How Christians Got a Bad Rap

abbey-939529_1920So…, when you’re lost how do you find your way again?  Ask directions. You don’t want to get THAT lost again! But it also helps to look back, to see where we went wrong.

            It is harder to find your way when new roads overrun the old ones. Simply put, you need a new map, or today a GPS. Your cultural map is out of date; you think the old route, but find new signs that make you go “HUH?” You’re on the wrong road, even though you want it to be the right one. What happened, you think?  You’ve been buffaloed (sorry, old Wyoming joke).

            Let’s start by twisting our necks around to look back. Where did Christians become culturally lost? Where did the road take new turns?  What happens when we insist on following old maps?

The Bad News: how Christianity marginalized itselfSo much changed in the 20th century it was virtually impossible to keep up. An acceleration in population expansion and mass migration (and immigration) had a tremendous impact on all areas of life. Technology and communication grew to the point of vertical take-off.  For some people, namely North American Christian conservatives, the rate of change was simply too much. So many of us isolate ourselves, and our families, into protective cocoons from a culture that we perceived as increasingly complex, a bad influence, and even an evil influence.  As unbelievable as it may sound, Christians in North America started the 20th century skeptical of such things as electricity, artificial light, mechanized forms of transportation, and, later, radio and TV. We ALL finished the 20th century with reservations about the Internet, and skeptical view of e-lationships  “Come on, how can you feel close to someone you’ve only met on a computer!?”  (Ever hear that one?)

The conservative withdrawal was driven by the need to feel safe again, secure within our church walls, our small groups, and our Bible studies. Though it appeared that the conservative Christian community was assimilating into society in reality it was merely running parallel with society, along its own track. Not surprisingly, the result of these actions, was that the rest of the world simply moved on. We were set aside by the western world; but in a real sense we sidelined ourselves. We positioned ourselves in opposition to the rest of society and developed our own Christian kingdom, safely confined within church walls. Secular society took the upper cultural hand, but not without criticism or commentary from the religious right.  In the end, the conservative tongue was clipped, her voice was stifled, and her philosophical position silenced.

A Whiplash Effect

A number of cultural factors contributed to the marginalizing (setting aside) of conservative Christians. It is not so much that Western society turned its back on the veracity of the Christian faith. It was society’s response to Christianity’s ill-mannered activities around the world. To list a few of the earlier historical events that even now drive people from the church—

  • The Crusades (1095-1291). Though these wars date back a thousand years, they nevertheless laid the groundwork for an attitude of us vs. them that has continued in the collective consciousness to this day. The search for the Holy Grail, the liberation of the Promised Land, and the annihilation of the heathen Muslims in Jerusalem all seemed to our Christian forebears to be of honorable intent. This was perceived by the unbelieving world as something quite different, something aggressive and egregiously evil.
  • The Inquisition (1291-1522)   (primarily Spanish, but throughout Europe) An example of Christianity at its worst. In the name of theological purity the Holy Roman Catholic Church tortured, maimed, and executed many who did not tow the party line. Branded heretic, many genuine Christians were burned at the stake in the name of Christ. The effects of The Inquisition rippled throughout all Europe and the East. The Christian Faith was perceived to be an unforgiving violent faith, and often a treacherous religion.
  • The Protestant Reformation (1564+). In the beginning the Reformation appeared hopeful to the populations of Europe, offering a richer, deeper faith. Those within the Roman Catholic Church protested the sale of salvation (a.k.a. Indulgences) via monetary dues paid to the Church. They protested the abuses of the clergy, the secularizing of the church and its acquisition of wealth and political power. One protesting priest, Martin Luther, was held in contempt, put on trial, and defrocked.

Jumping ahead to the 20th century we find more recent, memorable events that the world interpreted as Christian stupidity. The highlights are:

  • The rejection of technological innovation in the early 1900s: the automobile, the electric light, flight, and radio were all seen as instruments of the Devil, presaging the End Times.
  • The First World War fought between “Christian nations” did little for our spiritual persona worldwide.
  • The abuses and extremes of the early Pentecostal movement. (Personality cults, snakes, anti-intellectualism.)
  • The Scopes Trials (1923), with its confrontation between Darwinism and the Bible. [We lost.]
  • The Second World War; the remnants of Christendom at war with each other again. And yet a new manifestation of the centuries old war between East and West (Japan).
  • The Holocaust and the public Christian silence concerning its atrocities. Some, even denying it ever happened.
  • Equating the American dream and a conservative life-style with evangelical Christian theology.
  • Jonestown Massacre. Beginning as a social justice movement in the San Francisco Bay Area, and claiming to be Christian in nature, the People’s Temple soon declined to the demigod worship of one man—the Rev. Jim Jones. The November 18, 1978 mass suicide of 913 members of The People’s Temple, embedded itself in the minds of North Americans as a prime example of Christian fundamentalist-right extremism.
  • The Televangelist financial scandals of 1987.
  • The Moral Majority. Founded by Rev Jerry Falwell in 1979 as a movement to return America to its “Christian roots.” Many Americans saw the MM as a ploy to re-Christianize our country, thus eliminating pluralism.
  •  “Sexual misconduct” by numerous evangelical leaders in the early 21st century (Ted Haggard, John Edwards, etc.).
  • Sex scandals of Roman Catholic Priests in Boston. Reaching back 25 years earlier, Investigators uncovered hetero/homosexual misbehavior and assault by Catholic priests on altar boys and school girls. All covered over in secrecy ‘till the early twenty-first century revelations by Cardinal Bernard Law, who tried to set things straight, but was eventually swept up in the scandal as a sympathizer.

The last half of the 20th Century saw the church in the West succumb to real scrutiny and definitive loss of influence due to both its isolationist stance and public blunders; a condition not seen infrequently throughout our history. In short, we really blew it— internally and externally! We ruined so much of our public image and influence.

So now what?!? NEW MAPS…, er, I mean— GPS?!? Read on!

  Gary

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Chapter 1. New Maps-Old Roads

51nopdewa5l-_sx326_bo1204203200_      My last few months as a senior in college I worked as the Athletic Director for the local YMCA. Since it was a somewhat smaller Y, I was responsible for just about everything. But it did have one perk I had not quite counted upon—the summer tour! So, the summer between college days and my first year of grad school found me working as a swimming coach for the YMCA on tour throughout North America. Our team hit national and local parks and swimming clubs across the United States, Canada, and Mexico.  We competed with local outcroppings of the Y and anybody else who wanted to swim against us. One of the places we toured was Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Now, growing up as an inner-city kid in Baltimore, MD, I could never have imagined a place so majestic, so alive, so grand. Jackson Hole got to me. I fell in love with the town, the people, and, of course, Grand Teton National Park. I vowed that I would return yearly!

      For the most part I was able to do so, until the onslaught of kids eight years into our marriage. But in our early marriage Starr (my dangerous wife) and I made the 2,400 mile trek from the East Coast to the Tetons an annual pilgrimage. For a couple of years we tried to see if we could find our way to Wyoming without ever opening a road map. I was guided by my heart, by my passion for the West, by my memory, and by a small piece of paper with route numbers. Yup, you got it, never missed a turn; well, okay, maybe a few where we had to back track.

      Until, one day, the Wyoming Department of Roads put in a NEW road, then redirected and renamed the old ones. I was forced into unfamiliar territory. You guessed it; we got totally lost. Old roads now had new route numbers; and there were now new roads where before there had been only buffalo and antelope. Now I‘m not one of these guys who is afraid to ask directions. By humorist Dave Barry‘s standards I may not be a real guy, but at least I don‘t stay lost long, either. I ask for help.  Saves time and frustration.

     You need to do the same.  When you‘re lost…, ask directions.

     The point of this chapter is this— unless you are consciously living your life continually immersed within contemporary culture, you need help finding your way. It is harder to find your way when new roads overrun the old ones. Simply put, you need a new map. Your cultural map is out of date; you think the old route, but find new signs that make you go ―HUH? You‘re on the wrong road, even though you want it to be the right one. What happened, you think?  You’ve been buffaloed (sorry, old Wyoming joke).

      Let‘s start by twisting our necks around to look back. Where did Christians get culturally lost? Where did the road take new turns?  What happens when we insist on following old maps?

Getting lost to find our way again,

  Gary

Still sleeping…but half awake

cat, asleep, awake, gary davis, christianity, thinkingMany genuine Christians in this postChristian era still do not comprehend the extent to which the influence of the Christian message has lost its hearing in Western Culture. The mighty dollar is the new God of choice. Power is the new religion; whatever it takes to stay alive or succeed is the practice of faith.

Christianity has lost sway over people’s lives, government decisions, and general morality. What genuine Christianity is flourishing here is doing so outside the mainstream cultural inclinations. But we are not at odds with our culture; we have been subsumed within its values so fully that we are barely noticeable; unless, of course, one of us tries some lame-brained stunt to get noticed in the name of Jesus. Thus do we verify our culture’s judgment that we are irrelevant to anything that matters.

We are still sleeping when it comes to understanding what normal people genuinely think of us; if they think of us at all. To be fair, though, some of us are waking up to the reality that we are in the minority; at least in American culture (referring to the US). Most Christians in the USA still need to come to grips with the realities of the cultural changes and blurring-of-the-lines that has taken place. Do you want to know what people think of us?!? Ask them. Take time to build rich relationships with people around you who never, EVER go to church. Do you want the truth, or do you want to stay asleep…, in a permanent daze?

Let’s wake up and get involved in the lives of those who sit just on the fringes of our lives, who need Jesus.

Honor God, honor people.., make a difference,

  Gary

Falling Behind Before Fall

6086519585_59a875090b_bSit down. Breathe. Now breathe again. Two weeks from now is LABOR DAY WEEKEND. What?!? You forgot to get in your summer vacation? Oh, you’re on it now. So you’ll be all rested for the back to school bunch. Getting ready to head off to college with your brand new $1600 laptop, buying new clothes and school supplies for your kindergartner [They total over $125 this year], and wondering if your air conditioners should be put away just yet, or in November…, maybe never.

Conclusion: you’re already falling behind.

Mahatma Gandhi once said that There is more to life than increasing its speed. But every Fall in Western civilization that is all we seem to do; increase our pace of life to the breaking point. I’ve wondered why someone hasn’t yet engraved their tombstone with I didn’t finish everything.

Given the present pace of culture I’m not sure it is possible for us to finish everything. We have to pick and choose. What is critical? Next, what is important? Then, what is broken that absolutely demands our attention? NOW! Move to Critical list.

If you are married there is always the question of priority for you family. Are they? Will you interrupt your work load to spend time with your wife, your husband, your kids who desperately want your love and time?

In other words, if you don’t want to fall behind as we enter this Fall, STOP ADDING SO MUCH TO YOUR SCHEDULE. Wait…, is it jammed full already? Hummm. Let me think. CUT THINGS. Unless, of course, you’ve made yourself indispensable to every commitment in your life. Let other people fill in for you. How else will they be able to make the same mistakes you did, and learn from them?!?

You need to make a difference on this planet in the time God has given you to be here. You will be less effective if you are constantly worn down and cranky. So…, STOP now. Reassess, before you are so over-committed you don’t even have the time to do that.

For what it’s worth,
  Gary

Beyond Words: Take 4 – A Personality Specific Faith

Larson personalityIn this edition of Beyond Words let’s look at how your personality filters your faith.

My wife is sitting across from me just opening a medium-size bag of M&Ms. Different colors on the outside and consistently the same within. Very much like our world’s Christ-followers. Sometimes, even with a few nuts thrown in for variety.

Not all Christians are alike. Not all expressions of our faith are alike. Not all people are alike. Kind of like stating the obvious, isn’t it.

Yet within the decreasing influence of Western Christendom we try to maintain a boring sameness in our faith as is impossible. The reality of divergent races, cultures, and personalities should be obvious. We are all not one. We are a complex multiplicity of beings with a common commitment to Jesus Christ.

Thankfully, we live in an era where some really smart people have done some deep research on the different kinds of people we are. Isabel Briggs Myers and Katherine Cook Myers began their research in 1917, which culminated in the Myers-Briggs (Personality) Type Indicator Test in 1956 (MBTI). You can take a simplified FREE version of the Test here—

https://www.16personalities.com/free-personality-test

The observable reality that we each have a distinct personality is a great gift from God. For Christians, it means that the gospel can take on different shapes and nuances across a broad spectrum of races, cultures, and divergent personalities. We don’t all have to be the same. Even better, none of you have to be likeme. [Phew!]

You see, when God created us He intentionally built into us divergent dispositions to reflect the majesty of His glory. Thus, we are NOT all the same; nor should we be. If we were, it would be an admission that people are unilaterally boring and that the Lord God Creator of the universe is, in fact, not all that creative.

The myriad of different cultures and human personality traits is proof of exactly the opposite. Therefore we should also expect a plethora of different kinds of Christians— quiet, contemplative, sensitive, exuberant, and nuts. This must be so because the majesty and diversity of the Trinity imprints upon us, not in a manner to rob us of who God has made us, but to empower us within our specific personality design. What a gift!

So, get used to being you, trying to offend as few as possible. You have been designed the way you are for a reason; find out what it is.

For what it’s worth,

Gary

Beyond Words – Take 3 – Cultivating a Biblical Mindset

BEYOND WORDS: Cultivating a Biblical Mindset— Take 3

One of the great delusions within the Western Church is that we know our Scriptures. We do not. We know a few feel good verses or sections that we can summon up as proof texts or evangelistic references, but, by-in-large, most of us draw a blank when it comes to the warp ‘n woof of the great expanse of Biblical history and how it overlays the rest of world history.

Cultivating a Biblical mindset takes effort. It takes thinking. It involves an understanding of history and how Biblical Truths weave their way throughout.

Imagine all of History, recorded & unrecorded, from the Beginning of Time through Final Culmination. BIG PICTURE. We know just a minuscule slice of it. Scripture describes an actual Creation in Hebrew poetic verse—brilliant! It then tells us about the important events and people that God knew we couldn’t figure out by just looking around. How much of this unique revelation do you really understand? It’s important.

Again, a picture may be worth a thousand words—

gary, davis, needinc, chrisitan, bible, mindset

Think of History, all of History, as cradling the birth of our story of Creation—Fall—Redemption—and Culmination, when all things will come together under the majesty of Jesus Christ. Scripture holds the principles by which we are to live in this world, and the practical implications of those principles to our daily lives in our interactions with others.

To grasp the depth and expanse of God’s gift to us we must immerse ourselves into the Bible. Not pulling out certain verses for comfort or combat—but to learn to live within its culture, walk its roads, and hear the heartbeats of the great men & women who walked with God before us. But we must also learn human history: not that of our own country, but of all countries. Become a student-of-history and you will see your own situation more clearly.

Slow down. The more you can integrate your life within the paths of Holy Writ the simpler it will be to express and communicate your faith.

For what it’s worth,

Gary

Beyond Words-Take 2- Faith Factors

 

One critical question needs to be asked when desiring to connect the Christian Message with people living outside the confines of the Christian bubble. Namely— What are the key elements that determine the expression and communication of our faith in a postChristian society? As a reminder, we can no longer “just give them the gospel.”The gospel” simply has no cultural pinning in a world so long removed from its Christian roots. Maybe a picture is worth a thousand words—

communication circles

In the next few EMPulses we will explore these 6 elements in more depth. For now, let us open a cursory unpacking of these ingredients.

First, to express and/or communicate our faith in this postChristian society we must establish a Biblical Mindset within our own practice of faith. Just going to church, saying the right words, and memorizing a few Bible verses conveys only s surface-faith to others.

Next, we need to understand that our faith is Personality Specific. Our personality filters our faith to fit who we are and who we must become. We must not squeeze ourselves into a faith-box. You cannot be like me or any other Christian. You must be you.

Thirdly, our Christian faith is Culturally Sensitive. We dare not continue to import a western faith into a postChristian Europe, emerging Africa, or a diverse Asia. One of the distinctives of our faith is that it fits into the heartbeats and lifestyles of the host-culture. Yet, in our Western, North American patchwork of cultural blends we must here, too, learn to be culturally sensitive.One size, or shape, does not fit all.

Fourth, as we offer people a relationship with Jesus Christ, we must remember that they must hear His offer of life in their context. “The Gospel” must be heard in their life context. Therefore, in many ways, the Gospel is Receiver Determined. How do they see the Christian faith? It is our task to express our faith in ways that they can respond to and receive Christ’s life into their own.

Fifth, the expression and communication of our Christian faith should be Community Networked. First, we should be networked within a healthy group of fellow believers who have a similar passion for the normal people around us. Second, our faith communication should be networked among those God has placed in our path. No need for commando raids or “debriefings” afterwards. We need to immerse ourselves into the lives of those around us who have no concept of the Christian message. [Warning: you may just come to love them.]

Finally, we, as genuine Christians, need to become more aware of the Holy Spirit of God within. We need to become Spirit Attuned. For we do not offer a person merely the Truths about Jesus, we are offering them Jesus Christ himself. We need to attune our spirits to be in line with God’s Spirit and also in tune with the lives of the people we have come to love. We cannot sense the work of Christ in the lives of others until we clean up our own inner-selves. No wonder God works in spite of us so much of the time.

For what it’s worth,

Gary