rest, and rejuvenation in His Holy Spirit.

     Not of this world…, absolutely!  But…, definitely in this world.

NEXT TIME~ Framing a postChristian Gospel:  it’s not that easy bein’ green part 7.

Embedded…, & active,

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis

Making a Difference

jfk quoteHappy New Year!

     There’s a line in the movie The Greatest Showman, that came out Christmas 2017, which stuck with me. It’s actually a quote from P.T Barnum, played by Hugh Jackman in the movie.

 

“No one ever made a difference by being like everyone else.”

     Too many of us, trying to fit in, actually merely blend in. We become part of the background while others step forward. We react to what is going on around us rather than initiating actions that will matter.

     In the progression of history, we are living in a hiatus, a time between times. If you think of time as a series of phases and transitions, we are in a transition, about to enter into some new yet-to-be-defined reality. What a great time to be alive! We get to write the definers of the next age, of the next paradigms of human perspectives.

     The great thing about transitions is that we cannot turn back; we must forge ahead.

     Sadly, too many of us want to live in the past. We’ve entrenched ourselves in the belief that the past was more secure, more stable, safer. It is change, the new, that is to be feared. Really!?! This is why our schools & colleges should require a course in HISTORY, no matter what your major. We have lost our way.

     Christians have taken the sports mantra No Fear and turned it into a tee-shirt— Fear not… . [Isaiah 41:10] Yet we Christians seem more afraid to face change, to face the future, to face our world’s fluctuating foundations and values than anyone. What’s with that, anyway?!?

     The genuine Christian should not strive to fit in, to blend. Rather, to make a difference in the world; from the lives of those around them, to the world arena. Let’s step forward and be counted.

     So instead of New Year’s Resolutions, make action plans; instead of setting personal goals, set people goals. Who will you help? Who can you love like Jesus? Who can you pass on your wisdom to? And don’t tell anyone. Just do it.

Make a difference,
Gary
Dr. Gary Davis, President

www.CluelessChristianity.com  

NEXT TIME~ a consideration of postChristian apologetics

ADVENT #3— JOY!  ~the shepherd’s candle.

16 December 2018

      Merry Christmas!

            If you’ve watched the opening video…, you have watched it, right?!? Anyway, after you HAVE watched it, you’ve already grasped the point of Advent candle #3— our joy is to be expressed, not only on a hill outside of Bethlehem on a star lit night, but in the midst of the marketplace, the town square, among people who need to see, and hear, our joy this Christmastime.

            How many Christians have you met that portray the Christian life as a life of sacrifice, drudgery, or somber obedience. In too many ways have we hid our light under a bushel, encased in our silent personalities, afraid to let it shine? Or maybe your Christian faith is a personal matter, between you and the Lord: if so, then you would be disobeying His commandment to go out into our world and make disciples.” [Matthew 28:18-20.]  Though we may carry a quiet faith, a personal faith, it is by no means to be a surreptitious one; “they will know you by your love…. “  It is at least that. Yes?

            Our Western, especially American, culture can rob us of our joy in so many ways. For one, we can make Christmas about everything except Christ. Oh, we may replace Him with the baby Jesus, and the sweet manger scene. Jolly ol’ Santa Claus with his bag of toys & delights. Or we may supplant Him completely with buying & giving, shopping, rushing around to get one-last-thing. We’re like that.

            Let me ask you something— Where does your joy come from? Is it like the shepherds’ surprise and wonder at the splendor of myriad of angels singing “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace among men, with whom He is well pleased!”  Or does it come from buying your kids (or grandkids) one super-duper awesome Christmas gift? Maybe it comes from receiving something this Christmas that you truly didn’t expect to get. Don’t get me wrong; all this is great, and fun, and joy producing in oodles of delight, with candy kisses thrown in. I like that too.  J

            Still, I want most of my joy this Christmas season to come from Jesus. The birth of the Omnipotent God into our meager realm, to live, to thrive, and, eventually, to die: that I might live!  HALLELUJAH!

Behold our King,
Gary
Dr. Gary Davis, President
www.CluelessChristianity.com  

NEXT TIME~ An ADVENT of PEACE!

Give Thanks

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What are you thankful for? Before you answer let me reflect on “being thankful” for a bit.

            Most of us have so much we grow comfortable with what we have and assume we will always have the means to replenish or buy more. Canada just observed Remembrance Day about 11 days ago. Armistice Day was just commemorated across Europe. In the US we have Veterans Day: a day becoming more solemn even though world conflicts lessen.

            Now, in the US, our Thanksgiving is upon us. Question: What are you thankful for? Here are a few things I am thankful for—

  1. You! Because you take the time to read what I write. For your love and friendship.
  2. My wife of almost 48 years— Starr.
  3. Josh & Blair; Jax & Caleb.
  4. Bethany & Jeff; ‘Bekah, Duke, & John.
  5. My mom & dad. Technically, they’re both dead; but not in my heart.
  6. My wacked-out sister Carol Norton. I love you sis! J
  7. William H. VanArtsdalen, Jr.— who keeps a roof over our heads.
  8. An ability to write. Still.
  9. A clear mind. A clear mind. A clear mind. And umm, oh— a memory.
  10. Being forgiven. I cannot imagine who I would have been without the grace of Christ that stalked me.
  11. Health— mostly.
  12. My incredible education!
  13. Usefulness for some Christians: more useful to many of the normal people around me.
  14. NEED’s Board of Directors scattered all over the world.
  15. Melanie Lamere— my right-hand man in New England.
  16. Ian Montgomery— my comrade-in-arms. The other half of the devious-duo.
  17. 40 Years in New England. Autumns.
  18. 1 year in Colorado. Mountains.
  19. Financial backers who believe in what I am doing. You’re all crazy.
  20. A perspective on life that the best is yet to come. I’m not done yet.

Giving thanks,

Gary
Dr. Gary Davis, President
www.CluelessChristianity.com  

Getting from Here to There Part 2

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Now about the corporate expression of our faith— within the church: it is not enough to live your Christian life in isolation— the Lone Ranger Christian, going it alone in the evil world. Christ called us to be a body of believers…, His Body. We stand or fall together. But if individual Christians re-gear their faith and the church does not, then we will have what sociologists call a paradigm conundrum. Individual Christians will be expressing their faith in one mode while the church still expresses its beliefs in another, older format— one that was appropriate when developed (1654 or 1945, take your pick) but has since lost its significance to the postChristian heart.

What follows are suggestions that the church-at-large needs to consider if it is to make sense—  both to twenty-first century Christians and to the rising tide of millennials/mosaics.

  1. The church will have to Rethink the Nature of Theology itself. Please do not take this as a rejection of any or all theological constructions of the past 500 – 1,600 years. It is not. But the last major rubric of theology was constructed during the Protestant Reformation in 1517, when priest Martin Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses, a critique of many of the practices of the Roman Catholic Church, on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. In similar ways we will need to construct a theology based on a new examination of Scripture, in the context of specific cultures, rather than simply another polishing of a theology based on a previous structure. Polishing American Colonial furniture doesn’t make it Danish modern.

The life of Christ and His redemptive work on the cross are our model for living the Christian life, today, throughout history, and across cultural variances. My guess is that this new Biblical Theology will arise in a people-group-specific, image-based format, and somewhat generationally-considerate. What will that look like in reality? Who knows?!? I’ll leave that to my successors.

  1. Redesigned corporate spirituality— The church will need to try on a new suit of clothes, spiritually speaking. It will need to try to express the Christian faith in multiple formats. What has been accepted as traditional will have to make room for newer forms of expression, previously foreign to our Christian traditions. And it will have to embrace these new expressions even if it feels terribly risky to do so. Remember, though, that we are in transition (versus a phase), in a time of paradigm shift; things are in flux. The Truth will remain constant while its expressions can vary with generation, region of the world, and culture.

            But please take note— we will have to allow for multiple forms of expression within the same local church as well, even within the same congregation. Decide to learn from those who express their faith in manners different from your own. Extend your comfort level to embrace expressions that call you to God in new ways. Our society isn’t what it used to be. Church shouldn’t be what it used to be either. New wine; new wine-skins… .

  1. Immersion vs. isolation…, not an option— One aspect of being a church is that we will no longer have a choice of opting out of our culture or its societal issues. The church of Jesus Christ must take a lead in healing our society’s sicknesses, from media to medical treatments, to definitions of life, death, and what it means to be a healthy human being. We have too long held back for fear of rejection or recrimination; it is time we took a stand. One thing we must not do is supplant our Savior’s role as Judge. That is not our place. Our place is to come along side of our fellow sinners and serve as their guide to freedom and life! The church in the first century understood this; so also must we. Jesus immersed himself in the lives of those around him, making little distinction between his followers and those who needed him. He served both: He loved both: He saved both.

Will the church be accepted readily upon first re-entry back into the society?  Not likely. Trust in any relationship is something that must be first gained, then if lost, regained with great commitment and agony. The church has a lot of negative history to overcome that our world remembers with a vengeance. But we can no longer afford the luxury of isolation, of feeling good about ourselves as long as we don’t have anything to do with the world outside. That, if anything, is true blasphemy. Jesus did not go to the cross so we could go to church.

  1. Cooperative— Remember that classic movie, Miracle on 34th Street? Kris Kringle was encouraging people at Macy’s to look for what they needed that Christmas at Gimbals’, across the street. Management, as first, was enraged; then they saw the light: customers were surprised and delighted to see this new cooperation-over-competition between the two stores. Since the Reformation the church in the West has been more about separation than about cooperation. The modern era saw western denominations first forming and then defining themselves injuxtaposition to one another. But we must learn to cooperate across denominational lines, despite different worship styles and theological preferences. Labels need to go away.  They must move aside for a new nomenclature— genuinely Biblical, Christ centered, locally missional, accepting, and alive to life.
  2. Sacrificial Servants— For the church in North America to truly have an impact on its culture it must shift its mentality and present itself as a sacrificial servant of the society, not as a judge of its illnesses. When people are sick, they need a doctor, not a critic. We must learn to give graciously to our world— much more graciously than we give to build our modern cathedrals of comfort. We must learn to give up rather than to calculate next year’s pledge units. We must also provide places where the normal people of our society can find solace and safety, and see Jesus Christ embodied in those who go by His name.  Another Gordian knot to be cut.
  3. One Lord, one Faith, one Language…— In the same way that individual Christians need to learn to express their faith in common everyday language, so also does the church need to learn to use the metaphors, idioms, and common expressions of the day to express Biblical Truths. Oddly, the stories of the Bible can stand on their own with little amplification about their context. We must learn to be culture sensitive. The only place most of us use Christianeze is in church or when trying to explain our faith to someone else (a.k.a. evangelism).

            Many years ago comedians Lou Abbot and Budd Costello performed a baseball Vaudeville dialog titled Who’s on First?[i] It was a classic example of miscommunication due to a misunderstanding of the use and definition of words. “Who’s on First? What’s on Second. I-don’t-know’s on Third.” Their dialogue was funny: the Christian miscommunication block to a confused world is not funny. We dare not have an in-house language which only Christians can understand, vs. a normal language that we use to talk with the world around us. How much easier would it be if we had one language pattern that everybody could understand? Think of it, you could talk about your faith in church the way you would naturally talk about it in the rest of your life; no stomach knots, no translating, no shifting language/emotional gears. Just breathe.

  1.  We need Leaders who will go out on a limb. One of my favorite quotes comes from Mark Twain— “Why not go out on a limb!? That’s where the fruit is.” The last shift that the church in postChristian society will have to make is one of leadership. Our leaders will actually need toLEAD! Too many Christian leaders have become conciliatory politicians, mediating their way to church peace or to a better position with more prestige and/or money. Others have become theological authoritarians, sweeping their will and interpretation of Scripture over their congregations. Why? Because theology is safe…, you can nail-down just about everything.

Genuine leadership, not merely positional leadership, is a risk. It goes with the territory. Just get used to it. There was an ad from a brokerage firm in NYC that used to read—  The only real risk in life is not taking one. May Christian leaders in North America become a risky bunch!

*   *   *   *

            So, where do we go from here? To the trenches of life, to the committee meetings and shopping malls, to the days and family gatherings with ol’ lip-sticked Aunt Maude who always kisses her grandchildren on the cheek? We go back to living. I cannot convince you of the exuberance that comes when you start to morph your life, your church, or your family to a postChristian faith. It’s quite a ride! Risky…, with the outcome yet to be written. Honor God, honor people…, make a difference.

Hopefully, making a difference.

Gary