Time for an #instavention, they told me. I’ll leave my detractors anonymous today, but I was really intrigued when I took a picture of Howard praying last week for the Syrian refugees (and praising the fact that Circle Thrift raised $6,500 for the refugees, too!) and posted it on Instagram, and I got some good constructive criticism in return.
What I thought to be a good argument was that it doesn’t make sense to interrupt a prayer with a picture on the phone that requires typing and clicking and posting. The public meeting is sacred, in some sense, and is best experienced live, as opposed to digitally. We don’t want to give someone the impression that simply “consuming church,” is the same thing as being one. Good arguments, if you ask me.
But the one with which I retorted was pretty simple: I think that the city and the country are on Instagram, and I want to help them see that there is more to the world than just social networking. That might mean I need to be on a social network to get them to believe me. At some point, merely modeling behavior might not be enough to actually get someone to change, it might take an invitation, some conversation, or even using the medium of which I am critical. It’s O.K. to be all things to all people like Paul tells us to be—sometimes that looks like “compromise,” when it really is being relatable. To those on Instragram, I got on Instagram, to win them.
Of course, the postmodern era does make us great deconstructionists. And there is plenty around us that is worth deconstructing! I just watched some Super Bowl ads that were worth deconstructing—and the Super Bowl itself is very much worth deconstructing an imperialistic idol we bend our knee to. Here’s what my friend Greg said this week:
“The extravagance of the Super Bowl is meant to teach us: You cannot recreate this at home. You cannot duplicate this in your community. This is where you will find it. You do not have this budget. You do not have this audience. You do not have this power.”—Shake Loose the Empire
Good argument. But he had to actually watch the Super Bowl to make the argument. He actually had to know what was happening the culture to critique the culture. And frankly, more than just a criticism in a blog post, he offered something in return: submit to Jesus, submit to God, and not Beyonce or Joe Flacco or Ray Lewis. And if he could do it for free, I’m sure he would love to air his blog post as a 90-second advertisement during the Super Bowl.
We actually have to do more than deconstruct. And we have to do more than just build an isolated and exclusive community. If we are going to change the world we need to help people get from here to there. We’re trying to do more than strike a balance, we’re trying o build meaningful and accessible; that can respond to our culture, without just being reactionary. A community that talks about following Jesus, and then proves it—and then convinces someone else to do it with them.
Jeremiah was in a similar situation. He was called by God to save the crumbling Kingdom of Judah, and even though King Josiah did a lot of good, it wasn’t even to save Judah from its idolatry. Jeremiah wasn’t confident, thought he was too young and didn’t have any good ideas. God wanted to use him anyway despite his negative self-image.
I can relate to Jeremiah. That I’m too young, too stupid, too inexperienced to really deliver a great message to the idol worshippers in the United States. It’s hard to believe that can God can use me, sometimes. And if we are going to be on any sort of mission together, we actually have to believe that God has made us for it. That he has purified us and made us good enough. And that no matter what anyone says about it, Jesus sees us as perfect people. I hope you feel that self-image and love it.
It’s really important to know that because the road is difficult. We’ll fail and our efforts won’t come to fruit. Jerusalem will still crumble around us. Barack Obama will still use drone warfare. The U.S. will still about ten thousand murders through guns (and twenty thousand gun suicides). And it can be discouraging and it can be hard. And so those among us that are brave enough to go and try and build something, often have to experience crushing defeat. Our cell closes, our friend stops calling us, we break up. It gets hard and it can be discouraging. And sometimes the temptation is to throw out the whole movement because of this pain—resist that. Go and try and build something and know that God has chosen you to do something, feel your irreplaceability and be a part of a movement that’s bigger than you are, but one that you can influence with all of the great stuff God has given you.
Admittedly, it take some spiritual depth to get to this place. It takes time to grow closer to God to know that he loves you enough to share that message. And so it might be tempting to focus on depth instead of width. The elite Jewish authorities in the time of Jesus felt the same way.
The Pharisees were radical Jews who wanted to resist the Helenization of Jewish culture—they didn’t want the Empire to ruin their faith. And so, some of us would totally resonate with the Pharisees in our radicality in fact. It was they that expected the Messiah to come and liberate them from the sin and evil in the Imperial culture that was around them. And so when Jesus loved those oppressors and tried to change the world with them, they weren’t too happy about it.
I think we need to follow Jesus’ lead and eat with tax collectors, work with them, love them, care about them. I hope that we can model more than mere tolerance and more than mere acceptance. I hope we actually starting discipling one another through this good work. It is worth remembering that Jesus didn’t just tolerate the tax collector, eventually Matthew became a believer and was a huge part in spreading the Gospel all around the world.
So often, our mission is to create the safe place for the so-called tax collector. We often do create a safe place for people to find themselves in God, to find their new selves in Jesus, their new humanity, and identity. We can easily get entrenched in Circle of Hope’s best product: the vibrant, and inclusive community, that we forget everything else. The mission can all of a sudden just mean getting invited to fun parties and having cool people over for dinner. Those things are great, but trust me, it gets old at some point. It’s not just about making friends, getting a date, getting married, and having kids. Those things are great for mission too, but they aren’t it.
I hope you haven’t arrived yet. I hope you are trying to do something bigger.
The mission is about changing the world. Once you’re redeemed and you taste the freedom of Christ in community, I think you should reflect that to others. Not just by modeling the behavior, but by telling your story. Go ahead and tell your story, and let your deeds and your fruit identify you.
Let your deeds do the talking, like James said. And don’t expect the church to do it for you. There is no church. You’re the church. Don’t wait for someone else to shoot and score, take the ball and try it yourself. You’ll do fine. There isn’t much of a program here, there isn’t much “being fed” going on; go on and do the feeding.
This doesn’t just look like sweet PMs and bustling cells either. But certainly, being in a cell is a great start—just coming to a PM is too. Join or start a mission team or a compassion team. Use your money wisely. Quit your job and find something more fulfilling. Don’t bend your knee to the idols of our careers and graduate school, and if you must, use it for the mission of Jesus. Go to the Ash Wednesday vigil, and vow to change yourself this year. Get up out of your seat and physically do something. That’s a great start. Learn about our city schools on March 9 at Childs Elementary and learn what you can do to make a difference for the hundreds of thousands of students in our city. Get practical. Volunteer with Habitat for Humanity; Bryant Burkhart can set you up. Shadow Adam Fussaro for a day and see what it’s like to work at Pathways to Housing. Visit Lynsey Graeff at her school on 26th and Cumberland and interact with teenagers. Take a class with the Brethren in Christ and see what you learn. Use our Daily Prayer blog and read the scripture, study it, apply it, and pray daily with the rest of the Network. Read a good book from our Goodreads site; write something and broadcast it and see what kind of dialogue you can stir up. And while you’re it make a Vine video or take an Instagram of it and see who else you can get in the movement. And get into an argument about your smart phone later. It all works. Go and tear down and destroy, but build and plant too.