Just about to go to the closing ceremonies for our first week of Joni and Friends Family Retreat. It was a beautiful week. Praise. Laughter. Joy. The Church being the Church. I look forward to this all year. Being with these great families lifts my spirits, and reminds me how awesome God is.
I’ve tried several times to write about this cultural moment, and my paralysis is perhaps best exemplified by my problem even finding a suitable shorthand name for all of this – because it is about so much more than Chick-Fil-A, and even the ongoing culture war in America. This moment is a symptom of several chronic ailments, both for the culture and for the Church. I am inclined here to focus on the ailments of the Church, particularly because I think we (the Church) need to start with the log in our own eye before we start to pick at the eye of the culture.
What distresses me most about the Church in this situation? That most Christians I have heard, seen or read regarding this moment are more concerned about defending their First Amendment rights than the Kingdom of God and the gospel of that Kingdom. Lots of talk about defending our rights, and no one (in my circles) asking how we can show or express the Kingdom in this situation. Too few are asking how we can invite the people we are treating like our enemies to come to the Kingdom, or even thinking about the Kingdom. I think that reflects that our Kingdom citizenship is far less prominent in our minds than our present circumstances. Do we take it for granted? Do we not understand its appropriate prominence in our lives? Or, worst of all, is Christ (and his Kingdom) an accessory for us, rather than our identity? We are clearly more concerned about making sure that our understanding of The American Way carries the day than that Jesus Christ would be known and loved. Our attention is on building American Christian Empire, not the Kingdom of God.
What distresses me almost as much about the Church is how stupid and hateful we sound. I have encountered multiple Cultural Warriors in the last week who, on the surface, would seem to be on the same side as me, and after listening carefully to them, I am seriously tempted to move across the aisle. I believe there is a logically-consistent, Biblically-grounded rationale for not following the cultural tide toward redefining marriage, but it is rarely articulated. Instead, we speak out of our emotional insecurity, our visceral distaste for sexuality that doesn’t look like ours, and our patchwork of proof-texts and half-learned lessons from sermons or Bible studies. Our presentation is an overheated, blustery drawing of a line in the sand – rather than an attempt to reason with the person who disagrees with us, so she will see the consistency of our position, or to persuade the person, so he will be drawn to our alternate vision of what is and can be. Our responses don’t actually seem designed to win anyone to either Christ or our side; they are sledgehammers, or cannon fire, intended only to beat back our “opponents”. I cannot see how this is ever a response suitable for a follower of Jesus.
We are fearfully consumed with anxiety about winning, even as we claim to be the people who are standing up for Scripture. These two things cannot fit together! The Bible study group I meet with each Friday morning has been discussing the Revelation of John for 4 years, and the passage we were reading this morning from chapter 20 reminded us vividly that Christ has won the victory over Satan, and sin, and death. He does not need us to fight his battles (this is quite literal, in fact: if you look at Chapters 19 and 20, Christ gathers his faithful in a way that is pictured as an army, but it is only Christ who fights the foe!). If we believe that Jesus is Lord, then he will complete his victory in his time, and the truth will win out. So why are we trying to conquer enemies, instead of trying to invite those who dwell in darkness to see the great light of Christ? Or, if we will insist on seeing them as enemies, when will we start treating them the way Jesus told us to treat our enemies?
So, I woke up late. And Christy woke up late. And Zach didn’t want to wake up at all. Bless him, Josh was on the move.
Our mornings at this point call for getting the boys ready for school in time to take Christy to work, and then get back to put the boys in the taxi that takes them to school. So, we get everyone to the car, but several minutes later than we would prefer, and as we back out of the driveway, we see the taxi pull up, about 10 minutes early, in front of the house (instead of the side of the house, where we have a sidewalk to the street – this will be important momentarily).
As I swing the van around the front of the house, Christy opens the window and tells the driver, ‘We’re just taking me to work, and he’ll be back with the boys within 10 minutes, okay?” But even as she’s saying it, I can see the look of confusion and irritation clouding over taxi-driver’s face. “You want to take the kids now? You’re going to get to school too early” (and Christy’s going to get to work too late, I”m thinking). Of course he does. So, I swing the van in front of the taxi, and tell Josh to run in the house to get his and Zach’s backpacks. I run up to the house with him, to unlock the door, and grab Zach’s pack from him to carry it to the car; as I hit the first step of grass (remember that sidewalk that the taxi didn’t pull up to?) WOW I’M FLYING/HORIZONTAL AND DOWN on my side in the snow and slush. In the clothes I planned to wear to the office today.
Now I’m mad at the taxi driver. I’m mad at unusually warm January weather melting this snow. I’m mad.
Boys in the taxi, Christy back in the van, race her to work, almost 10 minutes late, then head back for home, trying to figure out what to wear today.
As I get out of the van in the driveway, one of our churchgoers pulls up and says, “Good morning! Have you got a few minutes?” Well no, I sure don’t, because I’m wet and irritated. “Sure, let’s go inside.”
And we proceed to have a great 45 minutes of getting to know each other better, some useful insights on a task I’m going to do later this week, and encouragement about what I do as a preacher. By 9:00, the entire kerfuffle – yes, I said it: kerfuffle – that was 7:55-8:15 is gone.
Community is a blessing. And God, the Author of Community, is good.