Empulse #12 A Christian Message for a postChristian Heart

kermit_the_frogSarah had come to faith in Christ during  college. After two years in the campus group she showed up in our home out of frustration. She was visibly distraught. Her Christian staff worker had told her she “just needed to trust Jesus.” “That,” she said, “just was too simplistic.” She was aggravated, angry, and very near the detonation point. As we sat that evening in front of our wood stove she collected herself to tell my wife and me a story we could hardly believe.

            Sarah[i] had grown up in a proper family in a rural area in New York; mother, father, two sisters and one brother, older. On the surface everything appeared to be status quo. But just below the surface lay insidious evil. Sarah’s older brother had been raping her every day of her life since she was eleven years old. One of her sisters found her in tears one day after one of her brother’s assaults. In the process of trying to shield her brother, Sarah’s sister Jennifer[ii] guessed what had been going on and told Sarah that she, too, was also being raped by their brother every day. When they confronted their brother he threatened to commit suicide. Sarah and Jennifer told Bob[iii] that he had to tell their parents within the week or they were going to the police.

            The two sisters were resolute in their determination and insisted that Bob follow through and tell their parents what he had done to them. Instead, to their shock, Bob committed suicide. He left a suicide note for his parents blaming Sarah for everything (leaving out any mention of Jennifer).  Sarah began to sob, scream, curse, and go completely out of control as she told us that her parents believed what her brother had written in his farewell letter. They told her that she would just have to admit her complicity in the ongoing, five year “affair” she had had with her older brother. After Bob’s funeral, Sarah’s and Jennifer’s older sister told them that she too had been raped by him, repeatedly; but they did not want to speak about it, ever again.

            It was now close to midnight. Starr and I were having trouble staying awake. As I put another log in the wood stove, Sarah cried, “How can I ever ‘just trust in Jesus!?!’ He suffered and died for my sins once and for all…, and it was done with. I died every day of my life for seven years. He has no idea what I went through.”

            Sarah’s story is not the only one of its kind. In my role as a counselor I have heard similar stories more times than I would have imagined.  There is truly a lot of pain out there. Not that the pain in our era is any greater or more severe than at any time. Each epoch inflicts its own form of tribulation and torture on its populace. Wars, genocides, rapes, wholesale slaughter of entire peoples and other gruesome agonies have found their way into our history books.  They remain glibly reported events of a distant past. But for those who lived through them, who suffered through assault, or war, or witnessed genocide, the actuality was excruciatingly devastating and left lifelong scars. Life was lost to an evil enemy from whom there was no escape; there seemed no end to suffering. But people always held out hope— hope of rescue, hope of survival, hope in their God. Hope that, in the end, things could be worked out.

Until now.

As we have shifted into this postChristian era any spiritual basis for hope has been totally obliterated.  It has been supplanted by forms of pragmatism, hedonism, self-absorbed isolationism, or a simple denial of the harshness of personal and global tragedy.  People are also disappointed in a god who is not there. Hope has become a contrived notion of a cynical society, held out like a carrot on a stick. Hope in a god, any god, is perceived as a naïve pretense couched in the spiritual jargon of religion.  Empty words.

So how can the message of hope that is offered by Jesus Christ be heard, understood, and believed in such a truth-weary & broken culture?

This is the question that we will now seek to answer. And the answer will cross many lines of safety, many given definers of the gospel and how to present the truth claims of the faith.

            On a personal note, this part of the series is not easy for me to write. I know Sarah, and others like her, who have sought hope in the Christian gospel and Christian community, and found only glib patronages.

Offering hope, in a deforested war zone.

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

www.CluelessChristianity.com  

NEXT TIME~ A Christian Message for a postChristian Heart: part 2

[i] Not her real name.

[ii] Not her real name either.

[iii] Not his real name.

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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

BEING a CHRISTIAN in a NEW ERA— it’s a generational thing. Part 1

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“We must become what we seek to create.”— Mohandas Karamchang Ghandi

(Oct 2, 1869 – Jan. 30, 1948  —assassinated on his way to evening prayers.)

     The fact of the matter is that people are different now. Young people find it difficult to relate to the church’s way of doing things. When family structures and society were more stable people did come to church to find answers, to find community, to worship God in a traditional manner. But the breakdown of our society, the dissolution of so many marriages, the Iraq wars, renewed racial conflicts, 9/11, the 2008 financial collapse, and our present political conundrum, have all contributed to the fragmentation of society and isolation of the generations. We have ceased to learn from the older and wiser; this alone constitutes a major fracture in our family cohesion. And thanks to the Baby-Boom of 1946-1964, YOUTH CULTURE (their children) does, in fact, dominate our world.

So when young people ages 14-25 come to church what do they find, generally?[i] They find a shape of Christianity virtually irrelevant to their virtual realities. They find a pyramid power structure contrary to their relationally oriented networked reality. They find generational separation. They find “lecture style” instruction. This is NOT true of every church; but it is true of far too many.

But fear not! Facebook has now has 2.3 billion subscribers, bringing us all back together…, maybe, sorta.  In recent years, more of the Silent Generation is flocking to Facebook to see their grandchildren. So their kids are fleeing for their lives to Instagram and Snapchat. If the Church could do anything to correct this generational drift, it should re-kindle intergenerational relationships; not online, but face to face.

Two American sociologists, Neil Howe and William Strauss, have categorized our generational differences in ways that might also be helpful in our understanding of those differences and in the efforts to bridge the gaps between us… and them. Check out MILLENNIALS RISING: the next great generation, (Randon House; New York, 2000). In essence, generational characteristics must be taken into account when any presentation of the Christian faith is expressed. If they are not considered, both our communication of the faith and its comprehension levels drop into the abyss of vacuity.

The Question for us becomes— How will I express my Christian faith in a way that is appropriate to my culture, to my generation, yet sensitive to other forms of expression, as well as to the world at-large?  In the church context—  how should my worship honor God in the Body of Christ?

Between early 2005 and 2015 NEEDinc conducted a series of interviews with genuine Christians across North America [“Genuine” being defined as a faith whose principles influenced at least 75% of their daily activities]. Each interviewee was drawn from a different generational grouping; each expressed answers to the interview questions in a manner with which they were comfortable.

What we learned from the interviews surprised us a little.

  1. Some saw church as central to their Christian worship while others did not. A common frustration and disappointment in the state of the church crossed all generational lines.
  2. Though all were genuine believers and held a rich faith in Christ, they expressed that faith through worship, music, and societal involvement in different ways and to different extents. This observation followed generational lines and complied with their peer group expressions.
  3. Though younger generations held a respect for their elder’s expressions of faith, it was not reciprocated. Older believers knew little about the formats and subtleties of twenty-somethingexpressions of faith. They judged the younger generation’s faith too emotion-based, too relational, and not grounded enough in a Biblical, comprehensive worldview.
  4. Everyone was willing to consider the other person’s faith expression…, in theory. In practice, well, that didn’t work out so well. “Getting together” at all was the first hurdle to overcome.
  5. ALL considered themselves in process; that is, they understood they were each at different places in their spiritual journey and had much growing yet to come.

Reflection

How would you respond to these five observations? How would you imagine older/younger Christians responding? What commonalities have you observed between different generations of Christians? What issues do you believe still exist between diverse generations? What passions might they share in common? How might different generations of genuine Christians teach each other about their own individual expressions of faith?

NEXT— Being a Christian in a New Era—  Part 2

Gary

[i] I am well aware that to employ the phrase “churches generally,” is impossible. What is at stake here is the general reaction of unchurched youth to traditional Christian worship, whether or not they employ more contemporary worship music.

[Note— If you can find a copy of James O. Gollub’s THE DECADE MATRIX: why the decade you were born into made you what you are today (Addison Wesley Publishing, Reading, MA, 1991), currently out of print, you will learn that the title just about says it all.]

 

Closing Doors #5 A Sliver of Light

prayer_for_usaAs we follow Christianity across the ocean to the Americas you must, by now, see that I have been covering large swaths of history in a single ¾ page offering. This has been unfair. Excellent books have covered far less time periods in far more pages. So this will be the final entry in my cosmic fly-over of the church and its interface with the world around it.

     From 1850 to the present, colossal revolutions swept the Church. The rise of American denominationalism, the struggle over the slavery issue, the Civil War, two World Wars, terrible conflicts in Vietnam, Korea, the Middle East, and a seemingly endless cold war with Russia have overshadowed the Church’s stance in the public forum.

     Add to that the divisive nature of “Christian” personality cults, our flip-flops during the civil-rights movements, and Westboro Baptist Church’s antics, have all placed the Church at odds with the secular society around us. More recently, the conundrum over LGBTQ issues and the “cocooning” of many evangelical churches and ministries, the faith we love is pretty much a joke for the majority of the nation.

     On the plus side, the field meetings of Charles Finney, the urban popularity of Billy Sunday, and the incredible ministry of Billy Graham have done much to keep a positive spin on the true nature of the Christian faith. The ‘70s Jesus People ushered in a new face for a more youthful Christian expression. And where would we be without contemporary Christian music (Hillsong, Rend Collective); even the mainstream music industry has to take notice.

     So how do we keep these doors open so the waiting world can at least see a sliver of light of who we are?

     Well, at the least we need to unlock the doors from our side. Replacing Kingdom language (King, Lord) with less medieval constructs might be a good place to start. And fewer thee’s and thou’s mighteth help. Charles & John Wesley utilized popular well known tunes and put Christian lyrics to them. We’ve got a good jump on that; let’s keep going.

     90% – 95% of Church activities revolve around itself. Think we could change that?!? And what about revising that judgmental attitude toward others?!? Maybe a little more forgiving this time around?

     We could, believe it or not, get involved in local government, or run for public office! Maybe even start a soup kitchen, a homeless shelter, or a CEO’s Confidentiality Consortium. When I lived in the northeast, I was asked to join the Pioneer Valley Gentlemen’s Whiskey Association because I was a Christian. Go figure. Opening doors.

     God does not want any of us to spend the rest of our days cloistered inside our churches: well, unless you‘re the Pope; and even ee gets out!

     Our place is one of intermingling with the people of our society; both with those of influence and those who don’t have a place to sleep tonight. What has the Lord called you to? Get there. And bring the peace, forgiveness, and joy of our Lord with you.

 … a glimmer in the dust,

  Gary

Closing Doors #4 The power and the glory?

img_8814     From 1,000 to 1,500, Europe saw unprecedented changes in virtually every aspect of life. The Black Plague and a “Mini Ice-Age” [1312-1850] had decimated the population, while the crop failures of 1315-1322 devastated the economy and the population. The Church in Europe had sunk to the level of feudal governance, charging their adherents for everything—baptisms, funerals, penances, and indulgences (to buy their way into heaven).

     The priesthood became exorbitantly powerful and wealthy. During the famines and cold weather they were able to wear warm, elegant clothes and live in luxury, while the hoi polloi could barely keep their rags mended. The Church also had a plentiful storage of food: at one point, wheat prices rose by 320% (France).  It was these extravagances, practices and heretical theology that led a monk in Germany, one Martin Luther, to lash out in protest against the Catholic Church. His actions resulted in what we now call the Protestant Reformation.

     Alongside the Church, the rest of Europe witnessed great strides in technology, art, and exploration. The “new world” was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492. Themovable type Printing Press, invented by Johannes Gutenberg in 1455, ushered in the first days of the Information Age. In architecture and art, grandiose style of Baroque prevailed. Albrecht Durer (Praying Hands) imported Italian influence into Germany. Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo became the quintessential artists who developed perspective in their paintings and sculpture. Hayden, Handel, Bach, and Mozart scored complex orchestral pieces. Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, and Johannes Kepler proposed a heliocentric (not geo-centric) understanding of our solar system.

     The idea of human reasoning as a way of determining Truth was proposed by René Descartes. The idea of common sense came from John Locke. These philosophers, and others, influenced the ideas found in the U.S. Constitution.

     In the midst of all these revolutionary inventions, discoveries, new ideas and technologies, where stands the Church? In two words— wealthy and split: no longer between East and West, but between Catholic centralism, and Protestant diversity and expansion. The new Protestant ideologies fostered a rise in creative reorganization and reconstruction. In some ways, this freed Christian thinkers to reexamine Scriptural Truths in the light of the cultural and scientific revolutions of the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Protestant churches became the churches of the people, rather than the authoritative dominance of the clergy in the Catholic Church.

     But things were changing. Between 1500 and 1850 the relationship between the Church and her surrounding cultures witnessed great strides in compassion, but also great assaults from the spread of Enlightenment and Renaissance ideologies. Eventually, even American individualism spread throughout Western Culture…, and the faith, with both positive and negative effects. A new secularism in the Church began to erode her influence in our world.

     True, the Church had finally opened her doors to the outside world— and she had lost her healing edge.

 In…— not of,
  Gary

You are how you love

love games. Dr gary davis, clueless, christian, relationships, personality Love is a peculiar thing. Every individual has their own Love Language. Gary Chapman categorized The Five Love Languages (1995) for us—

  • Words of Affirmation
  • Acts of Service
  • Receiving (giving) Gifts
  • Quality Time
  • Physical Touch

Most of us fit into one (or more) of these five ways of wanting to be loved.

Our personalities have a great deal to do with the way we want to be loved…, and how we love. [If you have not thought much about your personality I encourage to take these two “personality identifier” tests. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test (the MBTI) here— http://www.personalitypathways.com/type_inventory.html, and the DISC test here— https://discpersonalitytesting.com/free-disc-test/ . They are great fun and quite informative. Enjoy! And don’t copy.] Learning how to love another person is just as important as actually loving them.

If you truly want to know how to love another person put your agenda aside and observe the other; a.k.a.- learn their ways. What do you see? Do they like heat? Chocolate? Tech stuff? Promptness? Silence? A good book? Vegan? A good steak? Honesty and transparency? Time alone? Or, time outside…, wandering? Putting out some effort to discover how another person wants to be loved is one of the clearest indications of genuine love.

When my wife and I were first married, I would often buy her quite nice articles of clothing. No response. It took me a good five years to learn that she did not care that much for clothes, style, “outfits,” etc. She loved books. Once I even snatched a bundle of her books, took them to a book store and asked “What are these and do you have any more like them?” I bought her a book. She was elated!

I was loving her the way I would want to be loved, not the way she wanted to be loved. The same goes for friends and fellow employees. Before you give your friend a box of Havana’s, better find out if he smokes. If you want to give your boss a nice pen, better find out if she even uses one…, or constantly loses them.

Our personalities and preferences hold great sway over the way we love other people. We need to learn how to love them the way they want to be loved— in a safe other-centered way. Furthermore, if I might add, do not love expecting anything in return. For if you love to provoke a love-response from the other you are, in truth, loving yourself. You may want or need their love but do not love them to get it. Love them selflessly, expecting nothing in return. That is truly LOVE.

Your personality does have a lot to do with the way you love people, how you love them. Get a grip on your personality. If you do not want to take a test, ask your friends the brutally honest question, “How do I come across to you? To other people?” Give some diligent consideration to what they say. O, hell, take the test anyway. It’s fun. Do it in a group with goodies to munch during the subsequent discussion.

You truly ARE how you love. Learn what that means.

NEXT DISCUSSION:  LOVE HURTS!

 Now buying my wife British murder-mystery novels,

Gary