I recently read a piece from a well-known figure in the church leadership world. He wrote of a zero-tolerance policy for any language or practice within their church that did not make sense to those who were uncommitted to the story of God. I think I understand – and agree with – some of his concern. I am beyond done with caveman Christianity, practicing the faith with near total disregard for the questions and realities of our friends who are among the unconvinced. I too share irritation at flat, tired Christian lingo, the entire ghetto mentality prevalent in many of our Christian subcultures.
I’m actually drawn the opposite direction. Rather than railing against those things that make little sense to those outside faith, I believe the gospel calls us to live toward realities that don’t make a single bit of sense to any of us, no matter what angle we come from.
Truly, the kingdom of God is laughable, if we take it seriously.
~the way to save your life is to give it away
~love your enemies
~seek the peace of all, even those you despise (or who despise you)
~live for others above self
~take risks and abandon control
~believe that Jesus rose from the dead – and one day will bring all dead things to life
~give yourself to the long, hard work of community
~abandon the droning, captivating sounds of selfish consumerism
~care for the least among us
~live as though success does not determine our identity
Based on the cultures we have breathed in and on the selfish nature of our own heart, we would have to say that those lines are idyllic nonsense, complete poppycock.
And yet, this is precisely the life Jesus calls us to. If we seek to be communities of people living in Jesus’ way, we are embarking on the ludicrous. If the way we live and speak and love makes sense to those around us – or to ourselves – I fear we are wildly off course.
Here’s to the ludicrous life…
9 Replies to “Embarking on the Ludicrous”
I would like to read this well-known figure's piece. If you're not comfortable posting it here, would you mind emailing it to me?
Great post! Love it. (Although every time I hear the word "ludicrous" I hear Dark Helment yelling "LUDICROUS SPEED! GO!").
I think church history supports your desire to embrace the counter-cultural, Winn. Movements that attempt to appeal to the lowest common denominator either melt away or lose their voice.
If the church has nothing to offer that cannot be found elsewhere in the culture, why does it exist? And if you are holding onto something truly unique, sometimes you need new words to speak the truth. I don't think the danger is in holding too much mystery, it's when we forget that what we hold is in fact mysterious: when we speak of grace and incarnation and redeeming love as if they are piddly things that can be found on any street corner. That does no justice to God, the church, or the person who may be seeking something other than what this life has to offer.
Sounds like the next Winn Collier book to me — co-written with Jeromie Rand…
I'm just saying
"Movements that attempt to appeal to the lowest common denominator either melt away or lose their voice."
Or do they? As much as I hate the language and buzzwords of the Christian subculture, I can't help admitting it's one of the things that binds us together. Any group, any community, any members of a field of study or a common cause develop their own language, and this is one of the things that contributes to the strength of the group – by only appealing to them.
As much as I want any Christian lingo which doesn't make sense outside of our context (a very small part of the overarching ideas in this post) to dissolve, I don't think it will. Or if it does, we may dissolve with it. Christianity faces the same trial as any other religion or culture – we must maintain our own ideals within our framework while still being able to translate and communicate to the world around us. A counter-culture for the common good!
Which is difficult, because as Winn pointed out, our ideals appear pretty ridiculous to our culture.
Justin, I think that's part of what I'm saying, in part. I'm suggesting that the Kingdom is so outrageous and we are to be formed in such subversive ways that, at times, new (perhaps odd) language is required. As Richard Foster said, "If we are going to see the world remade, we are going to have to recapture the words."
Language, in some senses, creates reality. Rather than de-mythologize Christian language and ritual (as Tillich, I think, may have suggested), I think we need to re-mytholgoize it.
If we are to imagine the Kingdom come. If we are to live as the new community God has for us. Sometimes, our langugae and our images and our rituals will seem, for the first initiate perhaps, a bit loony. But, I have hope that this is different than the ghetto of Christian subculture. Like good art, one sparks our imagination and appeals to our unformed hopes while one lies limp, coaxing us into what we already think we know.
Hearing that the well-known figure advocates a "zero-tolerance" policy makes me thinketh he hath his leadership on too tight.
Having said that, I'm reminded of a book Eugene Peterson recommends for pastors. I'm away from my library, so I'll have to send you the title. Anyway, he makes a compelling point for those yet unconvinced being wooed in and learning the language, music, and mantras of the redeemed. It sorta flies in the face of much of the missional hoo-hah going on right now, but I tend to lean in the direction of the old dead guy's words. Yes, maybe we went too far and the church became a club, but woe to us if we go too far and forget we're a family…families have rituals and lingo and inside jokes and stories about uncle Jebus and such…
"families have rituals and lingo and inside jokes and stories about uncle Jebus and such…"
John, dead on. And – "old dead guy's words" too.
I like to think of the church gathered as a worshiping community kind of like Thanksgiving – openess, hospitality, room for everyone at the table. Laughter. Inviting. Yet, still, if you're new to the collier family tradition, there are stories and rhythms that stretch your imagination and intice you, even though you don't quite know what it's all about.
What I was trying to say is that groups that require no commitment, that try to be so inclusive as to erase all boundaries, tend toward failure because of their lack of distinction. The prevalence of buzzwords would actually support this – groups need something to set them apart.
Rodney Stark, a sociologist from the University of Washington, make a pretty good case that the required commitment and risk is one of the reasons that Christianity was so successful in its formative years. This principle can be seen in the negative, too – the World Council of Churches held a very weak theology in order to be as inclusive as possible, and in so doing severely damaged their ability to motivate members or speak any real changing truth to the world. For a less spiritual example consider college loyalty – the more exclusive or distinctive a university is, the stronger its hold over alumni.
The corollary for the modern church is that the best way to appeal to those outside the faith is not to remove everything distinctive about the church, but to hold onto those boundaries while still remaining an "open network," a group that is willing and able to invite new people to join in what we are doing.