Monday, November 21, 2016

"THERE'S AN ALGERIAN MEDDLING WITH MY DISCONTENT" or "Why We Need To Ask Different Questions If We Really Want Different Answers"

I had breakfast with an old friend this morning.  Never mind that I was only five years old on the day he died in 1960.  Or that the conclusions I’ve ultimately drawn over the many years have been significantly different from those he held out those many years ago.  I still consider him a friend, and in many ways an example.

Sometime after my son left for school but before my morning regimen of pacing and caffeine really kicked in, drifting in the nether regions between The Drudge Report and The Daily Beast, Camus showed up uninvited.  I have a strange collection of friends. He didn’t seem to mind the mess so I invited him to hang around for coffee and a bagel.  It was the polite thing to do, and it didn’t take long to recall why I liked him. 

Albert Camus was a French Algerian philosopher, author, journalist and winner of the 1957 Nobel Prize for Literature.  He was also a self-described unbeliever, although he shied away from labeling himself an atheist.  He didn’t like the stridency or finality that accompanied the title.  For him, every life, every mind and every conversation was a work in progress. He was a master at the art of dialogue.  He had deep passions and deep convictions and yet remained carefully open to a respectful pursuit of mutual understanding, even in the midst of profound and animated disagreement.

A recent article in the Huffington Post had caught my attention, discussing the fact that a growing number of people are “unfriending” longtime friends on social media platforms or are taking a hiatus from social media altogether due to their weariness with the tone and conflict that continues to embroil online communities over the outcome of the presidential election.  In case you hadn’t noticed, most of the current experts have failed to notice that this has been about more than an election.

I’ve written about this open and often blind hostility several times lately.  I’ve attempted to listen to voices from outside my own alleged echo-chamber and I’ve diligently tried to avoid feeding into the “bigots” versus “snowflakes” genre of non-discourse that persists in masquerading as communication in so many venues.

Frankly, for the purposes of this post it matters little how I personally voted.   I did my duty and voted.  Thoughtfully.  Prayerfully.  I realize that some of my readers will find this last point to be irrelevant, but so be it.  As a Christian, that’s how I roll and I own it without shame. My faith and my God are not private matters. They refuse to stay safely tucked away in their socially acceptable boxes simply because someone insists that to be the socially acceptable thing to do. They persist in breaking out and meddling in everything.  I have crappy boundaries.

That said, it may come as a surprise to some that I understand the uncertainty that many are feeling in our nation right now.  And I share their sense of disquiet, though not necessarily for all the same reasons
Still, having seen so many friends agitated into such an uproar over the past months, it occurs to me that the worst possible conclusion in all this would be to simply calm down now and go back business as usual. We may be tempted to cave in fatigue and withdraw in hopes of a return to some semblance of normal, but as Bruce Cockburn warned over thirty years ago, “The trouble with normal is it always gets worse.”
So I am not, as a Christian, praying for God to quiet the disquiet.  On the contrary, I am thankful for it.  I welcome it and pray that it might be stirred into a holy disquiet and a longing for something beyond what can be accomplished by governments duly elected and then left to run on autopilot until the next scheduled exercise in political theater and national tantrum.  I pray that we would have eyes to see the truth that is staring us in the face. And hearts to accept the weight of personal responsibility we each have moving forward.  And the courage to start the kinds of discussions we should be having instead of the ones we’ve been told to have.

If we’re truly dissatisfied with the answers we’ve been offered, maybe it’s because we’ve been asking the wrong questions all along.  If we don’t like the narrative we’ve been hearing, perhaps we need to change the talking points and frame a different conversation. If we don’t like the choices, it might be that we’re finally tiring of the national insanity of doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different outcome.

November 8 is behind us, and yet the national and international news feeds are still dominated by heated political discussion and stories of protest, accusation, bewilderment and recrimination.

We have just completed one of the most contentious election cycles in our history.  Christian and otherwise, people from all across the political spectrum have been engaged in a process driven by passionate and often radically different beliefs about how to address legitimate concerns and critical problems and pursue change for the better.  Voting is an important activity in the rhythm of our political life, but a deeply divided America went to the polls on election day and a deeply divided America awoke the following morning.  Casting a vote and declaring a winner did not magically solve the key issues or erase the often acrimonious disagreements. 

In the end it was virtually inevitable that half the country would emerge deeply disappointed, disillusioned, and even fearful.  Whatever the reason or ultimate legitimacy, the pain being felt and expressed by many is real and profound.  It needs to be taken seriously.

And yet, it is possible that something else can be found if we are willing to look past the divisions that trouble our national soul.  Something deeper and more revealing.  Something even potentially redemptive.  An actual answer to prayer perhaps…or at least the first steps toward an answer to prayer.

Over the years, many have pointed to what they’ve seen as a deep spiritual apathy in America, America’s churches and America’s Christians. Moderation and civility and decorum have been the order of the day for most churches and social interactions for generations. Even now, in our cultural vocabulary, the word “extreme” is associated with an irrational fanaticism.  Passion is somehow something to be embraced in small measured doses and reserved for appropriate times and places like football stadiums and playoffs. 
But in recent months we have seen people speaking from places of increasingly deep passion.  Many in our country are no longer willing to wait for permission to express what has been a quietly growing sense of desperation over the state of their own lives, their loved ones’ lives, and their nation.

We evangelical Christians acknowledge that real social change ultimately begins with individual lives. We say we want to see a spiritual awakening in our churches and our land.  We may even pray for it occasionally. Is it possible that our Lord is already answering that prayer?  By sending discontent and desperation?  

If we are honest with ourselves, we’re often startled by the manner in which God responds to our prayers.  At times we don’t even recognize the answer as an answer when we see it.  Christians say they want revival and renewal, but real revival and renewal are messy business, full of rowdy desperate people willing to climb trees or rip off a roof to get at healing and answers.

People throughout our country and others around the world are hungry for real answers. Real solutions.  Real transformation.  Real action. Not just words, but something powerful and practical that changes lives, lifts burdens, and shifts the course of cities and nations and peoples. The people of God know better than anyone that real and lasting transformation of lives and cultures begins with hearts and minds. If we’re willing to listen to the Spirit of God, He will enable us to hear the hearts of those around us.  He will enable us to hear His heart and draw us into prayer and action.  Life by life and community by community. 

We have an incredible opportunity in this moment.  An opportunity to be the hands and feet and heart and voice of our Lord to the people around us.  To pray and listen to the Spirit.  To love courageously and fall on our faces before God for real healing and transformation in our families, our friends, our nation and our world. And to speak and live the truth of the Kingdom of God breaking into every expression of human life one heart at a time.

We want to be effective representatives of God’s heart and God’s Kingdom as we go about life in our little parts of the world.   We want to recognize the needs of those around us and speak and live the truth in loving and practical ways.  We want to be like King David’s wise advisors, understanding the times and knowing what to do…right where we are.

Recently, my online co-host Dave Huizenga and I have had the unique privilege of discussing just such issues with our guests on the Marketplace Kingdom podcast.  We talked with our friend Ron Jimmerson about really listening to God and listening to the hearts of the people “at the bottom”, then developing strategies that really work…“Leading Change from the Ground Up.”  We spent time with Randy Hekman as he shared his heart for bringing real healing and transformation to lives and communities by crying out together in united prayer and creating a landing strip for God’s presence and power right where we are. “HOPE AND AFUTURE: Awakening and Healing the Soul of a Nation” is a moving time of conversation and prayer about prayer…for the revival of Christians and the awakening of a country. You’ll definitely want to listen to these episodes again and again.  And pass them on to your friends.

We’ve talked a lot about the fact that intimacy with God is the starting point for understanding how to live as Christians.  And we understand that it is more than that. God’s presence and transforming power needs to permeate everything we do and every part of who we are. But while we acknowledge that Jesus is Lord, and believe that He wants to extend his lordship in practical ways into all the various areas of our lives and activities, we still wonder what that looks like in the details of 2016. 
How do we listen for His voice and direction as it pertains to our particular situations?  Our passions.  Our vocations.  Our finances.  Our relationships and conversations with friends, family members, and even casual aquaintances.  The stranger on the street.  The cashier at the gas station.  The teller at the bank.

How do we recognize His voice and receive His word for our day to day lives?

How do we lift burdens and shift the direction and atmosphere of our families, communities and nations?

With these questions in mind, we’ve put together a special podcast… “HEARING FROM GOD TODAY: Receiving Your Word”. This bonus episode of Street Faith has been produced as a supplement to our Marketplace Kingdom series, and its message builds on the one entitled “Seeing and Hearing from God” which we released last March.  It was recorded live at a regional training conference involving prayer leaders and participants from over nineteen different denominations and streams.  We hope you find it encouraging.  In the true sense of the word.  Filled with the courage to become who you are called and created to be. To do what you’re called and created to do.  Speaking and living truth because you’re “Hearing from God Today!” and listening for His voice even in the voices of unbelievers.

In the end, my friend Camus the Unbeliever left me with this thought and challenge:

“The world expects of Christians that they will raise their voices so loudly and clearly and so formulate their protest that not even the simplest man can have the slightest doubt about what they are saying. Further, the world expects of Christians that they will eschew all fuzzy abstractions and plant themselves squarely in front of the bloody face of history. We stand in need of folk who have determined to speak directly and unmistakably and come what may, to stand by what they have said…The world of today needs Christians who remain Christians.” 

–Albert Camus, 1948

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