Radicalisation and faith, when put together, are terms that probably make you think of hate preachers and terrorist attacks. They are terms used in the media all the time “British youth being radicalised by hate preacher” etc. So, some, may find it odd that I would call for a radicalisation of Christians. It probably isn’t the sort of thing that you ought to have as a blog title (can’t help but wonder if I’m going to get my blog checked over after it comes up in a search for key words). But radicalisation is exactly what I think Christianity needs.
“Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness, and pride of power, and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear … Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
For a while I took part in a blogging for books program where I would get a free copy of a book in return for blogging about it. The service that I was signed up to exclusively had Christian books and one had caught my eye about Christianity and business which I thought might be interesting. It turned out to be my worst nightmare in book form. Completely on the opposition end of the political scale to me and not at all in tune with how I think about the world and my faith and how this may effect my approach to business. But it was a part of the deal to blog about it and to review it on a website such as Amazon. As part of my review I explained that I had just finished reading “The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical” by Shane Claiborne saying that this perhaps shows why I wouldn’t have gotten on with the book that I was reviewing. I got a comment on my review suggesting that I be wary of anything with radical in the title as it tends to depart from the gospel. I politely pointed out that Claibrone and his community seem to live out the gospel far more than most Christian groups that I have read about and suggested that, perhaps, Christ would have been considered a radical in his own time.
I think the problem is that we often want a Christianity that fits in with the world, doesn’t disrupt it too much and doesn’t call us into question. We can go on a Sunday and feel good about ourselves. Sing songs about how amazing Jesus is and allow it to have very little affect on how we live our lives Monday – Saturday (unless of course attending further Church meetings on these days). We may try to be a bit more pure, change things that affect ourselves slightly but don’t really make any difference in the world. But as Bonhoeffer points out perhaps we should be shocking the world more then we do. Perhaps we should be a stronger voice for the voiceless, stand in solidarity with the oppressed, feed the hungry and find shelter for those without it. Perhaps we should be standing against inequality, discrimination and the unjust, petitioning and speaking out. People should know that when there is something wrong in society Christians are going to be there to speak out and help put it right. We should be known as radicals of love, grace and justice.
We need to remember that thinking of Jesus only as gentle, meek and mild is heresy. Yes he was those things but he didn’t shy away from speaking out against those who were oppressing people and causing injustice. He turned over the tables in temple. It is about his love for us and our love for him but if it’s only that, then I suggest it may as well be nothing at all. We are called to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and help home the homeless, as what we do for them we do for him. And maybe once we start to get this right we will be seen as the radicals we ought to be.
We need to be radicalised by love preachers.
Quite a while ago I saw the above image, it’s a Christian guy being hugged by a gay man in his underwear. Andrew Marin and a group of Christians went to a pride event in Chicago with signs saying “I’m Sorry”, which had a great response. They were apologising for the hate and general lack of love that Christians are known for showing to the Gay community. It was an image that made me emotional, it was an image that represented reconciliation, love, peace and forgiveness. It’s an image that I have been unable to forget. So fast forwards 18 months or so & I have helped organise for a group of Christians to go to a pride event. Our aim is to take a “different kind of Christian presence” to a community that is perhaps more used to Christian demonstrations of condemnation and hate.
We had been thinking that we would just turn up and see what happens, perhaps take signs etc. However last week Mark Berry from Safe Space came to talk to our team of Churches. He briefly talked about the Samaritain woman at the well, a passage that I have turned to over the last few years while thinking about Christian relations with the LGBT community. His community felt that they were called through this passage to start a night time ministry caring for people as they left a local nightclub, offering a safe place to call a cab, space blankets, flip flops first aid etc. He went on to tell us how ridiculously quickly it started after the idea was first brought up (I think they got going in around 2 weeks-ish) and how all the doors that should have been shut in their face where open for them to go though, including being handed the funding they needed without having had to ask for it. He also told us about how he was asked to be on the board for the local football club, having talked to the chairman and having spent time offering love to the football community by sweeping the terraces after the games and spending time with the community in the bar afterwards.
Traveling home from that talk last week the way forwards hit my in the face and I decided to contact the organisers of the Pride event, knowing that getting them to trust us may have been an issues thanks for the reputation of Christian groups with regards to their interaction with the LGBT community. I sent the email and asked people to pray, hoping that there would be a person of peace in the organising team and trusting that God would be ahead of us opening doors if we were supposed to do this. A few days later I received an email from the treasurer who, it turns out, is a Christian himself and had been wanting to get Christians involved in the event as his church had been unable to do so this year. I went on the trust that the doors would be open and was really pleased to have found that they were.
We are looking at what we would be able to give out, a small bag of sweets or something, and offering the chance to ask for prayer in a non-threatening way (perhaps writing down a situation that prayer would be appreciated for and leaving it with us to pray for when we leave). Our way of being able show love, humility and grace.
I had been planning to post about this for a few weeks and then heard that Two Friars and a Fool were finally unleashing their #95tweets project I figured that I would wait, post about that and then follow it up with this.
A while ago at a home group I was a part of we watched a video featuring Fransis Chan and whilst talking about it afterwards several of us agreed that he seemed to use Hell as a motivation for how we act. From what little I know about Chan* he does and says some good things and I have no wish to to take that away from him. But I do disagree with him on this. I think that Hell is completely the wrong motivation for Christians for how we live on Earth. If Hell is the reason that we do or do not do certain things then that is ultimately selfish and done out of love for the self, to save the self and not through love of God or love of our neighbour. But through exploring and reconsidering the doctrine of Hell we can reconsider our faith and our motivation. We can learn to be motivated by the beauty of God’s Kingdom, of the passion to see the world restored. We can be motivated by being part of God’s kingdom now “the Kingdom of God is within you” and bringing restoration to people’s lives and the awesomeness of that, not because we don’t want to go to Hell.
When I have told people that I like Mathew 25:31-end (the parable of the sheep and goats) the reply has been that they don’t. I think, perhaps, that the reason that they don’t like it is that it makes them question their own salvation. The reason that I do like it is that it makes me question my own salvation. I don’t want to be motivated to do these things to be sure of my salvation, but to do so because of love and beauty and the potential I see to help restore the world to how it should be.
A parent doesn’t want their child’s love out of fear, because of what may happen to them if they don’t profess love for the parent. Do we imagine that God wants us to love him out of fear? Is that even true love? Which motivation would you prefer from the people that love you? How much more must our heavenly father prefer for love to be given out of beauty rather than fear.
*Basically having watched this video a while ago and read a couple of quotes on line so I really don’t claim to understand where he is coming from or what he is like I am just using this to illustrate my point.
The Parable of the Good Mormon:
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Mormon, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Whoever Is Not Against Us Is for Us
38 “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”39 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.
Whoever is not against us is for us? Can a man who offers food to the poor in Jesus’ name (even if their understanding is different to ours) loose their reward? Whoever is not against us if for us.
I don’t even find it frustrating* anymore that people don’t want to be involved in something amazing, building the kingdom, feeding the poor (which seems to be pretty central to the Gospel) because a certain group are involved, I just find it really, really sad; I’ve been walking round with a heavy heart as I’ve thought about this today. *(Ok, maybe I do… just a bit)
The stupid thing is that I don’t think anyone would bat an eyelid if non-believers were invited to help out at the food bank. I don’t think it would have been as controversial to have Muslims involved in the food bank, but involve Mormons and you’ve got issues.
Let us remember to love our neighbour (including those who we are told we should be separated from, like the Jews and the Samaritains) as ourselves. And let’s not say to the hungry or the poor “sorry I can’t be involved in helping you because a Samaritain (whoever that looks like for us) is.
This is a video that we did a few years ago when I was in a youth group (I apologise for my 17 year old self’s terrible drumming!) And whilst no one actually sings these altered versions of the songs if you stop and look for a moment at modern worship songs the amount that we sing the words “I”, “me” and “my” is actually quite disturbing compared with “us”, “we” and “our”. Our Christianity in this way is not counter cultural but has absorbed the increasingly individualistic culture around us. It’s not about us, or even them but all about me. This causes issues with worship and style, and so in creating something new or wanting to change something to be more relevant we do it the way that we want to, and expect people to come on board with this as it’s what we like. But surely this is not the point? Surely we should be looking to be culturally relevant to those we are trying to reach. Let’s look at Paul.
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
1 Corinthians 9
And so he becomes relevant to those that he is speaking to and working with. If we want people to engage with us in church we need to be relevant to them. What we actually do is say come on jews, be like us, come on those under the law be like us, if you don’t have the law why don’t you come and be like us.
We are all going to have our own preferred style of worship, whatever that looks like. But when we exist to serve other people we need to think about what that means. If you want to worship in your preferred style at some point in the week then that’s great and I don’t necessarily think you should stop but at the time in the week that we are reaching out and looking to engage with people we need to lay down our own preferences and listen and respond so that we may speak to people in a way that they understand and are able to engage in. And let’s not forget that Christianity is a religion of sacrifice, and sometimes that means that we have to make sacrifices.
*I had hoped to be able to find an old ASBO Jesus cartoon that was something like “Today’s worship is bought to you by the letter I and the number 10”
A related post can be found here: Me, Myself and Jesus; the Idolatry of Worship
I am currently doing the Mission Shaped Ministry course and on Monday the session was “Spirituality for Mission”. I really felt that I got a lot from the session – just thinking about a few things that I really ought to apply to my own life. A model of Jesus’ ministry was given to us (I can’t remember what the source for this was as it was only quickly mentioned). It’s something like this:
He knew that he was accepted and loved by God and was secure in this > This gave him his purpose and sustained him > The purpose gave him his mission > He was able to achieve what he had come to achieve.
However all too often the model that we work on is something more like this:
We try very hard to achieve and be successful at something > This need and want gives us our mission > Our mission allows us to have a purpose (but is unable to sustain us) > So that, if we feel we have been successful, we may get a glimpse at being accepted and loved.
For those of us that are more activist and want to do (I very much identify with this) it is a particular temptation to work in this manner, we just want to get on with something and be practical. However this isn’t a model that can sustain us and will lead to burn out. It is much better to work on knowing and accepting that we are loved in order to give us our purpose, mission and (hopefully) achieve. And it is important to remember that Jesus’ ministry perhaps didn’t look successful in some ways, only a handful of followers who didn’t exactly stand by him when times got a bit rough. Maybe we are being successful without even realising it.
Perhaps this is part of the reason that so many people who are someway connected with ministry find that they get “burn out”.
And of course this doesn’t just relate to a Christian’s relationship with God but in all of our relationships – we want to do well to impress our parents, and feel secure in their love when they praise us. We feel the need to work hard and do nice things for our partners – only partly because we want to do it for them, but also because we hope it will secure their love for us. When in fact they love us whether or not we do these things for them (I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do nice things for people but just, perhaps, check our motives).