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.

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.