Tag: mission

Colbert and the Problem with Nostalgia

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By: Mark Rain

Stephen Colbert premiered as the new host of the Late Show last night to good reviews. The show was fun, a bit overlong, but as anything with Colbert, filled with great promise for years to come. It’s been funny to watch the reactions on Twitter and the comment sections of web reviews. The one comment (or iteration of the same comment) I kept seeing was something along the lines of “I miss Dave [Letterman].”

This struck me as funny because most people haven’t even been watching Letterman on a regular basis since the 90’s. This isn’t a knock against Dave, but one about how we choose to see the past. That’s the problem with nostalgia. The good old days get frozen in time and begin to ferment with age. Some memories get better in our minds, while others sour. The past is either idolized or demonized.

Back in high school, I saw Cabin Boy (a Letterman produced movie where he also makes a cameo) twice on the opening day (don’t judge). I thought it was awesome and hilarious. I couldn’t get enough. I probably alone accounted for half of the weekend’s opening box office sales. Returning to the film years later, I have no idea what I was thinking. It was more about the moment in time and the friends I was with. It was less about the actual cinematic quality of the film. In memory, the moment trumps the reality.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this until we begin to assume absolute truth to the history of our memories. With the instance of Colbert, we have folks comparing one show to decades of Letterman’s best on TV. Dave had his moments, but with most of comedy, for every laugh, there are also three times as many jokes that went flat. Unless the joke went epically wrong (Uma-Oprah), we tend to only remember the high times.

Outside of entertainment, I’ve seen this happen in two prominent areas: politics and religion. I know these aren’t the only places we see nostalgia run amok, but they seem to be the places that scream (or preach) at us the loudest.

If you made a drinking game out of every time a Republican made a reference to Reagan during presidential campaigns, you’d die from alcohol poisoning. Politicians love to prey on the nostalgia factor because you can make promises out of memories, and they don’t ever have to be real. Hearken to the past you want to remember, and declare that you can take the present back there again. It’s a thing of fairy tales. The last thing we need right now is fairy tales.

In our churches, we play the similar game. Yesterday is framed as a more innocent time with less evil, less sin, and better morality. The message again is that we need to get back there. The funny thing about this is that we were never there. There has always been sin, evil, and corruption since the world began. The idea that there’s more of it today than yesterday is simply a farce, and it plays at our longing for nostalgia. Like politics, our faith can and should have a voice in our lives that drive us to engage deeply in the problems of the world. It’s not an excuse to run to the nostalgia of the past.

We can’t move backward. Moving backward means living in a world where smallpox is still a present issue or women and African American’s can’t vote. You can’t go back to the glory days and not get the mess that was present then. Hen picking memories can never be a reality. It’s counter productive and not healthy. When we live in the past, it clouds our vision for the present.

We can certainly learn lessons from history and recognize that we stand on the shoulders of those that have come before us. We just can’t go back. For the world to be a better place we need to be fully engaged in the present. Should we celebrate the past? Absolutely. We’re just not meant to live there.

Letterman had his day in the sun, and it was great. Today is not his day anymore. Hopefully, Colbert will move forward into years of late night greatness. With us, there are so many present issues pressing on life today: immigration, climate change, inequality and poverty (to mention a few). These problems won’t go away and require us to step into them with sober eyes fully focused on the present. You can’t solve a problem by wishing it wasn’t there. Nostalgia has its place, it just doesn’t move us forward.

Ministry in the Face of the Zombie Apocalypse: part 7

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{continued from part 6 or start at the beginning}

Survival Lesson #7: GET UP THE STAIRCASE, THEN DESTROY IT.
(New Diversity)

“Naturally, many other skills-wilderness survival, leadership, even basic first aid-will be necessary in any encounter with the living dead.” – Brooks (xiv)

When being chased by the walking dead, always evaluate your surroundings. You must become adapt at learning what aspects of your environment you can destroy to impede your pursuers. It’s a delicate balance of escape, pacing and strategy. Always be mindful to never box yourself in. Dead-ends almost always live up to their names.

With the western church we have virtually found ourselves at a dead end. “The reality of the situation is that Western, white culture dominates American culture and, in turn, dominates American evangelicalism” (Rah The Next Evangelicalism p.200). In our globalized world, the church must begin to look like a globalized church. Diversity is needed both in leadership and in mission. One key place to begin this change is by rethinking (strategically) the ethnicity of church leadership. The literal face of Christianity must change. In order to have a multicultural church, you must have a multicultural staff. This is not a mere token change, but a strategic one. Our church [leadership and laity] should be a reflection of the neighborhood we find ourselves in. To reach the community, we need to look and speak like the community. “A church uniquely expresses herself as she matches her deep hunger with the needs of the neighborhood” (Woodward Creating a Missional Culture p.174). For the church to truly be an expression of God’s kingdom, it must look as diverse as God’s global kingdom.

Secondly, for diversity to happen, I, as a church leader must be willing to step into situations of submission engaging with those outside of my ethnic group. For too long in the West, has church (and other arenas of power) been dominated (or oppressive) by white leadership. Submission is both an act of reconciliation and also posture for learning. To rethink leadership in this way, I must seek out cross-cultural mentors. I have much to learn and see the value of being under the authority of others from diverse backgrounds and experiences. As a leader, my commitment to submission greatly impacts the ethos of the church I pastor. The faith we represent is not one of perceived power and influence, but one of humility, grace, brokenness, and healing. We must also learn in this way that submission is the chief posture for the people who carry the Gospel into the world; the heart of our church beings and ends in this simple truth…

{continued in part 8}

Ministry in the Face of the Zombie Apocalypse: part 4

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{continued from part 3 or start at the beginning}

THE SOLUTIONS:

Survival Lesson #4: KEEP MOVING, KEEP LOW, KEEP QUIET, KEEP ALERT!
(Learning to be Transformational)

“Do not investigate any strange noises or lights in the distance. Just get out. Every side trip, every pause in the journey, increases the odds of being found and devoured.”  Brooks (p. 95)

Striving to remain alive in the face of a zombie outbreak is difficult, but it also brings with it clarity and a glorious simplicity to your everyday existence. Faced with a struggle to live a prioritized life in a way where survival is paramount. There is no tomorrow unless you live well today. You learn to become truly alive and cherish every moment when death is possibly around the corner. It brings about an incredible amount of focus to your world.

In our times as well, this new reality is bringing about a wave of clarity to our existence as Christians living in the shadow of an empire. It is in this place of simplicity that transformation is possible. “The Christian movement must be the living, breathing promise to society that it is possible to live out the values of Christ – that is, to be a radical, troubling alternative to the power imbalances in the empire” (Frost Exiles p. 15). Armed with only the power of the Gospel, we are called to engage in the work of the incarnational way of Christ.

Transformation becomes possible when we let go of our past assumptions of church. Old symbols of power, like big buildings or elaborate services belong in the past age. New movements involve community and helping the marginalized in society. Demonstrations of money or power no longer impress this new culture. Power comes through influence, and influences are only brokered through acts of redemption. “Redemption is the beginning of our participation in God’s work of restoration in our lives and the world. Understanding that one idea literally changes everything” (Lyons The New Christians p.53).

Taking a page from our brothers and sisters in the south, we are seeking to embody a faith that is “marked by a culture of poverty, an oral liturgy, narrative preaching, uninhibited emotionalism, maximum participation in prayer and worship, dreams and visions, faith healing, and an intense search for community and belonging” (Escobar The New Global Mission p.15). We are called to exude imagination as a church that tells new stories and reveals new narratives. Our faith is grounded in the past, but it is also unfolding in the present. In our new faith community, it is our call “for Christians to exhibit confidence in the lordship of Yahweh as the truth of our existence and in particular of our community” (Newbigin Community of Character p.86). Living like this, driven by faith, changes the lives of those with whom you journey with. The Gospel begins to pour out on to the community as we journey together as the hands and feet of Christ. This is a walk of meekness and compassion. It is one of downward mobility that seeks to serve rather than be served. It is through this existence that leadership is redefined into the mold of Christ. It is also through living in this way that we become more awake to God’s presence in our community. This is the starting point of being transformational.

Where does it go from here? That is not for me to say. Our church will follow the Lord and begin with service. He will guide us to the rest. “To suffer joyfully for the gospel, and to forgive and serve those who inflict that suffering, is to be taught by Christ to walk the way of the cross. It is only such a church, radical in its obedience, that makes known the beauty, truth and power of the Christian message to the world“ (Ramachandra Faiths in Conflict? p.171).

Making the decision to plant a church has become one of the hardest decisions I have ever made. I have wrestled with doubt and fear. I have also felt a deep call within my heart to passionately take a leap of faith. While reading the book A Tale of Three Kings, by Gene Edwards, one line struck me. “Beginning empty-handed and alone frightens the best of men. It also speaks volumes of just how sure they are that God is with them” (Edwards p.69). Transformation can only take place in the presence of God.  I believe that as a pastor and leader, I could never expect my faith community to do anything I was not willing to do myself. As my family is preparing to pack up and move across the country to plant a church, I’m beginning to learn that transformation only happens when we step out and take a risk. We take the step of faith the Lord uses the process to transform us. To be a church that is transformational, we must be dreamers and people of great faith. We must also be willing to pray earnestly and take great risks. The new way of live flows easily into our next solution for the church in the 21st century: learning to be missional…

{continued in part 5}

Ministry in the Face of the Zombie Apocalypse: part 3

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{continued from part 2 or start at the beginning}

Survival Lesson #3: BLADES DON’T NEED RELOADING.
(The Reality of Globalization) 

During the Qin Dynasty, all books not relating to practical concerns such as agriculture or construction were ordered burned by the emperor to guard against “dangerous thought.” Whether accounts of zombie attacks perished in the flames will never be known.– Brooks (p.168)

When living in an undead world with its devastated landscape and limited supplies, you must adopt new rules for survival. For instance, when thinking of weapons for defense, conventional items like guns are no longer your best choice. In a pinch they do the job, but typically they are too loud and attract other zombies. They are also in a constant need of ammunition. Think about axes or machetes. They don’t need to be reloaded. In this new existence, old conventions must be rethought in order to succeed in this new reality.

In a similar shift, globalization is taking over our world with an unprecedented fury. “The shift in global Christianity has already occurred. The shift in American evangelicalism is well under way” (Rah The Next Evangelicalism p.191). Not only do we find ourselves living in a post-Christian nation, but globalization is also impacting the face of culture and, vicariously, Christianity. The face of Christianity is experiencing a movement towards the global south. This means that the Western influence of Christianity is waning in the wake of the rise of the Global South (Latin America, Africa, Asia and Oceania). The world is changing and the way we engage ministry must change with it. We are no longer the Western Church; we are now the Global Church.

“Globalization and the emergence of the worldwide theater has torn down geographical boundaries” (Lyons The Next Christians p. 20). Missionaries are now coming from around the world to evangelize the lost in the United States. There are no longer foreign missions; the world itself is now a mission field. You no longer need to travel far distances to experience foreign peoples; they are now living in our neighborhoods. “The majority of the world’s non-Christians will not be geographically distant people but culturally distant peoples who often reside together in the shadows of urban spires in the metro areas of every continent” (Bakke Theology as Big as the City p.18). Missions now happen as we reach out to our neighbors in and around our cities.

With the growing impact of globalization, many things change, but our desire and need for relationships remain and, even quite possibly, escalate in this new globalized world. Relational intimacy is quickly becoming the new world equity. Institutions no longer hold the power and if we hope to make change and spread the gospel, it will happen one relationship at a time. This is the core of influence now; it is no longer about wealth or power. In the West, we must learn to listen more to others from around the globe because of this is a paradigm shift. We no longer have all of the answers, and our old ways are no longer working. There is a learning posture that we must take up as evangelicals because “the Gospel speaks to people of every culture and is translatable to every culture” (Escobar The New Global Mission p.12). This learning posture will lead us to engaging in cross culture ministry reaching out to people in our own context. We must approach others with open hands. Philip Jenkins spoke of the churches from the Global South as being characterized as, “churches [that] preach deep personal faith and communal orthodoxy, mysticism and puritanism, all founded on scriptural authority” (Jenkins The Next Christendom 3696). To Western churches their approaches may seem simplistic, but there is a power to a faith that travels light. This new face of Christian spirituality centers around a God that of the present and meets the needs of today as opposed to a God is only focused on eternity.

Diversity is not a word I would use to describe any of my experiences in ministry, much less put the word global in front of it. I have worked for predominantly white churches and ministries. They have been focused domestically where most of the informed practices we followed were from older traditions that were shaped over time in a small community. Entering into the MAGL program, I was ecstatic to have the honor of being classmates and friends with varied pastors and missionaries from around the world. Seeing ministry and theology from their perspectives has changed and enriched mine. This new globalized Christianity makes more sense to my heart than the institutionalized version I had grown weary of.

Globalization has broken down the walls and doors of the mission field. It not only changes where we do ministry, but how we do ministry. This past summer I was sitting down with Joel Sengoga, a Rwandan pastor, speaking to him about my journey with church planting. I had become overwhelmed with all that needed to be accomplished and he quickly stopped me, saying, “Stuart, you Americans over think everything. It’s not always about planning. Faith is simply taking the next step God has in front of you.” Joel’s way of looking at ministry was so simple, yet profound and deeply biblical. I had become caught up in organizational minutiae and lost God in the process. The truth of the Gospel exists in its profound simplicity. I was reminded that we must be a part of the “rediscovery of the original genius of the teaching of Jesus and the missional practice of the earliest Christians all lived out boldly on the soil of a post-Christian empire” (Frost Exiles p.26).

So we are caught in a world that is both globalized and post-Christian. This may seem like a problem for many, but these two new realities are creating resurgence towards the raw power of the Gospel – people moving in faith by the power of the Holy Spirit. As it was said before, people do not fear change, they fear loss. Loss is happening, but it is nothing compared to the exponential gains that are waiting for us. The power lies in what happens after we come to grips with this loss. Things are not what they used to be, but there is hope that tomorrow is vastly better than yesterday. These new realities bring with them new possibilities. It is because of this, that I am excited about my endeavor into church planting. I’m beginning to see the sheer simplicity and power of the Gospel in new ways. I am learning to now be awake to God’s presence and the possibilities that are springing up around me as I take that next step of faith. It has brought about a new sense of clarity.

With these new realities in our world today, how does the church thrive in the face of a post-Christian and globalized world? The church must learn to become transformational and missional, not to merely survive, but to thrive. The days of striving are gone. There is hope for what is around the corner, and there is great excitement as we begin to look at the solutions…

{continued in part 4}