Beyond Words Reconsidered – Take 1

Gary, Davis, needinc, amherst, christian, books, At the same time the BEYOND WORDS BOOKSHOP opened in Amherst, Massachusetts, I was developing a training course for Christians on the nature of the gospel, titled, coincidentally, BEYOND WORDS. Since they were about as humanistic as they come I took my course into them and asked if they would display my brochures. When they found out what it was about we all had a good laugh and the brochures were set up on the checkout counter by the register. Let’s just say that the first time we held the course it was, er, fascinating.

That was 25 years ago. Today the course has morphed into something far more expansive, fun, and exciting. But the thrust still concerns the nature and offering of our Christian message to the normal people of this culture. I use the phrase normal people because “Christian” no longer describes nor defines the majority of individuals in Western culture.

The next few installments of EMPulse will re-address our understanding, expression, and communication of the Christian message, the Gospel. This Take 1 concerns itself with the problems we face as our society loses its Christian memory and assumptions.

For the last ½ century we have boiled down “the gospel” to what we believe a person needs to know in order to become a Christian. Knowledge can no longer be the extent of our message to them. We are now engaged in a battle to verify what we say we believe through our involvement with peoples’ hurts, needs, and failures.

We dwell in a society that no longer holds to an agreed concept about the existence and nature of God, an understanding of a definition of sin (other thangetting caught), a knowledge of the life of Jesus Christ, and the ramifications of belief on/in Him. Nor do we dare assume they sense a need for any kind of God in their lives. The thought of needing an external reference point to guide their life-principles sounds weird to them. We need an expression of the gospel that goes beyond words, that challenges minds and touches hearts.

Asking people to “believe on Jesus and you will be saved” is loaded with so many subcultural assumptions that it has become a non-content phrase.

It’s time we reassessed the nature and content of the Christian message for this antiChristian world. To ignore the misgivings in our culture toward Christian cluelessness would be a grave disservice to our Lord Jesus.

For what it’s worth,

Gary

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Control Issues

Clueless, Christianity, Christian, Book, Dr, Gary, DavisControl Issues— re-basing the basics. This may sound funny, but I’ve often wondered if this propensity to want things nailed down theologically (beliefs), and the commiserate fear of emotion wasmore a reflection of many men’sdesires to preserve control over life’s myriad situations. Not control, in an exclusively bad sense, but control for its own sake, for some men’s personal sense of safety and identity. Often, as I enter into conversation with a pastor or someone I have just met, I find myself in a kind of out-of-body experience where I look down on the conversation from above and try to find the answer to a question— “Where does this person feel safe?” If you really want to get to know a person, try to discern where they feel safe. If you examine the last 400 or so years of Western Christendom you will find that there was an intense desire to nail down as much as possible theologically. Some nailing was definitely needed as the Church had become almost indistinguishable from the world around it. But after 400 years, the nailing seems to have become an obsession. The Roman Catholic Church is the one true church; the Church of Christ is the one true church, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are the one true church, the Mormons are the one true church. Why is it we have this drive to claim that we alone are right? Calvinism is the only complete theological construct: Dispensational theology has the corner on the End-times and the expanse of human history. Why is it that we have come to believe that our theological construct, our theological position on baptism, the Second Coming, or church government must be the most right one!? Could it be that these are issues of control? It may well be more than that; maybe it’s control for the sake of a personal, positional sense of safety. Most of us do have a keen sense of self-preservation built into us. When it comes to the church, maybe it is some men’s need for personal/positional safety that underlies the need to be in command. Controlling belief, which is quantifiable, and thus measurable, is easier to manage than human emotion. But fear of emotion because it is an unreliable reflector of an inner reality is as crazy as believing that making a statement about one’s beliefs is more reliable. In reality, it is the combination of our heart and mind that explicate this Christian condition within an individual. But there is one ingredient more— action.

When I was in the midst of my teens I remember my mother saying to me “What you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you are saying.” I know she was probably quoting her mother, but her point was obvious. In the office where I work we have all kinds of little witticisms that remind us of what we are trying to accomplish. One of these quips is— Talk’s cheap: action’s everything. In many churches I find that is exactly what we do … we talk a lot. Remember THE DECADE OF EVANGELISM? 1990-2000. Of course you don’t. Why? What happened in 1990? We discussed whether the last decade of the century really began in 1990 or 1991. And what happened in 1991? 1992? 1993?  Very little. The Decade of Evangelism just faded away. All talk, not much action.

To this writer there seems to be a tremendous emphasis in the church on understanding what you need to believe and very little emphasis on DOING anything with it. This is an imbalance; but it is not the kind of non-balanced faith I am talking about. If anything, Christians are a long way down the road in clarifying, refining, honing, and re-clarifying what it is we believe.  It just has not seemed to translate into very much action. Especially any that has any positive influence on the lives of those around us— those who are unaware that we are followers of Christ, those who have never seen a Bible (let alone opened one), and never darkened the door of a church. It’s time we revisited Jesus and read the stories about how He lived, where He spent His time, and how He related to those with whom He came into contact. Consider Jesus in two situations—  one where He is teaching, and another as He faces one of life’s typical conundrums— the conflict between completing a task…, and being side-tracked along the way. First, an example of Jesus’ teaching.

 1 And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. 2Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 4Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

 5Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

 6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.

 7Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

 8Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

 9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

10Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. 14“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

~ Matthew 5: 1-16

Look at the setting in this passage of Scripture. It is outside, on top of a mountain, or at least on its slopes. It was probably warm, scenic, serene. Now look at Jesus’ style. It was not a “lecture hall.” Jesus was not debating or setting forth an argument. He was with those who trusted Him and would listen to what He had to say. And what did He do? He spoke to them where they were in life— poor in spirit, sorrowful, timid about life, hungry for God, in need of mercy, and so on. He was addressing the weak and painting a picture for them of what it would be like to make a difference in the lives of their friends and in their society. He gave them hope, He gave them a challenge to be the light of the world. To be bold—  to shine!

The next scene is quite different. Jesus had just crossed a lake when He was approached by Jairus, a trusted leader of the people. It went like this—

21 Now when Jesus had crossed over again by boat to the other side, a great multitude gathered to Him; and He was by the sea. 22And behold, one of the rulers of the synagogue came, Jairus by name. And when he saw Him, he fell at His feet 23and begged Him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter lies at the point of death. Come and lay Your hands on her, that she may be healed, and she will live.” 24So Jesus went with him, and a great multitude followed Him and thronged Him.

25Now a certain woman had a flow of blood for twelve years, 26and had suffered many things from many physicians. She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse. 27When she heard about Jesus, she came behind Him in the crowd and touched His garment. 28For she said, “If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well.”

29Immediately the fountain of her blood was dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of the affliction. 30And Jesus, immediately knowing in Himself that power had gone out of Him, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My clothes?”

31But His disciples said to Him, “You see the multitude thronging You, and You say, “Who touched Me?”‘

32And He looked around to see her who had done this thing. 33But the woman, fearing and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. 34And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.”

35While He was still speaking, some came from the ruler of the synagogue’s house who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?”

36As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, He said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not be afraid; only believe.” 37And He permitted no one to follow Him except Peter, James, and John the brother of James. 38Then He came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and saw a tumult and those who wept and wailed loudly. 39When He came in, He said to them, “Why make this commotion and weep? The child is not dead, but sleeping.”

40And they ridiculed Him. But when He had put them all outside, He took the father and the mother of the child, and those who were with Him, and entered where the child was lying. 41Then He took the child by the hand, and said to her, “Talitha, cumi,” which is translated, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” 42Immediately the girl arose and walked, for she was twelve years of age. And they were overcome with great amazement. 43But He commanded them strictly that no one should know it, and said that something should be given her to eat.

~ Mark 5:21-43.

Jesus had set his course toward the house of Jairus. Yet this ostensible interruption by an insignificant woman gives us more to consider than the simple completion of a task.  [I’ve often wondered…, was this planned? Hummm.]

I’ll not attempt extensive analysis of these passages, but taken together, they bring to light two seeming extremes in Jesus’ way of communicating. The Matthew passage contains the opening lines of Jesus’ SERMON ON THE MOUNT. In this passage Jesus is teaching. He is reviewing some of the life-principles that God has designed to give people hope when things no longer make sense. Remember, Judea was suffering under Roman occupation during the time of Jesus’ life. There were many Jews who were imprisoned and executed, so the cultural mood was somber, frustrating, fraught with anger and despair.  Jesus’ message offered hope of the most compassionate kind. At the end of the Matthew section, Jesus uses three images to remind His followers what they should be like— the salt of the earth, a light on a lamp-stand, and a city built on a hill. If you would allow me a digression …, those who are genuine followers of Jesus Christ are to be salt to preserve life and add flavor to it; we are to be light, to clarify the way to God; and we are to be like a city built on a hill that cannot be hidden, so as to provide a haven for hope and a goal to be reached.  How did Jesus envision that others would see these things in us? Through the sense of safety and stability that grows in us when we accept what God offers us—

  • Are you poor in spirit, discouraged—you will come alive in heaven.
  • Do you mourn at the loss of loved ones—you will know God’s comfort.
  • Are you timid, afraid—the earth is yours.
  • Do you hunger for righteousness within—it is yours!
  • If you’ve shown mercy—it will be granted to you as well.
  • Are you pure in heart—seeing God is your great gift.
  • Do you bring peace between warring peoples—you will be seen as my sons, says the Lord.
  • Are you being persecuted for Christ’s sake—great is your reward.

Do these words bring you hope, today, as you read them? Then you can understand some of what Jesus’ first followers felt as they heard them. There was hope. His teaching made sense, even though it meant being merciful to those who had raped your daughter or executed your father. How else are people going to see that followers of Christ are different other than through our lives and in the ways we wrestle with life’s common hardships?

Of Passion & Propositions

Clueless, Christianity, Christian, Book, Dr, Gary, DavisGrowing a non-balanced faith.

When I was in the final stages of producing my doctoral dissertation I ate out a lot. Escapism, most likely. During one such luncheon at Panda East, a fine Chinese restaurant in Amherst, MA, I opened a fortune cookie which read— Nothing worthwhile is ever accomplished without passion. I thought of some of the great names throughout history for whom this proverb has proven true— Hammurabi, Moses, Alexander the Great, Jesus, Christopher Columbus, John Harrison, Albert Einstein, Orville and Wilbur Wright, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, Thomas Edison, Mother Teresa, Ronald Reagan, Osama bin Ladin, even Barrack Obama— all were driven by passion and tenacity to accomplish something beyond themselves. Yet, the church in North America seems driven by balance— balance in life, in our families, in faith, in our behavior— moderation in all things, no rocking the boat, no swimming against the current. Straight-forward, rational explanations of life should suffice to renew the mind and focus our resolve. It is almost as if being out of balance, off-center, or slightly extreme in any way is viewed as the real threat to the church and to the stability of our individual faith.

But if Truth is primarily personal (though certainly not exclusively), found in the Person of Jesus Christ, there are some very critical implications. It impacts our Christian lives, balanced or otherwise, and how we demonstrate our faith to others. If point and counter-point propositional arguments no longer dominate the apologetic of our faith, or even sustain the curiosity of the normal Western cultural person, then maybe it’s time to express our faith in ways not so idealistic or rational…, or not even so balanced.

As you continue reading you will detect a couple shifts. The first shift is one of approach.  We move from the historical analysis of the previous chapters to a thoughtful consideration of our present day dilemmas; from the BIG strokes throughout history, to a specific manifestation of one era, one geographic location, one time, one individual—Jesus Christ.  For in His life we can find the bridge between the preModern, Modern, and postModern perspectives on what it means to live in context within a specific culture. What I hope to do is to convince you of the importance of living your Christian life as Jesus lived His— in the context of whatever world you find yourself in. Right up front I want to admit that this chapter (okay, the whole book) is a polemic (that’s argument) for us to grow a non-balanced faith, a passionate faith, an exuberant faith that is in love with Jesus Christ and with the people around us. The personality of our faith must outshine itspropositions to give its Truth a proper context.

The second shift you will experience is simply one of writing style. The first chapters were data-weighted, historical, linear/sequential, and logical (A=B, B=C, therefore A=C, remember?). They were analytical; they stated a problem, built a case, substantiated an argument. We feel safest in the world of rational thought and logical argument. Most Christians feel safer in a world where rational argument, logic and words prevail. Why? Because the Western articulation of our faith was formulated not in the preModern Era that had an understanding of the spirit, of mystery and the heart, but in the Modern era, where logical consistency, scientific verification, and systematic cohesiveness prevailed. But modernism’s presuppositional perceptions do not ring as true within this postmodern era; nor do modernism’s assumed stances of the Bible as primarily a systematic presentation of Truth (excluding, of course, the incredible logic/debate style of the Apostle Paul).  The language of the Bible is, predominantly, one of story, of history, of pictures and images; and they each tell a story, they bespeak of a passion for God and of a passion for life. They lay down laws for the functioning of a society. They raise real-life problems that required real-life solutions. They burst forth in song in praise of God Almighty. They give us a glimpse of the struggles of the early Christian movement through the Gospels, through circulated correspondence, and individual epistles. Far too long have we limited the expression of our faith to the logical/sequential analysis of the Euro-western hemisphere of theological constructs. We have raised the Truth of the Bible above its context-in-life.  A saying I come across constantly is— “right beliefs produce right actions.” Have you heard it, read it? Sounds right on, doesn’t it? But in real-life it doesn’t quite work out that way. You and I know many individuals who claim the name of Christ, who believe the right stuff (or at least say they do), and whose lives reflect little of Christian character, compassion, or concern for the Truth.

Contrarily, there is the opposite, popular belief— you can’t trust your emotions. As if emotions are less reliable than logical/sequential thinking. The assumption is that emotions are fickle, not as locked down as logical, rational thought process. The logical thought process can be locked down more than emotion. Emotions, by definition, shift more readily than belief systems. But what good is one without the other!? It would be comparable to releasing a chemical analysis of kissing. So now you understand the complexity of kissing better; and this is helpful…, why!?! Where do we come up with this stuff—for a need for cohesiveness, control over minutia, consistency, for a need to believe that people always act on their convictions? [Sociologists have tested it – they don’t.  Even in church attendance.] I don’t…, always, do you? Remember, we all sin; we are all, at best, consistently inconsistent. Did this idea come from some male-ego approach that emotions are exclusively feminine and can’t be trusted? Men supposedly are the “logical thinkers.” Somehow this makes us more stable, more consistent. O please, spare me the stereotypes. Let’s face it, men are afraid to be out of control; and it is easier to be in control of thought than it is our emotions.

Read on Here

Rethinking Thinking

Clueless, Christianity, Christian, Book, Dr, Gary, DavisRethinking Thinking:

                                    the non-propositional nature of truth.

By now you’re probably thinking—

Okay, are you suggesting that the way Christians have thought about their faith for hundreds of years no longer fits this postmodern culture? And what about this non-propositional Truth stuff? This is getting more than a little weird.

Actually, Christians throughout history have articulated their faith differently, depending upon individual cultural setting. Some are more experiential than theological; some are more communally based than hierarchical; some have a minimal understanding of the theology of their faithbut hold a deep commitment to Christ in what they do know. So as we rethink the thinking about our faith in North American culture, we must to be careful to not create an historical assumption that things “have always been the same.” We must to be willing to reexamine our present-day view of the Christian faith and how it is expressed and understood. Over time I have learned to not be so attached to my words. I even joke about it— “Hey I could be wrong; I haven’t made my mistake for this year yet!” Nonetheless, to challenge the process of thinking does seem, even to me, a tad arrogant. I do so with a great sense of personal fear and large regret that a great era has gone and could be lost forever. The Modern Era has given the world so much—from consolidated nations [mostly], to incredible scientific discoveries and never imagined medical breakthroughs, to established theological constructs for our faith, to world trade, and to space exploration. During the Modern era the battle between religion and science won and lost, lost and won, on both sides.

….

Think about it—  If you updated this thinking and applied it to any religion, what you might find is a religion not entirely devoid of rational thought, but one where rational explanations of reality, took their proper place in back of actual experiences. It then interpreted them in light of religious thought, revelation, or tradition.[i]  For the past 350-500 years Western Christianity has been a reflection of modern, logical thought patterns. These thought patterns focused on “defending the faith,” debating the opposition, and developing a cohesive world-and-life view which overshadowed the vibrant work of God in our midst. We have raised the Bible to such a divine level as to virtually eclipse the God of the Bible with the words that tell us about him! The wine glass has replaced the glory of the Wine.

Please hear me out on this point. Evangelicals are “people of the Book,” we proudly proclaim. Not, mind you, that I am not a student of the Bible myself. It is the grass-roots of my faith sticking through my toes. It is the one, solely reliable source for Christians to learn about their faith, its foundations in Judaism, its founding, its history, and its implications for living before the God Who made us in this world He created. It is Truth revealed in writing. The Bible is no less, I repeat, than God telling us things He knew we would not be able to figure out from merely looking around. It sets forth the precepts, principles, and practice of what it means to truly be a follower of Jesus Christ. It is 66 individual books, letters, historical documents, collections of poetry, and future prophesies woven together over 4,000 years by 40 ± writers with one central theme— the redemption and fulfillment of the human race by the God who created us. That’s no small feat. The Bible’s internal consistencies, cohesiveness and congruency alone attest to its veracity. It is a book like no other ever written.

But as much as the Bible portrays the mighty works of God throughout history it is not the end-all of end-alls. When I was in college I majored in philosophy (duh). My specialization was language philosophy. I learned that, in any language, words have referents. That is, the word points to the object, the idea, the subject. It is NOT the object itself, it is the sign, the symbol, or the pictogram which represents the object. For example, when I say cow, your mind forms an image of the real thing. I do not know whether your mind’s cow is black, brown, Guernsey or what. That would require you to ask “What kind of cow?” But you would have the basic cow image-idea down pat. Applying this simple linguistic principle to the Bible, it can be stated that the Bible, with its historical sections, poetry, prophesies, and letters, is the tag that points us to God. It describes God for us; it clarifies His conditions for us to live on this planet, it sets forth His rules of protection for human relationships; it informs us of the consequences of our actions, here and later; it sets forth Truth as God defines it.

So, in one sense, the Bible, the Word of God, is the Truth; but in another sense it is only the Truth-Tag, the reference, the word, that points us all to the object of the Word— Jesus Christ, God Himself. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”[ii] In the modern era, with a common acceptance of logical-sequential thought, this simple observation was not particularly important; but in a postmodern era, where the logical process has moved from its basis in sequential word-tag-reference explanations of stuff to a basis in life-experience and our responses to them, this distinction becomes eminently critical. To the point, the nature of Truth itself is shifting from a rational/logical-sequential propositional-base to an individual-experience one.  Truth is moving from an exclusively propositional position to one that is far more personal, far more individualistic. NOT, as some would have us believe, a personal, individualistic rendition of reality; but, rather, a position reflective of one’s personality and preferences. Lost yet? This is important to grasp so hang on.

To keep reading, you can find the book on Amazon and Amazon Kindle.

 

[i] Applying postmodern thought to religion is not entirely precise. It is actually postmodern thought applied ONLY to Christianity. No other traditional religion (Islam, Hinduism, Budhism, Judism) would allow postmodern thought to be applied to it. They are not concerned with the effects postmodernism has on them as yet. They stand outside the circle of influence of the shift. Some retain their traditions fiercely; others simply hang in a sort of limbo, culturally. But their children will have some concern. There will be little difference between a postmodern Jew, Muslim, Budhist, or Hindu. Will there be that much distinction for the postmodern Christian? Hummmm.

[ii] John 1:14. NIV Bible.

Ready-Fire-Aim

Clueless, Christianity, Christian, Book, Dr, Gary, DavisLife facts from 1902: things that make you go hummm.

  1. The average life expectancy in the US was forty-seven years.
  2. Only 14 Percent of the homes in the US had a bathtub.
  3. Only 8 percent of the homes had a telephone. A three-minute call from Denver to New York City cost eleven dollars.
  4. There were only 8,000 cars in the US and only 144 miles of paved roads.
  5. The average wage in the US was 22 cents an hour.
  6. The average US worker made between $200 and $400 per year.
  7. More than 95 percent of all births in the US took place at home.
  8. Ninety percent of all US physicians had no college education.
  9. Sugar cost four cents a pound. Eggs were fourteen cents a dozen. Coffee cost fifteen cents a pound.
  10. Most women only washed their hair once a month and used borax or egg yolks for shampoo.
  11. The five leading causes of death in the US were:

1)      Pneumonia and influenza

2)      Tuberculous

3)      Diarrhea (most likely from contaminated food)

4)      Heart Disease

5)      Stroke

  1. The population of Las Vegas, Nevada was 30 people.
  2. Crossword puzzles, canned beer, and iced tea hadn’t been invented.
  3. One in ten US adults couldn’t read or write. Only 6 percent of all Americans had graduated from high school.
  4. Marijuana, heroin, and morphine were available over the counter at corner drugstores. According to one pharmacist, “Heroin clears the complexion, gives buoyancy to the mind, regulates the stomach and the bowels, and is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health.”
  5. Eighteen percent of households in the US had at least one full-time servant or domestic.
  6. There were only about 230 reported murders in the entire US. [i]

So, given the religious fun & fancies of the last 10,000 years, not to mention the incredible innovations that have taken place in the last 100 years, the question we are facing on this postmodern/postChristian, text2text, family-redefining, iPoding, Wii-ing, touch-screen, Skyping globe is— Who are we? or— What are the definers of life and reality in a world (western culture, in this case) with so many value systems coexisting side by side?  In other words, how do we make sense of all the changes of the last years of the twentieth century and the few we have played with so far in the twenty-first?  That is what this chapter will address.

Let’s start with a metaphor from the early days of the wornderful world of computers. Can you say Ctrl+Alt+Del?[ii] You remember what that means, don’t you?  (Or not.) It’s an old computer key combination for releasing a hard drive freeze up, a crash, a lock up…, call it what you will; personally, I remember it as *&@#$ frustrating.  [Well, admit it. You feel it even if you don’t say it. It’s part of human nature to be frustrated by all things electronic.]  We’ve all experienced that irritating situation where we are working along, just like we always do, and, for whatever reason, our computer’s hard drive hits a wall, beyond which it will not work.  Ctrl+Alt+Del.  You have to REBOOT! And if you haven’t bothered to save your work, or exit your application, or backup your work, well, bye-bye!  Back to square one.

The point is that things don’t always work the way they are intended. [Perhaps Microsoft intends their operating systems to work like this, but probably not. (Why people buy Macs?] So much has changed in the world it requires a focused determination (or constant immersion) just to keep up. In the Western World (Europe, North America, parts of the Pacific Rim) the rate of change has accelerated to the point that we literally cannot keep up. For example, it used to be that if you ordered a computer from a distributor (DELL, GATEWAY, HP) by the time you paid it off it would be obsolete. Now, the joke goes (but not so far from the truth), that by the time it arrives it is obsolete. We are outpacing ourselves on a daily basis. The way we did something yesterday (made a phone call, turned on the TV, cooked dinner, “commuted” to work[iii]) is not the way we do it today.

In the mid-twentieth century products and goods were made to last; they could be counted on to be around for 5-10, even 15 years. They broke; you repaired them. Now it is use it & lose it. Material goods in the West are expendable; sometimes, so are the people. Company loyalty, holding onto your job, or having a single career for life have all been supplanted by upward mobility, “down-sizing,” farming jobs overseas, and multitalented entrepreneurialism (read “I want to do what I want to do.”).

For better or for worse, we have moved light-years past the modes of living at the turn of the nineteenth into the twentieth century. Imagine that world for a moment. Industrialization had taken over the cities, the family, and the father. Electricity was just becoming available to the masses. Most Americans used kerosene lamps for light.  The automobile was crowding out the horse and buggy. Train travel was the rapid transit of the day; subways and trolleys were uniting workplace and home with greater efficiency. Back on the farm even the earliest mechanization of planting and harvesting was revolutionizing the agricultural process. The massive expansion of North America’s roads enabled farmers to get their produce to more markets faster; the railroad transported goods and produce to yet further a-field markets, expanding trade and creating a hunger for exotic goods and tastes.  On a world scale, old tribal conflicts were replaced by a new sense of nationalism. Europe had solidified under national monarchs. And it seemed that those American states had finally made it as a world power, even after the bloodiest of Civil and territorial wars. The world seemed poised for the entry of the greatest century ever, the Twentieth Century! Most Americans were giddy with what they had been told the new century would bring— science and technology freeing ordinary people from the demands of physical labor. And what an exceptional a century it would be— both in greatness and in tragedy.

 

[i]  [http://www.goofball.com/jokes/facts/death_life_difference_The_Year_Is_1902

[ii] For you Mac/Apple Computer users, this is an unknown. You should be thankful you can utilize such a reliable CPU. Of course, having everything proprietary does limit one’s ability for diversification.

[iii] Commuting to work 1950-1960- take a bus. Commuting to work 1970- drive yourself. Commuting to work 1980- Car-pool it. Commuting to work 1990-2000- grab yourself a latte, sit down at your laptop, log-on… in your bunny slippers.

Christians in North America

  • Clueless, Christianity, Christian, Book, Dr, Gary, DavisHow should Christians view their fellow North Americans? Taking all this into consideration, how should Christians in North America look at their society? To start, we need to remember that a great deal of our world has changed. Christians are no longer the dominant influence forming either political platforms or societal mores, however much they would like to be. To live as if this is not so would be to deny a new reality that has overtaken the Western World. There is little understanding of genuine Christian faith. Once this hits home it must affect how we view our friends, neighbors, and work associates.

At the very least, to relate to them in any way at all, we need first to BE in their world. That may sound like stating the obvious; most of us work in the marketplaces of life 5-6 days a week. But do we work there as Christians? In general, we do not, except maybe privately, secretly hiding our faith (out of fear?) because we might not know the answers to some of their questions. If we were more transparent about our faith, I dare say Christian influence would jump exponentially. Instead, we’ve become closet Christians in the living rooms of the world.  Many of us isolate ourselves within an evangelical or main line church world, venturing into “the world” as Christians, as infrequently as possible. We may work in this world, earn a living, raise our kids, shop for food and clothes, pump gas, go on vacations and vote for the candidate of our choice; we just don’t interface with the people we meet as transparent Christians—more as non-descript Christians, with little or no Christian definition or expression to our lives. This is not good. It is almost as if we are afraid of being identified as Christians; it is almost as if being “Christian” brands us with a kind of societal stigmata. And, to a great extent, given the revelations of recent “Christian” evangelists, preachers, and other leaders, there is some truth in this.

But what if we were REAL in our Christian faith; what if we talked casually about our faith, answers to prayer, and about the difficulties we have sometimes with our faith, our lives, or our church? What if we talked about being upset over something our kids did that infuriated us, or the inner embarrassment and frustration we feel over our divorce as a bad expression of our faith? What if we were REAL in our relationships with people? What do you think; is that okay? Is it okay to, dare I use the word, fail, in our life of faith sometimes? Dare we tell people who are not Christians about our failures? I tend to think that people who are not believers in Christ will find our transparency surprisingly refreshing. Why? Because they are looking for faith to be real, to reflect the way we all deal with the issues of everyday life. They are looking for a faith that reflects a real relationship with a real God who does something for people in the real world. They are looking for TRUTH to be reflected in the joys, struggles, failures and triumphs of everyday life. If it doesn’t do that, on what level are we living our Christian faith out anyway? Does your faith hang in a sort of limbo above the struggles and successes of everyday life, only to drop down to earth when you feel that the definition of something works? Come on, now… is that really your faith? To me, that’s excluding God from life so that we can feel good about what we’ve accomplished. Then, when things don’t work out, we turn on God as if he has failed us. Not goodagain.

Frankly, I find no replacement for genuine Christians, living transparently before their friends, neighbors, work associates, and relatives. I do not mean before their Christian friends, Christian neighbors, Christian work associates, and Christian relatives:  I mean the people who never darken the door of a church, who have never had a Christian thought. Don’t believe they’re not out there; don’t kid yourself. You just can’t see them; but they are there. We need to open our eyes to see the world around us in a new light—the light of the glory of Christ, clarifying our lives and opening a window to God in the lives of those who cannot see him. Oh, bye the bye, that window is YOU. So, if you’re NOT there, in their world, what do you think they see of God the Father? Get the point? For us to have any Christian effect on any of our friends the first thing we need to do is actually have friends who are not Christians. We need to cultivate friendships with the “normal” people around us. But we need to do so not as a set up for the presentation of some gospel outline, but so they will be able to see the God we love present in us in the daily issues of life. And, frankly, with all the advances in transportation, communication, medicine, technology, and the realigning of the residential/marketplace, it still comes down to people.  It comes down to Christians, walking along side of people, normal people, so they can see with their own eyes what real Christianity is all about.

paradigm blending

  • Clueless, Christianity, Christian, Book, Dr, Gary, DavisParadigm Blending— Let’s look at this era of paradigm blending[i] a bit.  One example of paradigm blending in our culture can be seen in the early 2001 movie SAVE THE LAST DANCE. Set in urban Chicago, Sarah is a young white girl who has lost her mother in a terrible auto accident.  She must now adjust to the hip-hop climate of a Black/Hispanic inner city culture. Sarah longed to be a ballerina and attend the Julliard School of Performing Arts.  Instead, she found herself struggling to learn the moves of hip-hop in a club called STEPS. Coming to her aid is Darrell, an intelligent, street-smart inner city,  black, fellow high school student who wants to be a surgeon. From Darrell, Sarah learns the intricatemoves of hip-hop. In the end, Sarah blends the moves of hip-hop with ballet training for a second Julliard audition that is truly incredible. Not surprisingly, Julliard accepts her.

Another surprise hit me in a 2003 visit to Macau, China. Once settled in my hotel room, I turned on the TV to find the Chinese (Portuguese, whatever) had their own version of MTV simply titled “V.” There, to my amazement, performed ENERGY, the hottest sensation representing American RAP music. (Again, go figure.) Paradigm blending at its finest!

  • Music ‘n Stuff— Drawing together all of the above, two strains have emerged throughout Western society that are bonding much of both genX and Millennial cultures.  They are music and consumerism. Through the rise of MTV and music videos a basic coupling, a paradigm blending, has taken place; sight and sound have joined to bring visual expression to what before was only audio. Before, people eitherread books, OR listened to music, OR watched TV.  Now, these three media resources have blended into a single image-experience that moves conscious-thought into the realm of experiential stimulation. Reading once called on the reader to create the images: TV and cinema now create them for you. Listening to music, once drew the listener to heights of glory in classical inspiration or excited the senses in a hype/jive rock ‘n roll beat.  No longer. Now, listening to music (on the radio, a CD, or through an MP3 device…, read iPOD) reminds you of the images in the video. People have begun to think in music; experiential blending has supplanted analytic thought. But Because music/visual images are beginning to replace mental assessment, it is also true that active analysis has given way to a more passive, music-reflective level of critical thinking (if you can even call it thinking); it is more like reactive thought versus proactive thought. Nonetheless, musical/visual reference points have displaced methodical, mental analysis.

Western music and video have permeated almost the entire world. All continents seem to be listening to common themes, and therefore mass-marketed ideologies, in music. Regional and national differences aside, there is now a worldwide homogeneity through music that is uniting a generation across national and even political boundaries. For example, in France, or the Netherlands, or Germany GenXers (who hate the self-definer) no longer think of themselves as French, or Dutch or German; they think of themselves as European.  Hey, the EURO, remember!?

The other glue that is uniting generations, and even continents, is stuff. STUFF, STUFF, and MORE STUFF. Our world is becoming a global village of STUFF— consumerism. What is the saying? He who dies with the most toys wins. I remember watching a man buy a Cadillac; he was smoking on a mondo-big Havana cigar while the car salesman counted out his $48,000 in $100 bills— CASH. STUFF. There is a woman whom I know is on welfare and Medicare. She lives in state subsidized housing. She goes to Florida for a month every January and has a ball. How do I know? Because she tapes it on her digital Camcorder and shows it to me on her 42” HD flat screen TV. If these two illustrations don’t convince you of western society’s lust for stuff allow me to point you to The Robb Report, December Issue. Every year it comes out with recommendations for the world’s most elaborate gifts— like a $485,000 watch, or a $1 million special edition Mercedes, or an $8 million dollar boat (boat?). But there are also items for poorer types (like me, or you); a $10,000 fountain pen, for example (ink-well included, of course).

You can find inner city “poor” teenagers in $250 Cross-Training Shoes, or a back-bush Maasai tribesmen with his iPAD wandering the bush. Australian singer Olivia Newton-John (played Sandy, opposite John Travolta in Grease) put it best in her 70s song NEVER ENOUGH…, O it’s never enough, simply never enough.  Why is all that we have simply never enough.

STUFF. Never enough. God help us all.

 

[i] Paradigm, paradigm blending. The terms paradigm, paradigm shift were popularized by Thomas Kuhn in his 1962 work The Structure of Scientific Revolution. A paradigm is a way of perceiving life. A paradigm shift is a change from one way of thinking or perceiving to another. A paradigm blending is a cultural phenomena where varying approaches to viewing life are intermingled to form a composite.